I often get asked by organizations what they should do on social media.

Developing a great social media strategy can’t be condensed with a ready made answer. It requires planning. Yet if there’s one thing everyone should be doing on social media — something universal — it’s the act of listening.

The temptation is to do the opposite: to talk without listening. If you come from the world of television and radio, that will be your instinct. However, doing this will make you miss out on valuable opportunities.

Before I go further about the value of social listening, let me first give you an example of it in action.

Social listening involves reading, watching, and  — most importantly — understanding what’s being said on social media. It serves several purposes:

  1. Gives intelligence on discussion agendas
  2. Serves as a focus group to research product-market fit
  3. Gauges emotional sentiment

In the example above on United Airlines, we can infer that a physical altercation on one of their April flights drove discussion. We also see that their CEO’s response was ineffective from a PR standpoint. Finally, we understand that the customer backlash was overwhelmingly negative.

If we can learn anything from this it’s that extremely awful customer interactions will provoke outrage on social media. People rarely forget outrage. Now whenever United Airlines attempts to engage on social media, customers let them know they still aren’t forgiven for the earlier  incident.

What can United Airlines do to improve their social media presence? Demonstrate that they are listening to their customers.

United Airlines is, of course, an edge case. Most companies will never receive this kind of attention on social media. However, even if you or your organization have no social presence whatsoever, it’s still important to listen.

Listening helps you understand your community. It lets you empathize with their pains. It enables you to coalesce around a cause because the reason people participate on social media is to join a cause.

Therefore, before you create any social media strategy, make sure listening is paramount.