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Keeping your ear to the ground – using social media as a listening post

As well as using social media to engage and build relationships with your audiences – it can be very useful as a listening post. While it might be interesting for project/program managers to understand what is being said online about relevant topics, this is probably more important for larger organisations and bodies who should be on top of what is being talked about online. Particularly those interested and impacted on by sensitive subjects.

To give you an example, in 2012/2013 (when a Senior Consultant with Gorkana) I worked with the Horizon Scanning and Futures team at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England on their award winning social media horizon scanning program.

Among other things (including influencing policy decisions), this program looked to create an early warning system of emerging issues (e.g. environmental, wildlife etc) before the media gained interest. The aim was to pinpoint the conversations, understand who the influencers were and use this to inform the digital engagement strategy.

Using a social media scanning tool, and in constant consultation with the DEFRA team, we used keywords and phrases to monitor relevant issues and online conversations. This information was available live using online dashboards (allowing immediate action for evolving issues with daily/hourly reporting if necessary) and a written monthly report contributing to internal reporting to the highest levels of government. You can read an in-depth case study about it here.

Having some sort of social media listening post, even if it’s using free tools, is becoming more and more important. Organisations used to primarily monitor issues in the press using a clippings service (and they still do), but now the press is sourcing many of its stories from online

You’re behind, potentially ambushed and in reactive mode already, if you don’t know the issues and how they are being talked about in social media.

This area is only growing in influence and policy makers are having to pay attention as social movements gain momentum ( change.org is a good example).

Should you be listening to social media?