Should you let social media conversations direct your business?

Here’s a question for you: Should you let conversations in social media direct your business?

If you’ve worked in the social media space, that seems like a pretty straightforward “yes”, right? I mean, we’re always talking about how listening and responding is critical.

What if we ask the question a couple of other ways:

Should you always let conversations in social media direct your business?

Should you let individual conversations in social media direct your business?

The answer isn’t quite as simple now, is it? All of a sudden, we’re facing potential (hypothetical) situations where, every time someone doesn’t like something, you change things around to make them happy, or where a single outspoken voice gets priority over a potential majority who could want something else.

All of this goes to say that while listening is central to social business, you need to frame the decisions you make based on that listening appropriately.

Let’s take two examples:

Customer Support

I’m of the general mindset that you should try to help every customer who needs support (you don’t tell your call centre not to answer calls from certain customers, do you?). But what about when a customer asks for something that, if applied to everyone who asked, just wouldn’t be feasible? Do you change your company’s approach based on one person’s request?

If you’re a B2B company with only a few major customers, then perhaps you do.

If you’re a B2C company with hundreds, thousands or millions of customers, though, then probably not – you’d end up bankrupting your company.

Product and Service Insights

Let’s say you’ve got your listening program set up. Do you listen to each individual opinion that is out there on the web?

Of course not. You’d end up constantly in reactive mode, responding to customer “insights” with no overarching strategy and no ability to plan for the future.

Approach Insights Strategically

I think the time where large companies will begin to take a more strategic approach to leveraging social media for insights is fast approaching. Note: I’m not talking about losing the human touch when it comes to interacting with people, and I’m not talking about removing flexibility from front-line social media staff, but more in how companies approach distilling social media conversations into useable takeaways.

Take Insights in Aggregate

When my team tells me that “there’s a lot of conversation online” about topic X, my first response nowadays is “how much”? If the answer is just a few mentions, then my response is to keep monitoring, see if things escalate and begin to prepare in case they do. If the answer is “hundreds” or “thousands” of conversations, then we know we need to react immediately.

The same applies to mining for insights. Taking individual pieces of feedback can be useful for illustrative purposes, but unless you’re just looking for ideas to inspire (or to pass the hours and hours of free time you clearly have), you need to step up a level and identify the key trends.

Test Your Assumptions

Tom Webster gave a great presentation at BlogWorld recently where he talked about the need to “do your own work.” In this context, it means not just assuming that something you’ve gleaned from other people is correct – you need to test it for your business.

Tom also made the great point that social media are themselves a biased source of data, so to be sure of your insights, you need to test them outside social media.

What does this mean? It means that you need to move from shift from reacting to customer feedback to testing to ensure that the reaction to those reactions would benefit your business. Of course, once you implement changes subsequently, you should be monitoring for the reaction to those changes, developing more insights, testing… and so on.

My hope is that the time of the “let’s all sit around a campfire and pretend that businesses need to respond to every single piece of feedback” people is coming to an end, and that the time for strategic insights is upon us. Some social media practitioners are ready for this; others aren’t.

Ask yourself: where do you sit?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.