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The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Social Listening Platforms, Q1 2016 report states, “Social listening has moved well beyond just looking for buzz, and now informs marketing content and product innovation, as well as measures brand health.”

All true – though I’d add that in addition to measuring brand health, social listening ensures brand health by providing the insights needed to mitigate reputational risk.

Finding consumer needles in the social haystack

One of social media’s challenges is the sheer volume of posts happening every moment, on multiple platforms. At any given time, any single consumer can offer up an ember of dissatisfaction that, if properly flamed, can erupt into an inferno of bad press.

When this happens it can disrupt, or even destroy, all your previous good work in a matter of hours. Would your brand recover from such an incident? The answer depends on a number of factors, but obviously the best case scenario is to stop things from ever reaching that level.

Social listening offers a first line of defense in its ability to identify those negative voices online. But the process isn’t quite black and white – that’s why the proper tools matter.

Consider something as ordinary as sarcasm and you have a sense of how easy it is to skew results if your social monitoring platform isn’t able to account for this type of human language. The words “love” and “hate” alone are regularly used to mean their opposites. And there are many more subtle complexities in the mix.

And what about emojis? It’s easy to dismiss them as cute and unimportant, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes emojisare the message. Your software must be able to recognize the sentiments these icons represent.

Time is paramount when your reputation is on the line

And it must be able to analyze social data in real-time, so appropriate action can be taken when potential threats are identified. Some issues are quickly resolved using social customer service – where speedy acknowledgment alone can solve some problems.

But as Business News Daily’s Nicole Fallon says, “Because social media as a customer service tool is still a relatively new concept, companies of all sizes are learning the ropes as they go, which can sometimes result in a negative experience for both brand and consumer.”

Staying on top of social data gives you the insights into what consumers want in every situation.

Some may require a bit more finesse, or even a public apology. Whatever the issue, being able to act fast could be the difference between a minor hiccup and a true crisis. Solving a problem at the single tweet level eliminates the snowball effect that would otherwise follow – which saves time and resources as well as your brand’s reputation.

For this to happen, social monitoring must be constant and intentional, with an eye toward consumers’ needs. After all, social media is about consumers, not marketers – and this is a crucial distinction.

Keeping consumers happy is job one

One of the times your brand is most at risk is when dissatisfied customers share negative experiences and opinions on social. Thus, it makes sense to be attuned to the consumer barometer at all times. If they’re happy, why are they? If they’re not, how do you reverse that? You won’t know if you’re not listening.

Emotions are what drive social users to post, period. They share when they’re elated, when they’re moved, when they’re outraged, when they’re sad. They share the things that matter to them most – inspired by emotion.

And emotions are nothing if not volatile – you can’t rely on today’s sentiment to apply tomorrow. You need to monitor the pulse of your brand regularly and adjust tactics accordingly based on what social listening tells you. Risk management is a skill set to keep honed, but risk avoidance is always a better strategy.

The goal, always, is to keep consumers happy. You can only do that if you know what makes them happy. That’s why social listening was invented – so you never have to guess again.

Previously appeared on Commpro.biz

Image from Eugene Zemlyanskiy

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