Have you heard the old adage: “You’ve got two ears and only one mouth”? It means you should listen twice as much as you talk. This is especially true if you want to understand what your target audience really cares about, and then talk accordingly.

Well, as marketers there’s no question that we’re doing a lot of talking. Everyday we have one-sided conversations with our prospects using advertising, email, content marketing, and social media.

How about the listening side of the equation?

What listening you’re doing isn’t enough

Most marketers commission quarterly or annual surveys, but that’s not exactly real-time data. Focus groups can be helpful yet are very limited in scope. And these days, your social media team is probably monitoring your brand’s Twitter feed and blog comments. While that’s a start, it’s not nearly enough to generate real customer insights.

What’s the bottom line? You need to do more listening (two ears, remember?).

Tap into social media to listen for insights

The good news is that any brand can now listen to social media conversations. This means you can be a virtual “fly on the wall” as your customers interact on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, etc.

How can you benefit from social listening? In lots of ways:

  • Discover which social platforms your customers are active on 
  • Stay up to date on the keywords, phrases, and hashtags they use
  • Learn what content they read and share
  • Identify the writers, bloggers, experts, and celebrities that influence them
  • Spot industry news trends catching their attention
  • Measure how they’re engaging with your advertising campaigns
  • Listen for buying signals or product related issues so you can respond quickly

These customer insights will help you make better decisions regarding where to invest your marketing dollars, what content to create, and who to engage on social media.

How to do social listening the right way

Chances are good you’re already doing some social media listening. Here are five steps to making sure you’re doing it the right way:

  1. Know who you want to listen to. It’s not about listening to everyone’s conversations. Instead, use customer personas to focus on a specific target audience based on who they are, which products they use, and where they buy.
  1. Determine your social listening goals. What are you trying to achieve with social listening? To better understand your target audience, measure the social impact of your marketing campaigns, discover customer care issues, or all of the above?
  1. Decide how you’ll use the data. Depending on your goals, figure out in advance how you’ll use social data to inform your marketing strategy and the approach you take with social media. Remember, listening is only part of the equation!
  1. Be ready to respond and engage. Have your social media team and social playbook ready so that you can engage and react as needed. Social media is real-time so you can’t afford to figure things out as you go along.
  2. Invest in the right social listening technology. Whether it’s free tools or a social media command center like NetBase, make sure and put in place the social listening technology that makes the most sense for your brand.

Now it’s your turn

Which of these five steps of social listening are you doing well or poorly?

Want an example of social listening in action? Check out our recent social insights report on digital marketers.

(Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the NetBase blog.)