Putting the Social back in Social Networks

Updated: Jul 25

Or: Organizational Listening for Beginners

Have you ever wondered what your customers and clients think about you and your organization? If you haven’t then you’re likely not focusing enough on how you affect your customers. If you have, but didn’t know where to start, this post is for you.

Part of the rise of social media has been because of a desire to hear and be heard. Where most organizations see social media as a new way of marketing, the most successful firms use social media as a method to connect with their customer base. There must be a significant shift in how you operate as an organization to be able to move from advertising on social media to connecting through social media.

Traditionally, most organizations and businesses have used what is called the transmission or broadcast model of communication in order to speak to their audience. This is a purely one-way method of communicating, and is not effective at starting conversations, because only one member of the conversation is allowed to speak.

One-way techniques of communication include methods such as a static website, billboards, posters, radio ads, and press releases. I’m sure you can think of more ways in which your organization broadcasts messages without encouraging feedback from your clients and customers.


There is a place for one-way communication tools, but they should not be your only method of communicating with your audiences.


Every type of organization needs to encourage two-way communication in some way. There are plenty of methods that can be used, and most of them are not expensive. The first and easiest tool is to include a contact form on your website. As long as there is somebody recording and responding to these emails, they can be a powerful channel for your customers and clients to contact you and provide feedback.

Other methods to encourage audience feedback include telephone calls, surveys, inviting stakeholders to your annual general meeting, sales calls, and even meeting with them face to face. Yes, good old in person communication is one of the best ways to encourage two-way communication.

Social media can and should play a role in encouraging two-way communication. Social media, from their humble beginnings have always been about making it easier to talk with people. Most organizations find it difficult to use social media as a conversational tool, and they instead use it as a broadcasting tool.

You can do better, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

To start off, you will want to attract engaged followers, rather than a large total number of followers. Knowing this difference will change how you create social content and how you engage with your followers. If you had the choice between a Facebook post with 5 comments and 50 views, and a post with 1000 views, but no comments, which is more valuable?

From an organizational listening standpoint, those comments are among the most valuable parts of social media. With comments, you have an opportunity to hear what your audience is thinking, take that into your planning circles, and assure them that they are being heard, and that changes are being made based on their feedback.


Taking the feedback that is given to your organization and bringing it into your strategic planning sessions is essential to actively listening as an organization.


You must take the feelings, complaints, and compliments that you are getting from your audience into settings where choices are being made. If you don’t then you are missing the impact that those comments could be having on your operations.

Your customers and clients will know about problems that are coming out of your operations much earlier than your team will. They will also have a better understanding of what your audience likes to see and what they want out of their interactions with your organization.

To see the biggest impact from your new active listening habits, you will need to find a way to represent your audience’s feedback in a collective way. This could be sorting them by feeling, type of complaint, or by suggestion. You could even designate an audience advocate who reads the comments and takes the role of the audience in strategic meetings.

Back to social media. An easy way to start to gather audience feedback is to actively post asking your followers about great experiences they have had with your organization.

Alternatively, you could take a proactive approach to problem solving and ask them about some problems that they have had with your organization, and how they suggest the experience could be improved.

These posts also have the potential for a social multiplier, as they are more likely to have more comments than a typical post. You also have the opportunity to double the comments on your content and encouraging future organizational listening opportunities by replying to comments. On posts about great experiences, even liking user comments to signal that they were read by the organization can increase engagement and build relationships between the follower and your organization.

Another thing you can do to encourage further organizational listening opportunities would be to ask your followers about problems in your niche that they have been able to solve themselves. Make the post about sharing the success of your followers. If you can encourage these kinds of posts, there is a greater likelihood that your followers will start those kinds of conversations on their own.

As your organization becomes better at organizational listening and building up a social community around your brand, you might be able to give the responsibility of managing the page to influential community members. With appropriate oversight from staff members, this can be a great way to reduce the pressure on your staff, while still maintaining the social presence and organizational listening opportunities.

Building an organizational listening habit can help improve your users’ experience, help you avoid future PR problems, and help you connect with your audience. Be creative in how you engage with your audience, and remember to keep it simple.