October 28, 2011 / by Chris Pilbeam

For this week’s fun, educational dose of #Vocuschat, we chatted with Shonali Burke, PR and social media strategist and author of the Waxing UnLyrical blog. Our discussion focused on listening in social media and the important of subtext: listening not only what is said openly, but also what is not being said, or said ‘between the lines’. It was a very lively discussion and Shonali had plenty of great ideas to share.  Here are some key takeaways that she shared with us:

Q1: Why is monitoring and measuring social media more important than ever before?

I think monitoring and measuring has always been important. Now, though, I think people and businesses realize SM isn’t a fad or going away. Social media and social networks have changed the way we communicate, learn, share and conduct business. Of course traditional methods are still key, but now, so is social media, and increasingly so. So if you’re not going to start listening and measuring social media, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Before social media, we often didn’t know how to directly hear what our audiences/customers were saying. Now, with social media, we can. It’s a thing of beauty and, sometimes, embarrassment 😛

Q2: Subtext in social media: what does that mean and why is it an important component of “really” listening?

Let me give the backstory to the whole “subtext” in SM thing first (http://ow.ly/79Kgr is the long version :). At #prsaicon last week, I wanted some more hot water for my tea (I don’t drink coffee). So I asked for it.  I was told a pot of hot water would cost me $3.20. I was stunned. But I didn’t freak out. Instead, I kept repeating, with appropriate pauses: “A pot of hot water will cost me… $3… and 20c?” After three such back-and-forth exchanges, the room service person realized what I was NOT saying. And I got my hot water. Free.

Subtext in social media, if you think along those lines, is what people are NOT saying when they tweet, share, etc.

It’s important, IMHO, to try and understand what that unsaid piece is, like the 90% of an iceberg that’s below water. Someone might ding you via Twitter (or another social network) or seem dismissive. But who knows what they have going on? Ditto with brand/customer interactions. Often what customers say is only a small part of what they really mean/feel. See if you can learn what else is going on by looking at other tweets, blog post, etc. It’ll paint a bigger picture. And also look at what you’re putting out. Could it have come across the wrong way? Immediacy is what makes social media beautiful. But it can also have unintended consequences.

Q3: Why is it important for businesses to listen to not just what’s being said, but what’s NOT being said?

When you think about it, businesses do business with people, and businesses who communicate as people do better. For example, a business could “hear” a bunch of people saying: ” ___ product sucks”. They can either ignore that, or ask why. If they don’t ask, “why? what’s wrong?” they might just end up worrying about the “bad buzz,” without really trying to figure out what’s leading to that. By asking “why,” they’ll get to the root of it. And that can help in so many ways, not just better outreach, but perhaps more efficiency, better product, etc. The more people feel a business is invested in their own satisfaction, the better they’ll feel about the business. And that leads to longer relationships, repeat customers, etc. Often people don’t know exactly why they’re feeling something, they just know they do. By asking them “why,” you’re helping them figure it out, as well as figuring it out for yourself.

Q4: The volume of chatter on social media can be overwhelming. What are some simple steps we can take to improve our ability to listen?

The volume of chatter in SM *is* overwhelming! I approach “culling” it in a few different ways. I have groups or streams set up (HootSuite) for certain people who I *really* want to listen to. These can be based on the type of industry, or maybe just certain people with whom I want to know what’s going on. And I pay attention to those streams, and of course my @ and DM as well. A business could do the same. The second approach is to zero in on keywords that are relevant and focus on the conversation around those. You can do the same with Facebook (lists), Google Alerts (pull into Reader), Google +, etc. The more you organize WHO you’re listening, HOW, based on the WHY, the more manageable it will be. Listen to what’s relevant to your business, and the people who are relevant to it. Oh – and me. :p

Q5: Why is it important to listen and respond to everyone (and not just big influencers)?

OK, first of all, there is no influence without context. Context is EVERYTHING. @jenzings talked about this yesterday at #measurepr (recap: http://ow.ly/79NwW ). What we should be looking at is what we’re trying to achieve: the end results we’re looking for. Are the “big influencers” going to help us do that? Not always. For example, my client @UNRefugeeAgency is doing the #bluekey campaign. Our goal is to get US people to buy $5 keys.  So the #bluekey campaign is designed to help make people more aware of refugee issues and build a community. The last few months, we’ve been doing #bluekey “tweetathons,” where our “Champions” tweet from 9.00am to 9.00pm about it. Now, they’re all terrific #bluekey Champions, but it’s not always those with largest following/Klout who sell most keys. In last month’s tweetathon, @decillis was the #bluekey Champion whose tweets resulted in the most key purchases that day.  So you really have to look at how engaged people are with their networks, and how much they’ll try to motivate them. Pay attention to who’s trying to do what for you, and who’s getting the most response. It’s not always the “biggies.”

Q6: How do we make sense of our listening results?

If you’re listening, you’ll start seeing trends, and stories will jump out at you. Use these to improve your strategy. If you don’t act on the intelligence your listening gives you, what’s the point? Take what you learn by listening and asking and use it to improve your campaign – or maybe even your product and processes.


#VocusChat is a bi-weekly Twitter chat that takes place every other Wednesday at 1pm EST. Join in on the conversation by following @Vocus on Twitter and hashtag #VocusChat. For previous #VocusChats, click here.

Vocus social media monitoring software also does more than just listen – it analyzes your mentions according to tone, sentiment and the channel they appear in, giving you more insight into the conversation. To find out more about Vocussocial media monitoring , click here.



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