Wikipedia defines social media primarily “as the Internet – and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” In the short time that social media has been around, orderly communication has given way to millions of voices talking all at once in a cacophony of conversations that no one can ever fully digest, let alone catalogue. So how can organizations figure out not only how to use these new tools but more importantly how to find the value in them?
The first and most important thing to know about social media is that if you choose to use it (and even if you ignore adopting it), you must start to listen in on the channels that are talking about you. Listening has always been a critically important, if basic, method used by marketers and others who care about their brands and their customers (i.e. supporters) to gather insight about how they are doing. It is no different in the world of social media.
Listening in to what others are saying about you does not make you an eavesdropper—just a smart person who understands that knowledge—even unflattering knowledge—can help guide your organization toward a better reputation and brand and improve performance with those who matter most to you. Good listening techniques will give you not only a better understanding of what others are saying about you, it will also provide insights about what they are saying about your competition. You can gather critical strategic information just from paying attention to the specific chatter that matters. Smart organizations know that cyberspace is filled with comments both flattering and damaging to their reputations. Listening in allows you to learn, to join in conversations and add factual information and insights as well as correct misinformation. Listening can be an organization-wide responsibility that gives everyone a piece of the action and a better understanding of how your organization is perceived.
You can listen in manually at first by simply searching key words but to effectively capture the conversations about your organization on a regular basis you will need to eventually put some professional listening tools in your toolkit. Some nonprofits like March of Dimes and Red Cross use Radian 6, a tool that monitors social media, analyzes what it finds and makes it easy to prioritize the glut of conversations in cyberspace. There are lots of others in the marketplace who can help you listen in and reap the often elusive benefits of social media. So don’t dismiss it as just another tool whose worth you cannot find. Listen up! It’s there.
Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.