As part of Spring cleaning, I stumbled upon a report from a 6th grade report that I wrote about Primitive Man and His Cave Drawings. The last page was about archaeologists - people who dig up the past with tools like sieves and shovels. How can we become digital archaeologists who use social media to dig up real time conversations to understand the right now?
What is listening?
Let's take the definition from Josh Bernhoff from this YouTube video from the Forrester Consumer Forum. "Learning from what your customers are saying and tapping into the conversation."
In the chapter on listening in Josh Bernhoff and Charlene Li's new book, Groundswell, they point out that listening is nothing new - it's market research. There is a difference between market research (using surveys, focus groups, and interviews to collect data) and listening (using social media tools). Market research generates answers, while listening using social media generates answers.
As a listener using social media tools, you become a Jane Goodall observing your clients in their natural environment. On the social web,current and potential supporters for your nonprofit are sharing opinions, concerns, and ideas; some are even sharing their day-to-day experiences with your issue area or why they care or what might motivate them to make a contribution. By immersing yourself in social media conversations about your issue, you can glean the nuances of what's on your supporters' minds.
Bernhoff and Li point out in their book that there are problems relying solely on social media to do your listening. While you'll gain new insights, the people you're listening to are not necessarily representative of your total client or audience base. The other issue is information overload due to volume.
Making Listening Actionable
Allison Fine in her book Momentum notes: "Listening requires genuine interest in what that person is saying and a willingness to change as a result of what was said."
This means you are not just gathering the information, you are going to do something with it.
While using tools like Twitter to do some listening will incorporate some serendipity, you need to be strategic in your listening for it to be of value (and perhaps to justify to your ED why you're doing it). How will you use the information?
While it depends on your objectives for using social media in the first place, here's some generic listening questions:
- How do your supporters (and potential supporters) view your organization? Is it positive or negative?
- What are they saying about your organization?
- What do they think about your issue area?
- What do they like or dislike about your program or service?
- How are their preferences changing?
- How are technologies and social trends impacting your supporters?
- What ideas might they offer for new services or marketing/fundraising campaigns?
- How is the conversation around your organization, issue area, or program changing?
- Who are the influential voices in the social media space covering your issue area or topical domain?
For an example of a nonprofit setting up a listening post on the social web, see the case study from the American Red Cross - ROI of Listening.
What other questions might you ask on the front-end of a listening project?
Who in the organization needs to listen?
Let's go back to the archaeologists. There is probably a team approach to the dig. Some are digging and sifting through the dirt, others compiling the finds, and still others doing some analysis to piece together the story about the civilization. Again, take a look at the case study from the Red Cross. While Wendy Harmon is primarily responsible for setting up the tracking/monitoring system, other people in the organization are reviewing the information.
Where to set up your listening post?
The definition of a listening post is an area where information or intelligence is gathered. Getting started is low risk because you don't have to be in the conversation and it is a good way to explore particular sections of the social web to find out where your supporters or potential supporters may be.
Depending on the topic and your volume, you have a choice between "do it yourself" home grown systems using freely available tools (see below) or paying for professional tools (I'll talk about that in another post along with a special announcement.) I think starting with a small, focused listening project using homegrown tools and then upgrading to professional tools is probably a strategy nonprofits with limited budgets might follow.
- Identifying the influential voices on the social web talking about your issue or program area.
- Ego systems -- who's mentioning your organization or program specifically.
How did you get started listening using social media tools? What questions did you ask to make listening actionable? How did you spread listening within your organization? If you are the staff person in charge of listening, how have you made it efficient?