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How Social Listening Can Optimize Experience Design by:

August 4th, 2010

Participation in social media is higher now than ever before – the demographics are staggering: over 50% of the world’s internet population is under 30, and 96% of those have joined a social network.  Yet, most digital marketers appear to be content with their current advertising within social media; creating ‘token’ social media presences with very thin content and pointing people to them with “follow us on Facebook” buttons, placing banner ads and sponsored content within social media, etc., nothing more.


Some marketers, on the other hand, are aggressively using social media channels such as Twitter to provide real-time customer service, even in highly regulated industries such as financial services.  While direct engagement with consumers via social media is often the goal, a real opportunity that is often overlooked is to leverage social listening to improve online experience design.

Social listening is when social media outlets are monitored for key feedback that can be leveraged to improve business results.   Since your prospects and customers are already having an online conversation about your organization, your products and services, and your reputation, it is very simple and inexpensive to capture and act on these inputs.   Taken individually, specific feedback from social listening can be used to make incremental updates and tweaks to your content and taxonomy.  When combined with online survey data, call center feedback, search engine-related insights, as well as your direct stakeholder input, social listening data can be used in a broader effort to analyze and prioritize enhancements to your online user experience.

Let’s consider three core evaluation criteria for user experience design: content quality, site architecture, and site management and governance.  Conducting social listening – and acting upon the learnings obtained – can positively impact each of these areas:

  • Content:  Improve your site’s content quality and relevance by listening to key terminology used in social media, as well as paying attention to what formats are used.  Wondering about investing in video content?  Listen to your audience’s use of video content, as well as feedback on your video content, if applicable, to help sway your decision.
  • Site Architecture: Improve your site’s navigational structure or validate your current information architecture by tracking site usage behavior and user engagement with social listening tools.  Wondering if your most profitable customers are served by your Web site?  Monitoring sentiment from these key audiences across relevant online communities and prioritizing site enhancements to meet their needs should raise your Web site’s performance.
  • Site Management and Governance: Your users can help uncover opportunities to align your Web site management procedures to their needs.  Wondering how to evaluate potential content partners and referral sources?  Investigating and auditing sentiment via social listening can make the difference between a seemingly good partnership that fails you – and a partnership that’s profitable.

Social listening techniques do not have to be expensive, time consuming, or technically challenging.  Sources for social listening should include:

  • High-volume social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
  • Online discussion forums
  • Social bookmarking sites (Digg, Delicious, etc.)
  • Links from external sites and blogs

These sources can and should be monitored regularly – even a manual extraction of unstructured feedback is generally quick and highly useful in terms of actionable insights.   One easy-to-use and free tool is “Social Mention” – it scours the social Web for recent mentions of your company and reports on top sources of traffic, frequently used keywords and metadata, and overall consumer sentiments.   For those just setting out into social listening to gauge sentiment, visibility across the social Web, and for competitive tracking, it’s hard to do better than Social Mention.

The key to many social tools is their use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow access to social activity data.  These building blocks of the social Web allow for social listening and also provide the opportunity for site owners to enrich the user experience by integrating social networking experiences into their Web site – further cementing the opportunity for users to submit unstructured feedback on their experience.  Social Mention, for example, provides an API to interact with it programmatically.

Social listening techniques present a low-cost, high-value option for those wishing to reach an informed impression of how their Web site users consider their user experience. Leveraging simple techniques and tools, social listening should be part of every Web site owner’s “go-to” action plan for improving site content, architecture, and management plan. At NavigationArts, we advocate consistently and irrepressibly for the rights of the user.  They are asking for better online user experiences, and if we have anything to do with it, they will be heard.

After all, these voices may well be the critical difference between an acceptable online user experience and a truly optimized user experience design.

Tags: Social Media, User Experience

2 Comments on “How Social Listening Can Optimize Experience Design”

  1. Cathy Lu says:

    Great article! The term ‘Social Listening’ really sums up the process of collecting, analyzing, and gauging feedback from social media sources. This input should not only be leveraged in improving online user experience, but should also be used in other aspects of business. It’s something people in PR, media, customer support, or market research need to know about.

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