Five Levels Of Social Media Responses

How well are you listening?You’ve leapt onto the social media bandwagon. You’ve dived headfirst into the murky waters of Twitter. You’ve used a few other cliched sayings along the way, too. Suffice it to say, you’re monitoring what people are saying about you and you’re starting to respond to them.

Maybe you’re using free tools like Google Alerts, Twitter Search and BackType. Maybe you’re using a paid tool like Radian6, Ripple6 or Techrigy

Either way, you’re starting to put together what Marcel Lebrun would call a listening program.

But are you listening? I mean really listening?

I’ve come up with five levels of approach to online listening and responding (not including the option of not engaging at all). In order of growing effectiveness:

Level One: Ostriching

(Yes, I’m using “ostrich” as a verb. My high-school teachers must hate me.)

This approach, a slight evolution from that which completely ignores online conversations in general, involves monitoring for key words and responding only when people say nice things about you. While this keeps your Twitter stream clear of debate and arguments, it does nothing to engage the people who are hurting or whose needs are not met by your company.

Tip: If you ignore critics, the only place that they go away is in your head. Everywhere else, they get louder.

Level Two: Laughing Gas

“Hey, thanks for your feedback!”

If you’ve just said something nice about a company, or offered something constructive, it might be nice to read a reply like that.

I’ve you’ve just complained publicly about a problem, that’s not the response you want.

Companies taking the laughing gas approach respond as though every mention is a compliment.

They’re not. It just shows that you’re not really listening, and implies that this is just superficial sugar coating.

Don’t do it. No-one will be fooled.

Level Three: “We’re Always Right”

Companies adopting the “we’re always right” approach appear to listen, but when someone disagrees with them that person is always wrong.

This kind of approach is distinctive due to the large number of arguments the company representatives have with other people – arguments that rarely end in agreement, as the representative never accepts that the other point of view may be valid.

Level Four: Superficial Debate

This approach is the best approach that many companies, where communications may not have a significant voice at the management table, can hope to take.

Companies taking this approach engage with people talking about them online, both postitively and critically. They may even engage in debates with those who disagree with them. Many disagreements end in an appeasing message from the representative – something like “thanks – we’ll have a think about how we can improve that” or similar.

If your company is at this stage, you’re in fairly good shape. You’re engaging with your fans and you’re debating with your critics without getting drawn into descructive exchanges.

From what I know, relatively few companies do more than this right now.

Level Five: Fully Engaged

Companies adopting a fully-engaged approach follow most of the same practices as those at level four, but with one important distinction: their social media listening and engagement team feeds back into the rest of the organization.

So, when you voice your concerns about a problem, that company is more likely than others to fix it.

Does this mean that every time a customer complains you have to bend over? No. Obviously companies can’t address every single concern that people raise or they’d (a) spend all of their time on tactical changes rather than strategic direction and (b) would go out of business due to ridiculously high costs. However, they can address issues where it is cost effective to do so.

Very few companies adopt this approach. It takes time, a suitable culture and a genuine integration of social media into core functions like R&D and customer service.

Companies that do this include Dell (see IdeaStorm), Seesmic and any of the social media monitoring companies worth their salt.

In Summary…

True listening – active listening – involves more than just nodding your head at the right time. It means absorbing what people are saying, acting where appropriate, and letting people know when you’ve acted.

If your company falls into levels 1-4, then you have room to grow. That’s ok, I would estimate that 99 per cent of companies are in the same situation. In fact, if you hit level one then you’re still ahead of most companies.

Where do you fall?