3133347219_4c16658dd5_zI, and many other social media experts, have often spoken of the need to use social media to listen as much as we use it to talk. You can post several times a day, but if you’re not listening to your customers’ posts and replies, you’re only doing half the work of a social media marketing campaign. You’re missing out on the opportunity to have meaningful conversations.

People WILL talk about you online. Sometimes they’ll reply to one of your posts or leave a review, and then conversation is easy. You simply respond. But what about when it’s not easy? Inconveniently, there’s no rule that customers have to tag you in their posts or only talk about you on your Facebook page. Just because you aren’t on Twitter doesn’t mean your customers aren’t. They may be Tweeting about you while you’re not listening. There’s also no rule that they can only talk about you during business hours. Just because you’ve shut down your computer for the day doesn’t mean their posts will stop. It’s up to you to keep your eyes and ears open if you want to stay on top of the conversation.

Let me give you a concrete example.

About 7 p.m. one evening last week, an angry rumor about one of our clients popped up in my personal Facebook News Feed. This wasn’t posted to the client’s Page, it didn’t tag them, and it was being shared. That meant I couldn’t be sure who had written the original post, when it had been written, or how many times it had been shared. I had no idea how many people had seen it or if our client had seen it. Almost immediately, my Marketing Manager, Brianna, texted me. She included a screenshot of the exact same post on her Facebook feed. Clearly this rumor was gaining some traction. It was getting seen.

I texted our client immediately with a copy of the screenshot and a warning that we should address the rumor as soon as possible to stop it from getting out of control. The next morning, the client supplied us with an honest, open, transparent response to the rumor. We posted it and watched as the sharing began. For the next two days our response was shared over and over and seen by thousands of people. So much for the malicious rumor! We’d gotten the truth out there. And as a bonus, our client earned over 120 new Page Likes. Not only had we stopped a negative conversation, we’d actually fostered good will in the process.

We all think “going viral” is a good thing, but just as often, “viral” can be dangerous. You can’t afford to ignore what happens on social media while you’re offline. Your customers are talking about you on social media. You can only respond if you (or your marketing firm) are listening. If you’re simply making posts and not worrying about what people say about you on social media, you’re only doing half the job, and that kind of willful ignorance can be damaging.