To make up for my overlong absence from the Internets, I’ve hit on a new series of blog posts, 5 in all, that make the case for the top things your company ought to be doing if it’s still babystepping its way into Social Media Marketing.

I’m going to be taking a distinctly tactical approach with this series; partly because I so often discuss strategy on this blog, and partly cuz I’m still pretty fried from getting settled in California…

If you only do one thing in Social Media, it ought to be SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING.

I want to harken back to our work with H&R Block (HRB) in the 2009 tax season to make my case here. When SHIFT got started with HRB, the company was all over the proverbial Conversation Prism: from MySpace to SecondLife, from Twitter to YouTube, and beyond. Some of the content was informational and relevant, some of the engagement was sincere and helpful; but there were also a lot of wasted cycles spent on clever interactive campaigns, etc.

Working with HRB’s Paula Drum (still a client, over at Gettington – hi Paula!), SHIFT dug into some hardcore SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING. Not just about HRB, mind you – because surely we’d see conversations by and about HRB with such obvious approaches – but also with the simple question in mind, “Where do people ask questions about taxes?”

Turned out that there were a ton of tax-wary citizens hanging out in Yahoo! Answers, and, on, within the message boards undergirding TurboTax and HRB’s own TAXCUT software.

I don’t plan to turn this post into a full-on case study, but suffice to say that even after we exited the scene, the good folks at HRB boosted the number of tax pros devoted to Social Media Monitoring and Response by 100x, from the 10 we had to work with in 2009, to 1,000 in 2010.

Point is, the monitoring effort, all by itself, would have been invaluable to HRB marketers. It told them where TO put their resources, and where to STOP putting their resources.

The same will be true of any company. If the brand is willing to do only ONE THING in Social Media, then before “blogging,” before “tweeting,” before ANYTHING else, I recommend plain ol’ listening. Not just because “listening will help the brand better attune its approach to online conversations,” which is the fluff any Social Media Goon will sell you on, but also because it will help the brand figure out where to have those conversations in the first place.

It’s as much about efficiency as it is about engagement.

Top tools I recommend: Sysomos, Radian6

Next time: “If You Only Do *Two Things in Social Media …” Can you guess what I’ll recommend? Are there other Social Media Monitoring Tools that you like using? Let me know in the comments!

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