May 18, 2017 / by Cision Contributor

This post is an excerpt from the e-book, Listen: 5 Social Audiences Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore

Back in June of 2009, an engineer posted a seemingly random tweet:

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That individual might not have had many followers on Twitter, and more than likely only a fraction of them ever saw the tweet. One of the two companies mentioned, though, was listening: Avaya. Avaya probably wasn’t even following that individual. After all, on some social networks like Twitter, you don’t have to be “friends” with someone to listen in to what they are saying and engage with them. In a well-documented case study, Avaya went on to respond in a professional way to that tweet and close a $250,000 deal with this gentleman 13 days later. There is no better story to illustrate the power of social listening to generate business. The fact that this incident happened many years ago—and social media usage has grown exponentially since then—hint at the fact that social conversations that can generate leads are everywhere.

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Social Conversations Aren’t So Random

There are social conversations happening all around us, and people aren’t just talking about what they had for breakfast anymore. As social networks—and those using them—mature, we are getting more and more comfortable sharing more and more information about our business problems as well as what products or services we are considering purchasing.

Many conversations aren’t as direct as that tweet that Avaya happened to discover. However, there are countless social conversations where people and businesses have real problems and are looking for solutions by asking questions to their friends and followers. I know from personal experience that a LinkedIn Group discussion comment which dared those who read it to prove the ROI of social was coming from a marketing consultant who had no experience in social yet had a client who was looking for social media expertise. This particular individual was asking questions because he had a business problem, and I was able to reap the rewards because I understood that there might be business potential behind that comment.

One of my clients was a hotel located near an amusement park. While they were active in social media marketing on some platforms, their prime Twitter strategy was to search for conversations that included the name of the amusement park. Not all of those people were necessarily looking for a hotel, but if they mentioned planning a trip and had a bio located outside of the region, similar to the LinkedIn Group discussion example above, there was enough context to initiate a targeted conversation that could generate a lead.

The key to listening to social conversations, then, is to understand the unique set of keywords that are potential triggers for lead generation.

These include:

  • Your company name
  • Your product or service brand name (if different)
  • Your competitor’s company name
  • Your competitor’s product or service brand name (if different)
  • Keywords that describe your product or service
  • Common misspellings of any of the above

Note that not every prospect that mentions your competitor is going to become your customer. The same goes for those mentioning your company name: “People have lots of different reasons for talking about a business on social media. They may include your company’s handle, but 31% of company mentions on Twitter don’t.” Social media is merely giving us the ability to listen to and identify potential clients, but not all of them are going to generate leads.

Now that you know what to listen to, it’s time to understand where in social media to listen.

Some Social Networks are Easier to Eavesdrop on Than Others

No two social networks are alike in both demographics and functionality provided, so the ease of listening will vary from site to site. One easy way of understanding which social networks to eavesdrop on are to consider that there are two types of social networks: Profile-Centric and Account-Centric. Understanding this will yield powerful hints as to where you should be focusing your social listening efforts all things being equal.

Profile-Centric Social Networks:

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Facebook and LinkedIn represent social networks that both attempt to limit people to one user profile per person while creating separate business pages for companies to maintain. For the most part, conversations on these networks are protected by privacy filters or simply by user choices that do not allow us to actually view their social conversations. Company pages are often restricted in terms of how they can engage with social users.

The net-net is that while Facebook and LinkedIn allow you some search functionality, understand that you will be able to view only a fraction of all potential conversations from personal profiles that have been set for public viewing. On LinkedIn, what you can view from personal profiles is further limited to long-form blog posts.

Where these two networks excel, though, is that they all have communities that are open for the public to join and engage. Facebook Groups and LinkedIn Groups provide literally millions of broad or niche communities for you to search for and then search inside for potential conversations. There is one catch: Facebook and LinkedIn only allow individual user profiles, not company pages, to join them.

Account-Centric Social Networks:

Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest are social networks where anybody can open an account with an email address and there is only one type of account regardless of if you are a person or a company. While Pinterest does have Secret Boards and Twitter and Instagram both allow users to create profiles that are visible only to those they approve as followers, an overwhelming number of conversations on these platforms are open to public consumption. In addition, businesses can engage as if they were people without any limitations, making these platforms even more exciting for social selling.

Note that while Snapchat is included in the above image and has the same account-centric characteristics that the other networks, there is no global search functionality available, so it is not a network that businesses can leverage for eavesdropping yet.

Social Listening: Text vs. Visual

With the growth of visual social media marketing, it is important to note that we can’t always search for conversations in all the social networks. In most social networks, when an image is uploaded, a text description is included which allows us to search for the conversation, even if it is a visual one. Instagram is the important exception to the rule.

It is important to discuss Instagram’s exception in light that it has grown to become the 2nd largest social network with over 600 million users. While Instagram is searchable, text descriptions for images are not. Instead, marketers need to become adept at searching for conversations utilizing hashtags that Instagram users will append to their descriptions.

There is another unique way to “listen” on Instagram: Search for images that have been tagged to actual locations people have taken their photos at. Searching for these types of conversations can be extremely beneficial if we are targeting users in certain locales. While it might be tedious to search geolocation by geolocation for images that can lead us to conversations, the more hyper-local our marketing goals are, the more value this approach will have.

Technology for being able to “listen” to what Instagram users are “saying” in their images is being developed as we speak. From being able to identify images with corporate logos to scanning images and finding those that include certain objects, it is only a matter of time until marketers can more effectively search through images to find relevant conversations.

The Key to Establishing Relationships With Potential Customers: Sending Social Signals

You’ve established your outposts, begun to listen and have now found a potential customer on social media who you think would be an ideal candidate for prospecting: now what do you do?

At this juncture it’s important to remember that social media was made for people, not businesses. Your company will always be at a disadvantage in terms of engaging with social media users. That’s why it is critical that you take advantage of social signals to help establish rapport even before you begin a conversation with a potential customer.

Social signals are ways of engaging with social media users who allow you to appear in their personal notifications. If you think about how those who used to wake up to read the newspaper are instead looking at their Facebook notifications first thing in the morning, you can understand how valuable social signals are and how they allow you to gain mindshare, which will be an invaluable asset in developing relationships that lead to business.

Your attempt to directly contact a social media user out of the blue after spotting a relevant conversation will often be seen as a cold call. By sending any one of the following social signals, using engagement that is possible on Twitter as an example, you can see how you can begin to build rapport with a social media user one notification at a time before you even directly reach out to them:

  • Follow the user
  • Favorite a user’s tweet
  • Retweet a user
  • Add the user to a list

As a social media influencer, it kills me when businesses reach out to me without any prior relationship and try to pitch me. Use social signals to your advantage by beginning to build a relationship before you reach out. In many cases, sending the social signals itself may generate engagement from your prospective client which might become a new inbound lead.

Social Selling: New Tools, Old Rules

There are many in social media who try to do things differently from how they would in the real world of business because they can. Don’t become one of them. As you begin to develop relationships with potential customers, remember that Social Selling is all about using the new tools that social media provides us while retaining the old rules of business, which have not changed.

Social signals are a good example of this. While engaging with our potential customers through social signals helps us build rapport, the only way to develop leads from that rapport is to help guide them into whatever marketing funnel or sales prospecting system your organization might have. In other words, social media provides you the vision to find your potential customers and context to better engage with them, but at some point you will need to continue the conversation offline or on your own website in order to convert that potential lead. (Note: Keep an eye on the growing developments in social commerce to generate business without leaving social networks.)

Conclusion: Creating a Social Selling System

Once you realize how to apply the power of social signals and the concepts of social selling to your social listening, the sky is the limit as to how many leads you might generate from social conversations. The problem now becomes how to do so efficiently and profitably in a world where there are more tweets than human beings.

Gary’s Social Media Count, illustrated below, might not be the most accurate data, but it is indicative of the sheer amount of social media conversations happening all around us every second.

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While social networks continue to scale to manage hundreds of billions of status updates each year, human beings cannot scale. That’s why, in order to make your social selling program a success, you will need to create a system which includes the following ingredients:

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  • Tools:Tools will be essential in helping your organization scale, filter through, and facilitate conversations with potential customers. From social listening platforms like Cision to social CRM, you might need to invest in multiple tools to help you get the job done.
  • People: While you don’t necessarily need data scientists to analyze social media conversations, you do need employees who are well-versed in social media and good communicators both externally and internally. If your organization can’t keep up with the sheer amount of potential lead-generating conversations despite using savvy tools, it’s time to increase your staff or hire an agency to help you leverage the opportunity.
  • Process: Documenting the process that your social selling team implements and continually optimizing it will be critical to achieve maximum ROI from your program. The greatest expense for most companies in generating leads from social conversations is the cost of people, and only through the kaizen of your processes will you generate the most leads from the most relevant conversations in the most relevant social networks.
  • Paid: Listening to social conversations is something you don’t need paid social for. However, utilizing keywords found in social conversations as a trigger to promote your brand to a relevant target audience is something that should be considered to help build rapport with your potential customers. Furthermore, using custom audiences from website pixels and email databases will help your interested potential customers better find you in social media. After all, if your potential customers are already following you before you need to send them a social signal, it will only help accelerate your lead generation activities.
  • Leverage the Other: Social media can be a lonely place for a single brand entity amongst hundreds of millions of users. There are others who can help your brand on your journey, though: Your employees, your customers, and even influencers. Leverage the Other is the term I created as a grouping for all of these, which equate to implementing programs in Employee Advocacy, Brand Advocacy, and Influencer Marketing respectively. All of these can play a role in helping generate more leads from social conversations through leveraging the voice of others to generate relevant dialogue.

Social media has made it easier than ever to both listen to your prospects and engage with them for successful lead generation. The future of social selling is now: What’s stopping you from taking action?

Want to learn more about how listening to the right audiences will boost your brand? Then, download our free ebook, Listen: 5 Social Audiences Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore. 

Neal Schaffer is a leading social media speaker, consultant, author, and instructor of social media marketing for executives at Rutgers University and the Irish Management Institute. Learn more at 

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This post was written by a guest Cision contributor.