Are You Listening?

By Mark Tosczak

Believe it or not, a lot of businesses – perhaps most businesses – are still not active in social media. For those of us in the fishbowl of marketing and public relations, this may seem like an astounding assertion, but it’s true.
In my own life, I think about friends and neighbors who own body shops, chiropractic practices, are partners in law firms or physician-owners of medical clinics. I can also think of a number of sizeable companies that have stayed mostly or entirely away from social media due to resource limitations and regulatory concerns.
To all of those businesses, big and little, I have a message:  It’s time.
Even if you’re not active in social media, your company already is, whether you like it or not. Customers and prospects are talking about you on Facebook and Twitter. News outlets, if they are covering your business in print, over the air or on the Web, are almost certainly also tweeting the story, sharing it on Facebook and posting it to LinkedIn.
Are you listening to this online conversation?
Companies like Facebook and LinkedIn, whether you like it or not, have plucked your company’s name and address out of public databases and put up pages about your firm, pulling information from search engines and other sources – sometimes soliciting input from the public.
Is that information even accurate? Have you checked?
Chances are, your employees are talking about you, your competitors and your industry. They’re talking about if they like their jobs or bosses – or hate them. Your sales force – maybe even if you’ve told them not to – is probably using social media in some fashion in their work.
Do you know what they’re saying? Do you have a social media policy or a way to enforce it?
Even if your business is not active on social media, chances are that some (or all) of your competitors are. They may be reaching out to customers and clients (maybe yours?) and recruiting employees (maybe yours).
Do you know what your competitors are saying and doing online?
Here’s the bottom line:  Your company may not be ready to tweet, link to or friend people, but you need to start working toward the day when you are ready. And a first step in doing that is to start listening online to the conversations that are already happening (even if you’re not a part of them).
There are a number of robust, commercial applications out there for monitoring social media for specific topics and keywords. But as a first step, consider some free services. Start with Google alerts and then add some of the many free tools that are available, and you’ll start to hear how people are talking about your brand and your industry.
Photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver.