As a reformed market research analyst delving into the unstructured world of social media – I often ask myself what is relevant and useful for our clients (noise versus signal)? How can we get through the murk and provide value in a way that impacts our clients’ brand perception and ultimately creates leads and more opportunities for business?

The truth is, for all this good stuff to happen—positive brand perception, customer loyalty and increased leads for business—companies cannot afford to ignore what is going on in social media beyond their owned channels. When I was a child, my mother often told me that there was a reason why I had one mouth and two ears and she said it was because there was more to gain from listening than talking all the time. I believe this applies even more so to companies with established or growing brands. Here are some reasons why social listening matters.

1. The power of word of mouth almost equals the power to express “social right”

Consumers not only have the power of the wallet but also have the power to express their “social right”—views of their experience with a brand on social channels that can build or break your brand. Granted, word of mouth may not be the same as a tweet or blog, but it has the ability to influence opinions and have a huge impact on a brand. According to an article on Social Media Today, 89% of people look online before making a purchase decision by reading reviews, tweets, chatting with friends online, searching discussion forums etc.

With foursquare check-ins being shared via Facebook, there’s an opportunity for cross-platform social influence. For instance, I have seen some status updates recently with negative comments referencing a certain coffee shop. Even though it may not have been in my list of coffee shops to go to, you can bet that I’ve got an opinion about it. If anyone asks me about coffee shops in the area, I might just respond with “I don’t know which one is best, but I have heard terrible things about xx”. If the coffee shop is listening to what people are saying about them on foursquare and other channels, they have an opportunity to redeem their brand by dealing with the complaints as they arise.

2. Social media use and engagement is growing tremendously

There are gazillion statistics on the growth of social media use in general, according to  Facebook, and Pingdom, one in nine people on Earth is on Facebook and people spend 700 billion minutes per month on the site  (which explains the chunks of time lost as I stare, in a trance, at tons of pictures and status updates from people I haven’t seen in over ten years). According to some stats on TechCrunch, Twitter is adding nearly 500,000 users a day, and an average of 190 million tweets occur per day on Twitter – you get the picture. Social media is here to stay and it’s no longer a matter of if it stays but how we are to respond to this growing and engaging new way of communicating. For a business to stay ahead or keep in step with its target market, it’s absolutely necessary that you listen and engage.

3. To gain insights and customer intelligence

There are some interesting actionable insights that companies can gain from listening to what people are saying about them. I have often found it quite useful for our clients to know what social media sites are for and against their brands, as this provides an opportunity to strategize and engage if necessary with their brand detractors and advocates.

A good example is Domino’s Pizza . A couple years ago there was a YouTube video set up by two of their employees that went viral and was a brutal disgrace to the brand. This definitely got the Domino’s management ears perked and they were not only ready to listen to their customers but also open to engaging with them so they re-launched their pizzas in a new campaign that integrated what their customers were saying. As a result of listening the company was able to make a complete turnaround for their brand. And they continue to listen…

The social media world is here to stay; your best bet is to get with the program and listen. As popular author Harvey Mackay says, “You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen—not just money, but respect.” Make the resolution to listen in 2012.

Here is a social media listening infographic from closingbigger.net

Social Media Monitoring Why businesses can no longer ignore social media listening…