Many social savvy business leaders and marketers have integrated social media into their DNA. We know how to tweet with one hand, check into Foursquare in a split second & post a photo to Facebook without missing a run on the rugrats baseball field.

For many this is not the case. Most have a hard time spelling Twitter or Foursquare. They don't know the difference between a tweet, twit, retweet or DM. We can't blame them. It's all changing so fast. There is so much conflicting information out there. Some say social media is the best thing since sliced bread. A small percentage thinks it's a fad and the list goes on.

Regardless of where you are with social media, there is one fact you need to understand…

There is a conversation happening in your honor right now.

Doesn't matter if you choose to ignore it, it's happening. And it is making brand impressions on your market each and every day! It's happening even if you have chosen to ignore social media. You can choose to ignore social media. However, you can't choose to ignore the impact the conversation is having on your business and what your audience thinks of you.

Let me  put this in plain english for you…

People are talking about you and your brand!

So, if you are a wise guy sitting there thinking, “you are wrong marketing nut, nobody is talking about me.” Well, I'd love to have a quick conversation with the wise guys as to why the fact that nobody is talking about you (although probably not true) is not a good thing.

The truth is if you are in business, if you have customers, if you have partners, if you have come in contact with any type of human being with your business in the past year then there is a conversation being had somewhere about you.

On average, 89% of people look online before making a purchase decision. Why do you think they are looking online? Are they trusting 100% the corporate speak on the corporate website of the service or product they are seeking? Nope! They trust the opinions of their online friends, colleagues, partners and family!

To prove the point even further let me share with you a quick case study about an experience I had with a large grocery store chain who chose to ignore social media.

Social Listening Case Study: What happens when you ignore social media:

Yesterday was Sunday and I had the gift of some “me” time thanks to hubby taking the kids to see a movie. Unfortunately my day was filled with running errands such as grocery store shopping a trip to Wal-Mart.

When I remembered I checked into FourSquare. I was quite shocked with what I found being said online about two major retail locations.  I saw bad words, I saw people complaining about their jobs, the customer service, the products and more.

Note, if you are new to FourSquare, when people check into a location on FourSquare we don't have to search for information about the business. It literally pops up on our mobile phone screen. It tells us “Billy Says <insert Billy's comment here>.  People can leave “tips” on FourSquare when they visit a business. The tips can be good and help with positive brand impressions in a viral form.  However, what happens when the tip is bad? What's even worse is what happens when it's bad and the business has no idea it exists? Ouch!

One of the stores I visited is a major grocery store chain in Florida. I know the General Manager so could not ignore the negative tip that I saw left by an employee. I know the management team would want to know. I knew he would be more upset if I didn't share with them.

As I discussed the information with the manager she was shocked. It happened to be a current employee who had left a negative message about the store. I discussed with her the situation, what FourSquare was, how to handle the information, what she should tell the employee etc.

She was disappointed and I could tell by her response it wasn't something she was excited about dealing with yet knew she had to.

The store manager was also quite impressed by the “nearby specials” that popped up on my FourSquare application on my iPhone when I was showing her the “tip.” Too bad she had to see opportunity for benefit at the same time she was putting out a fire that could have been avoided to begin with.

lessons learnedLessons Learned: What we can learn from the grocery store.

1. It is better to be proactive than reactive. Guaranteed their management team spent unplanned time  lastnight and today to determine next steps and how they will handle the situation. Wouldn't it have been easier to plan ahead and avoid a negative entry into social media?

2. Their fist official entry into social media is negative. It's in firedrill mode. Not good.

3. They lack a social media policy. Much of the firedrill activity will be to determine how they handle the situation. My guess is they will have a social media policy on the agenda at the next management meeting.

4. They chose to ignore social media and it backfired on them. Ignoring social media doesn't make it go away. It just shoves it under a carpet that you walk over but your audience is looking under every day.

5. Guaranteed negative impact to brand equity. The employee “tip” was on FourSquare for 3 months! This means that for 3 months 100's, probably 1000's of people who have checked into FourSquare at this business have seen his tip.

6. Missed opportunity. By choosing to not be part of the coversation, there is missed opportunity for audience engagement, brand equity and possibly even sales.

This is the biggest disappointment to me when I see brands ignoring social media is the missed opportunity. I check into numerous businesses on FourSquare, tweet about them, talk about them on Facebook, share photos virally and receive no response. It's not just little brands. Big brands too are missing out on engaging with their most influential and engaging audience at their cost.

If you haven't read the book “Engage” from Brian Solis, I highly recommend you do. “Engage or Die” is the thought and belief. If you have ignored social media up to this point I challenge you to at minimum start with a social listening strategy.  My guess is the learnings you have during the social listening phase will inspire you to turn off the ignore button and start engaging!

The purpose of this post was not to provide a template or plan for how to do social listening. There are numerous articles on my blog for how to get to know your audience, engage and listen to the conversation. Join one of our classes, hire us as a consultant. Whatever you do, do something. If you don't know where to start with social media or social media listening and don't have the time to do it in this century yourself then get help!  There are many agencies and consultants who can save you thousands of dollars in researching. What is the cost of you not engaging? What's the cost of not being part of your own conversation?

Ignoring social media is not going to make it go away. The conversation is happening and will continue to go on regardless if you continue to choose to ignore it or not!

Your Turn

What are your thoughts? How many times have you checked into FourSquare and seen tips that influence brand? If you remember them today it's proof they are leaving a brand imprint. If you have been ignoring social media or haven't prioritized it to date, does this article make you consider doing such? Wouldn't you rather be part of the conversation? Or even better, how about influencing the conversation? Don't be a victim.

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