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Ever notice the giant pile of social media “experts” who don’t have two nickels to rub together? Ever wonder why?

They spend a hell of a lot more time talking than listening.

They labor under the mistaken belief that the more you talk, the more money you’ll make as a social media expert, and I suppose as long as you’re good at duping the gullible, that’s true until the market is tapped out. Once the suckers have been skimmed, though, they have to move on to find the next big thing to latch onto. (just wait for the Google Buzz experts!)

For the rest of us, for the folks who actually want to do a sustainable business in social media, the secret is listening. Not a big secret in and of itself, but the bigger, less-asked question is “What do you listen for?

A lot of companies are doing defensive listening. They listen for things like “XYZ Company SUCKS” and other brand mentions. This is a good start, a good entry point for retention and reputation protection. However, this is only a start.

The second tier of folks, the community engagement folks, listen for things like industry jargon. In financial aid, for example, the word FAFSA is a buzzword of the industry. No one goes to a bar on Friday night and chats up the attractive person of their choice with, “Hey, have you seen my FAFSA results?”. That never happens. Community engagers build reputation and presence of mind by participating in conversations, honing in on the right conversations to participate in using the buzzwords and inside jargon of the industry.

The third tier of folks, the folks who want to do business and make money in social media listen for intent.

Sound familiar? That’s what made search marketing so revolutionary a decade ago. Search was a red flag of intent – when someone searches for, say, email marketing, they’re exhibiting at least a casual interest in the subject matter. Focused, targeted questions asked to search engines belie even more intent. Searching for email marketing is one thing. Searching for “what is the best email marketing company in Reno, Nevada” displays clear intent, and search marketers have learned to make the most of these long-tail, deep, obscure queries. (they convert like crazy, too)

So how do you detect intent in social media? Let’s use Twitter as an example. What questions belie intent? Think about your own use of language and then start playing mix and match with these keywords:

  • recommend
  • suggest
  • anyone
  • [your keyword]

Try it. Try it in Twitter search with your industry keywords and vertical.

Look at a couple of results for “anyone recommend social media”:

  • ianrbruce: anyone recommend a good book on social media metrics & measurement?
  • splashrafting: anyone recommend free social media measuring tools? Looking at some at present need to start to use more
  • hellaPR: Can anyone recommend any good cases or articles on hotels using social media, on a large scale preferably.

Each of these are home runs for a book publisher, a listening company like Radian6, and a socially-engaged hospitality chain. It would take mere seconds to respond and likely convert better than any cold call.

How do you listen? Take your top SEO keyword list (you have one, right?) and combine your top keywords with recommend, suggest, and anyone in various combinations. You’ll be amazed at the number of people blatantly flagging intent to buy your products or services, if only someone were listening.

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