This means a key element of any social media strategy should be joining existing conversations - particularly on Twitter, where a hashtag means entry into a debate, an argument, social commentary or, in the case of the recent #BICGate saga, a lynch mob.
If recent social media blunders have taught us anything, it's that brands that self-implode are generally those that don't listen to the public sentiment of the moment before communicating with their audience. They forget they're talking to people, not consumers, and miss the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way.
This post - during the #BICgate debacle - from rival stationery brand Staedtler, worked well in the moment:
In just over 18 hours, this was retweeted 137 times, favourited 96 times and reached more than 32,500 accounts. These analytics show that an intelligently crafted response or comment about a trending topic can be extremely effective for your brand - if it's done right.
It can mean organic exposure to a more diversified audience, with the added benefit of keeping your brand on trend and in touch. Here are the top five ways your brand can win at being a social listener:Stop. Listen. Learn
Don't spend all your time trying to construct your own conversation, rather start listening. Take a newsroom approach, actively search and anticipate trending topics or keywords relating to your brand, and pay attention to what people are already saying. These conversations are organic and authentic, and present an opportunity to connect with users who might be genuinely interested in your brand.
This shrewd tweet by Nissan at the height of the #RoyalBaby excitement was well-thought out and right on time:Be timeous
Make sure you're being a voice, not an echo. Joining a conversation that's beginning to wane will make you seem out of touch and irrelevant. If you're going to join in, do it quickly (but carefully) so your commentary or opinion is discoverable. Remember that one post doesn't a witty conversation make - follow up on your tweet quickly by engaging with users who engaged with you, always answering in the same tone as your initial tweet.
Groupon won at social media when they engaged in a hilarious stream of tweets in response to their post advertising a 'Banana Bunker':Check for relevance
No one likes a know-it-all. And leaping into a conversation that has absolutely nothing to do with your brand will seem bullish. Random interjects can work, but they have to be uproariously funny and cleverly crafted. So rather stick to what you know.
This tweet by USA-based retailer Kenneth Cole during protests in Egypt - with a not-so-subtle reference to the Arab Spring - was an all-round bad idea:Test it offline
No community is an island. Never post in isolation. Do your research. If you're unsure whether your trend-related tweet is inspired or misguided, ask everyone and anyone for their opinion before posting. Get as many insights as possible. Weigh up the offline answers to anticipate what the online response will be. As we've already mentioned, social media is simply a conversation, in a different space. It's run by humans, not robots.
This tweet by USA-based supermarket Best Buy got them into some seriously hot water. The tweet was related to a podcast series about a controversial murder case, in which the evidence hinged on whether the accused had made a call from a pay phone in a Best Buy store. This was probably not the wisest wisecrack:Avoid the mob
Make sure your comment adds value or humour to the existing conversation - running to join a lynch mob just for the sake of it is neither endearing nor intelligent. Hurling abuse just to be "one of the guys" will do nothing for your brand's reputation. A quip is okay. Overtly bashing another brand is not. If it's appropriate, try compliments and encouragement, as opposed to unfiltered criticism. Savanna shows us how trend-tapping is done tastefully with this clever comment: