I was always told that the reason we have two ears and one mouth is that listening is more important than talking, and that the art of being a good conversationalist is to listen more than you speak.

The same is true of social media. Getting value and results from your social media activity relies on monitoring the chatter that’s out there and responding in the most appropriate way for your company and target audience.

Where and how you listen should be defined by your markets, your target audiences and your products/services.

How you respond should be determined by your branding strategy; the character you want your organisation to have and the impression you want to leave with your target audiences – helpful, amusing, serious, empathetic, radical, etc.

You could take a reactive approach by simply waiting for people to post questions on your blog (assuming you have one), but this will only generate opportunities from those people you are already familiar with, those who are familiar with you or those who have found your blog through a keyword search. Important, but you might only be scratching the surface of your potential target audience.

A more proactive approach is to monitor the internet and social media platforms for the keywords that are important to you, your competitors and your markets. This would include feeds from well-known platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in and Pinterest, but, where appropriate, you should also consider involvement in forums and discussion groups covering your products and services. These might include groups frequented by professionals or hobbyists. They might not only provide potential for influencing decision makers, but could also be valuable sources for product improvements.

For example, if you were a manufacturer of bathroom fittings, you might have your own social media accounts, but also follow and track activity in both social media and forums of potential decision makers. This would include professionals such as architects and interior designers, trades people such as plumbers and bathroom fitters, DIY enthusiasts, householders, etc. Tracking keyword terms such as ‘high quality taps’, ‘shower failure’, ‘how to choose bathroom fittings’, ‘tap problem’, etc. might deliver opportunities to get your name and message to new areas of the market.

When you find relevant posts and content, you need to decide whether and how to respond.

Assuming you have decided to respond, what should you say?

People, quite naturally, have an aversion to someone interrupting a conversation with a commercial message, so avoid responding with an advertisement or push marketing message, unless it is an outright appeal for information on products such as yours. Try to keep the response friendly, helpful and objective, empathise with the poster’s situation and provide information that will help them. This may not always be information that is directly relevant to your company or result in an immediate sale, but it will be far better received and appreciated, and will give an impression of your company that will ultimately lead to further interaction, more recommendations and increased sales.

Combining these reactive and proactive approaches will give you a more effective social media strategy and ensure that you are making the most of the opportunities out there, not only in engendering meaningful engagements with your target audiences, but also in developing content for your own blog.