What Social Listening Can Do for Associations
If you were at a party and a group of people nearby were discussing your organization or your issue, would you listen in? If you have spent any time in Washington, you know how most people will answer.
It’s for that very same reason that savvy associations and advocacy groups are setting up serious media monitoring and social listening programs. The result is new forms of analysis and business intelligence.
As David Brodwin, chief financial officer at the American Sustainable Business Council, put it, “I would no more operate without social listening than drive with the windshield painted over.”
Why Social Listening?
Of course, clip services have been available for decades, allowing organizations to simply monitor media. But the definition of media has expanded dramatically, and tracking what news outlets, cable networks, bloggers, and advocates on multiple social media platforms are saying requires a more sophisticated approach.
This goes beyond simply tracking when an organization is mentioned in order to play defense. It allows associations to monitor themselves — and their competitors and issues — and identify trends and sentiments, which can then inform all aspects of the operation, from social media and content creation to product development.
The Outdoor Industry Association, which serves more than 4,000 companies in the outdoor recreation industry, finds enough value in social listening that it actually provides it to its members.
“Anyone who is interested in understanding consumers, across every industry, should pay close attention to what they are saying and how they are behaving,” Samantha Searles, the association’s director of consumer insights, told the industry newsletter SNews.
“Part of the problem is that so many companies wait for data to identify a trend or a business opportunity,” she said. “This is a reactionary approach.”
The Outdoor Industry Association sends its Social Buzz newsletter to members twice a week, sharing insights, and does regular in-depth reports on topics identified through social listening research. For example, in March it provided a 48-page report on crowdfunding and how it might impact the industry.
“If you observe what is happening out in the marketplace right now, you can use those clues to proactively probe and identify what might be coming,” Searles said. “Social media listening research is a great tool for doing this.”
The question in many organizations will be how to create an intelligent program that balances utility with cost.
Some will reach for free services like Google alerts which, when combined with low-cost tools that monitor social media, like HootSuite or TweetDeck, can form the foundation of an economical program. Indeed, many companies seem to start that way.
But the free approach can be labor intensive, tough to organize and lacks the ability to easily track trends or identify sentiment in the coverage.
Some communications professionals say that the need for more sophisticated tools soon becomes apparent. The Outdoor Industry Association uses NetBase. The American Sustainable Business Council uses CustomScoop, in conjunction with Hootsuite. Of course, we’re partial to CQ Media Scoop.
“You start off thinking all you need is Google, and that was true four or five years ago,” said Bob Keener, deputy director of public relations for the American Sustainable Business Council. “But it’s no longer true.”
Better tools generally cost more, but come with enhanced analytical capabilities and can reach deeper into media and social channels. Keener says that Google alerts provide only about a fifth of what is discovered through their professional solution, which he said is “significant.”
“Every week we can see coverage we didn’t know about,” he said.
The American Sustainable Business Council represents roughly 200,000 businesses through about 90 organizational members, all of which are interested in sustainable business practices. It is often seen as an alternative to organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Though it has grown a great deal in the last five years, the association is still a smaller organization and Brodwin said social listening is one tool that helps it remain competitive and serve its members.
For example, Keener said that the group writes op-ed material and being able to track everywhere those articles are picked up is extremely helpful. “It’s often hard to measure the results we think are important,” he said. “This is really measurable.”
It also facilitates getting in on important social media conversations.
“It’s hard to get a message to go viral,” Brodwin said. “You have to play very close attention, monitor what is happening, be ready to reinforce it and be ready to leverage it.”
“These tools are vital. It’s not the old days, when you got in front of a camera and you don’t know who’s out there and what they are thinking.”