Customers have always talked about your brand. Those conversations have gone on in the bleachers of the little league game, at weekend parties, over lunch, and of course, at the water cooler. Those conversations were happening, but you had no way of knowing it. There was no way you could find them and listen in, no way to gain insight from what people said to one another while talking about your brand.
But now conversations are happening online – on Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp, and on blogs and forum websites. That means you can find them, you can search them, and you can listen in.
Of course, people know you are listening. So what you hear is not always unaffected. Sometimes they are hoping you are listening, and that corrupts what they say, at least a little. It helps, of course, to look for those conversation that are happening between and among customers and their friends. Here they may have little regard for whether or not you are listening, and so you may hear a more straight message.
Even when people are talking among themselves about your brand or product, the message may still be tainted. People are jockeying for positions of respect, hoping to seem an authority, or playing some other role that changes their comments in ways that may be subtle but important.
Social Media monitoring tools attempt to make some sense of all the chaos in the social web. They try to assess the aggregate sentiment and provide you methods of gleaning the useful grains from the pile of straw (or even manure).
Sometimes, you can even corroborate what people are saying with what they are actually doing.
Still, this unstructured feedback is still better than any focus group. You may still be tempted to put it all in a box with a neat label on it, and you can still pollute the stream with your own notions of your branding and your product positioning.
So just as with any other listening, it takes more than just hearing the words. You have to hear what’s between the words, what is not being said, but still exists. You have to listen for the real essence of what people think. Out there, you may find it.
But you have to go where the conversation is happening.