Social Listening: The Most Important Thing You Should be Doing Right Now

Reading time: 5 minutes

If you’re not an essential service, chances are that you’ve had to close or decrease your business for the last two months. To ensure you’ll hit the ground running once quarantine is lifted, you should be social listening.

“Social listening is the monitoring of your brand’s social media channels for any customer feedback and direct mentions of your brand or discussions regarding specific keywords, topics, competitors, or industries, followed by an analysis to gain insights and act on those opportunities.”

Hubspot

I would expand Hubspot’s definition of social listening to include scanning the wider social media landscape outside of your own channels.

Your Customers are Changing.

According to a 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes an average of 66 days for a group of people to form a new habit in their life. As of this blog, it has been 57 days since the Ontario state of emergency was declared on March 17, and it will be in effect until at least June 2.

This means you need to completely re-examine your understanding of your customers’ product preferences, spending patterns, and moods.

People make purchases based on their values, priorities, and sense of identity. A big change in society like a pandemic is certainly going to change how we feel about our own sense of security. For example, I believe there will be a shift toward more long-lasting, higher-end products, now that we’ve had to do without repair or replacement services. I also believe there may be a desire for beauty over cost-saving, thanks to days and weeks spent staring at our interior decorating choices.

“The CDC and World Health Organizations are stressing the importance of proper handwashing and doing it often. This is bound to influence people to live healthier lives, which is a win for retailers selling healthier foods and sustainable products. It will move consumers to evaluate things from a different perspective.”

Michael Barbera, Chief Behaviour Officer at Clicksuation Labs via Forbes

Following social media will help inform your future product offerings. Image-based platforms like Instagram and Pinterest will show you what consumers are looking to buy once the pandemic is over. Tracking relevant hashtags will let you peek into consumer conversations – are they experiencing frustrations with certain types of products or services? What are they turning to right now?

Following online conversations will keep your content relevant. Customers are being bombarded with COVID-19 announcements from every business they’ve ever subscribed to. Don’t be yet another generic email in their inbox. Take those frustrations that you’re seeing on Twitter or Reddit and provide solutions.

My optometrist recently emailed me with methods to reduce eye strain from increased screen exposure. They have examined their audience's new daily routines and recognized an issue that needed to be solved. This is exactly the kind of content I want to see - topical, useful, and relevant to their core service. 

Listening to your customers can provide opportunities. By following your followers, you may come across a non-profit that is supporting people in your industry, or influencers who might be open to a collaboration. It’s a great time to build partnerships and genuine relationships.

Your Competitors are Adapting.

While you’re doing your daily social listening, don’t forget to check out what your competition is saying and selling. If they have caught wind of a new trend or are planning a new product line, you’ll probably see hints of it in their social media.

The most obvious change that many businesses are taking advantage of is an increase in online spending. According to a survey of over 1,500 people on March 20, 24% of Canadians planned to increase their online spending during the coronavirus. After this is all over, many of those people will likely continue their newly formed habit of online spending, thanks to simple convenience. They’ll be expecting easy-to-navigate e-commerce sites, free shipping, and smart tools such as recommendation algorithms. Now might be the perfect time to start building your online shop.

I’ve seen many local businesses partner with each other and local charities during COVID-19. For example, Pressed For Time Panini has used Instagram to participate in collaborative giveaways and the Guelph Box subscription service. You never know where ideas will come from.

Some great tools for social listening are Hubspot, Hootsuite, or Tweetdeck.

April Roundup

Read time: 3 minutes

Here’s what I’ve been reading, listening to, and learning this month. Enjoy!

Reading

Chop Suey Nation, Ann Hui

In this memoir/historical/travel adventure, Ann Hui embarks on a cross-Canada road trip to explore the odd phenomenon that is “chop suey” (or “bits and pieces”) cuisine. Over crispy egg rolls and brightly coloured sweet-and-sour pork, Hui speaks with restaurant owners to understand what has brought them to Canada’s smallest towns to serve this odd version of Chinese food. Along the way, she discovers her own family’s chop suey story.

This book spoke to me on an unexpectedly personal level. Like the author, I’ve scoffed at “chop suey” cuisine for most of my life. You wouldn’t catch me eating a fried chicken ball for any amount of money. In Chop Suey Nation, Hui provides the context I needed to understand why Chinese restaurant owners serve this food day after day, and why every restaurant somehow has the same decor, menus design, and furniture no matter where you are in the country.

My family was part of an early wave of Cantonese-speaking Chinese mainlanders who came to Canada long before the influx of wealthy Mandarin-speaking expats from Hong Kong (many of whose children were my peers during adolescence). As I was reading, I remembered that in the 70’s, my own father had worked for a time in my Uncle’s chop suey restaurant in the Vancouver area. I had no idea that this narrative was so wide-spread in the Chinese-Canadian immigration experience until I read Chop Suey Nation. Growing up, I read voraciously, but never found novels with my own perspective – the child of a child of Chinese immigrants, mostly Western, and yet inextricably still Chinese. Now, I understand how these Chinese restaurant owners have worked so hard to be here, making chow mein noodles and lemon chicken.

It’s not often that a book truly changes my outlook on something, but Chop Suey Nation has done just that. I have a newfound respect for restaurants at which I previously would have wrinkled my nose, and for the hard-working restaurateurs of my own family. It’s the perfect book to kick off Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month (May).

The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, Terry O’Reilly & Mike Tennant

The Age of Persuasion is filled with funny anecdotes from O’Reilly’s long and successful career in radio advertising. It provides insight into the evolution of persuasive marketing, examines the successes (and failures) of guerrilla campaigns, and discusses the Great Unwritten Contract between advertisers and consumers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It provided an excellent backstory to the strategy and communication tactics I use every day in my life as a freelancer. It also gave me a peek into the world of national agencies and big campaigns that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to be a part of. This book is accessible to everyone and has the same flavour as O’Reilly’s current podcast, Under the Influence. Recommend!

WATCHINg

Never Have I Ever, Netflix

Never Have I Ever is a charming new Netflix coming-of-age series about Devi, an Indian-American teenager, who is dealing with the death of her father while navigating high school and family drama. It explores themes of dual cultural identities, grief, young love, friendship, and more.

I binged this series within a few days of its release. Throughout the funny, heartwarming and sometimes painfully awkward scenes, I kept thinking about how much it would have meant to me (and other visible minorities) to see a TV series like this when I was in high school. At one point, Devi bemoans that she feels both “too Indian” and “not Indian enough” – an extremely familiar feeling to me. Mindy Kaling has created a beautiful show with complex and diverse characters. This is the representation I want in my television shows!

Community-based Social Media Boosts Local Businesses during COVID-19

Read time: 2 minutes

Having a social media strategy is essential for businesses, especially small or local ones. Social media business pages are cheaper than radio or newspapers advertisements, and don’t require much infrastructure to run. Most importantly, social media provide the opportunity to create direct relationships and a sense of community with their customers, building brand loyalty and resiliency. This is proving extremely helpful for many local businesses whose existences are being threatened by COVID-19.

Many local business owners are especially great at taking a community approach to social media. Owners will answer every comment personally, take suggestions and concerns seriously, and participate in community events or markets. Customers come to care not just about the product or service, but about the owners and staff themselves, who just might be their neighbours. So when a crisis like COVID-19 forces owners to shutter their doors unexpectedly, the customers don’t disappear – in fact, they’re eager to help out as much as they can.

Every day, when I check my social media feeds, I see local businesses reaching out for support, and customers responding by writing encouraging comments, making purchases, and sharing posts with their friends. I even see local businesses sharing posts from other businesses – a true “We’re all in this together” mentality. This, in my opinion, demonstrates the best of what social media can do – rally a community together around a common cause.

I reached out to Jules Van Bergen and Dee Hernandez, the owners of Pressed for Time Paninis in Guelph (one of my favourite local restaurants), for their perspective. I’m a long-time follower of their Instagram account, and have seen first-hand how they’ve used it to stay close to their customers.

Q: Why did you originally decide to take such a personal approach to your social media accounts?

A: We have said from the beginning “we are our brand”. We wanted it to feel like we were cooking for you in our home kitchen surrounded by our plants and favorite cookbooks. We love that our guests know who’s preparing their food and coming up with all those puns! The Guelph community is extremely important to us, they are loyal and they care about supporting small business and community and that’s the reason we chose to start this journey exactly where we are. When you give a large company a sale, you don’t get a “little song and dance”. We want our followers to see investment in ourselves and our business when you look through our social media accounts. Our custom made t-shirts “paninis pay my bills” is the genuine truth, it’s just the two of us with no staff and that shines through, now more than ever. 

Like many restaurants, Pressed for Time Paninis has recently adapted to offer produce baskets and prepared meals, which has been well-received by customers. I was curious to learn how Jules and Dee are leveraging their social media community during COVID-19.

Q: How have you used social media to change the way you’re conducting business during COVID-19?

A: We have used social media to share information on our store hours, menus and notifying our followers of any new or changed procedures in this strange time we find ourselves in. We are posting about our prepared meals, produce baskets, gift cards/videos on how to buy them. We also started using Instagram as a store, a few days ago we added a button on our Instagram profile page where people can purchase gift cards, this shop feature was just released. We also have been using it as a communication tool to keep in touch with fellow business owners and our well missed guests of the Panini Palace! This communication led us to collaborate with local businesses for giveaways and participate in the Guelph Box subscription service, which allowed us to sell and distribute 225 bottles of our hot sauce to the community.

Sharing posts and showcasing profiles of local businesses has helped boost our business, along with the other activities mentioned. The number of weekly profile visits has just more than doubled in the last month, we’ve gained approximately 200 followers, and our story mentions have increased around 50%.

Jules and Dee say that 80% of their current customer base previously existed before COVID-19, which is a clear example of the loyalty their customers feel toward their business. It isn’t the social media platforms themselves that have created that loyalty, but Jules and Dee’s brand and personalities, authentically reflected in their online presence.

“While we still feel the uncertainty of the world right now, we don’t feel we would have to permanently close if we didn’t have a social media community. We attribute this due to the loyal local community support we have surrounding our business, and this amazing downtown neighborhood we are lucky to be a part of.  There are other tools we can and have been using to help get the information out there – for example: our website and monthly newsletters, advertising through Guelph today and 3rd party delivery services such as Skip the dishes and Uber Eats, selling our products at other local businesses, as well as distributing updated menus to neighborhoods.”

Based on this testimony, and what I’m seeing on my own feeds, I conclude that while social media communities may not be the only thing holding up local businesses right now, they are certainly providing a boost during this time of crisis. It’s a pretty compelling argument to inject authenticity and personality into your social media accounts.

On that note, if you’re a small business owner and need some help communicating with your customers during this time, I have capacity for some pro bono work such as press releases or email statements. Please reach out to me.

For information on how to support local businesses, check out the following resources:
Coronavirus is hurting small businesses. Here’s how to help. (Global News)
Guelph Coronavirus Community Response, a Community-sourced page for people needing and offering help.

Communication: Your Ticket to Recruiting Great Volunteers

Volunteers are extraordinarily valuable to organizations, especially non-profits and charities. They extend capacity, often allowing an organization to offer more programs and services to the community it serves. Great volunteers also bring perspective, skills, and diversity. If you’re looking for new volunteers, how do you attract great ones to your network? It comes down to the way you communicate during and after the recruitment process.

The first thing a prospective volunteer will do is Google you. Your website is likely geared toward your customers and patrons, so you’ll want to create a specific page for volunteer information. Gear the tone and messaging to the volunteers you are hoping to attract; for example, can the role be filled by someone who has a full-time job and family commitments, or are you hoping for a retired person who may have some more time on their hands? Clearly lay out your needs and requirements, but understand that you may have to make adjustments based on the skills, interests, and availability of your candidates. For example, many organizations I’ve worked with hold volunteer meetings in the evenings so that the work day is unaffected.

Avoid an overly “salesy” tone, and opt for a more conversational or personal one. Remember, time is more valuable than money, and you’ll need to make a meaningful connection if you’re going to convince them to share their finite number of daily hours with you.

Volunteer candidates have different motivations than employees; they can’t be tempted by a competitive salary or a good benefits package. While they may sincerely want to contribute to your cause, they may also be looking for an opportunity to develop skills, make friends and connections, or build their portfolio. Don’t focus solely on what you want your volunteers to do for you; instead, explain how it can be a mutually beneficial relationship. This diagram from Volunteer Canada demonstrates the many values of volunteering:

Once you have chosen a candidate, ensure that they have a positive onboarding experience. Keep up the momentum of that initial connection by giving them the attention you’d give any new employee: information, expectations, and a project they can start on right away. More than once, I’ve heard of volunteers leaving after only a few months with an organization because there was a lack of direction about what they should be doing. This can be avoided by designating a volunteer coordinator or point of contact who will be able to address any questions or concerns. It can be hard to allocate this kind of time with limited resources, but it’s worth developing a welcome package and other communications for the long-term engagement of your volunteers.

Your volunteers can become your biggest champions. Be sure to collect feedback through regular meetings and an annual survey. Testimonials and stories can be used for blog content, marketing tools, and recruitment, so don’t be afraid to ask your volunteers to share their experiences. It also won’t hurt to hold Volunteer Appreciation events every so often. Let’s celebrate our volunteers, the heart and soul of our community!

Written in celebration of National Volunteer Week. To learn more, and for volunteer management resources, visit the Volunteer Canada website.