People are used to brands having an active social media presence. In fact, for most companies consumers are no longer asking “are you on Twitter?” but “what’s your Twitter handle?” Mostly because everyone is on Twitter. And Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.

But what happens often is that brands, in spite of saying that social media has brought the opportunity for a two-way communication, still end up not listening to anyone but churn out post after post, and copy-paste responses to people that ask them a question.

But they rarely use social media to initiate communication with individual customers. They never cross the border between the comfort zone and unsafe territory.

In doing so, they are missing out on a lot of great opportunities, which could easily be found with a social listening tool.

How it works?

To “cross the border”, you should start with choosing a social listening tool (hint: try Mediatoolkit). Social listening tools allow you to easily find relevant mentions online, as soon as they’re published. So, if your brand does cosmetics, you can get notified on all mentions of cosmetics, your brand name, competitors, etc. So, for instance, at Mediatoolkit we track terms like social listening, media monitoring, Mediatoolkit, etc. And we use those mentions to engage with people who aren’t necessarily among our followers.

Ask customers how they feel about your product

When you own a bike repair shop, and you see someone on the street struggling with adjusting the seat, you’ll approach them and offer your services. If you overhear that someone mention your bike repair shop to a friend, you’ll stop to listen, and maybe even join the conversation.

You should be doing that on social media as well.

I don’t mean that you should be spamming people. Similar to in-person, you have to recognise whether the timing is good. When it strikes, it’s okay to approach the customer first.

There are several reasons most brands avoid this. First is that it’s hard work that needs to involve a lot of people who know what they are doing.

But operational complexities are the biggest problem, it’s the fear of negative feedback.

What if you tweet to someone that mentioned your product that you hope they are enjoying it, only to have them come back at you with “no, actually it sucks”.

Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of that, especially if you know you initiated the response.

The real truth is that it’s better that you know than live in the illusion that things are great.

And some negative experiences can be mended if you reach out first.

Sell the product

Every salesperson’s dream is to come across a customer looking for their product. Technology and social networks enable us to communicate with each other, and people ask other people which phone to buy, where to go eat, or which beer is the best. Brands should be part of the public replying to those questions.

When a person tweets which nachos to buy, nacho brands should react. Not only because it actually improves the chance of a person buying their brand, but because it will also improve overall brand visibility.

Just build community in general

Sometimes the better approach is to forgo trying to sell and opt for being helpful by offering advice or simply joining conversations about your area of expertise. For bike repair shops, this would be blog posts about bikes in general, praising custom bikes, sharing other people’s tweets and content.

Haagen-Dasz does a great job at this, by responding to posts about ice cream in general.

One example:

They really go beyond the border.