This article originally appeared on 60 Second Social.

Over the past number of years the way in which we communicate online has changed massively thanks to social media. Social media has changed the Internet into something that is more personal and centred around participation. When it comes to talking about brands, it means that there are now more ways than ever before for people to talk about your brand. People could be engaging with each other about your brand so how do you keep track of these interactions? 

You listen.

Social listening at is basic level is the process of using tools and software to monitor and track information online and instances where your brand or business was being discussed. Social listening tools crawl the websites looking for keywords which relate to your brand or more commonly, searching for your business name.

The tools then report all of the mentions they have found relative to your business and you can use this information to interact with users or to gain important insights which could help your business in the long run. Depending on what kind of functionality you want, you can get tools for as little as €10 per month or more expensive options that can run up to the hundreds or thousands.

Social listening is important as it helps you to understand the market, understand the competition and understand your customers or potential customers. Compiling information relative to your business or brand in one place can help you stay on top of things especially if something happens online that needs your immediate attention. Compiling all of the data and the conversation taking place about your business can be crucial. When you don’t use tools such as these, it can allow users to cause chaos for your brand.

Keeping in mind why we need social listening tools, here is an instance which happened in America just last week which demonstrates just how important social listening is.

Target (large supermarket in America) announced last week that they would be phasing out gender-specific signs and displays in some sections of their stores. The official announcement said that:

Right now, our teams are working across the store to identify areas where we can phase out gender-based signage to help strike a better balance. For example, in the kids’ Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids. In the Toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves. You’ll see these changes start to happen over the next few months.”

Needless to say customers were upset and some of them very angry. What happens these days when we are upset or angry about a brand? We take to social media to make our feelings know. This is not a petty reaction, it is a way of reaching out to a brand and communicating with them or venting at them. I do it myself, however what happens if the brand or business is half asleep and not paying attention to what is happening on their own page?

Anticipating a backlash, Facebook user Mike Melgaard set up a fake Facebook profile posing as a Target customer representative using the fake name ‘AskForHelp’ with the target logo as his profile image. Melgaard spoke to Adweek about his prank and said the following.

“Immediately, I knew there would be your typical outraged American spouting emotional reactions on their Facebook page. After taking a look, I was literally laughing out loud at my computer. A few more minutes in and it struck me how hilarious it would be to portray myself as a parody customer service rep. So, I did just that, and the rest was history. Honestly, it was like striking comedy gold. Every one of these people gave me the ammunition I needed for a great response.”

Some of the responses he gave were just fantastic!

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It took sixteen hours and over 50 responses to customers before Melgaard’s fake account was shut down, more than enough time for a story to go viral and appear in websites all over the world.

It highlights the importance of how brands need to be listening and remain aware of what is being said about their brand on social media at all times. For Target’s perspective, it was far too easy for Melgaard to pose as a Target and field questions on the company’s page on behalf of the company itself. Allowing activity such as that to take place for a period such as sixteen hours is enough time to do serious damage to the reputation of the company.

Luckily for Target, Melgaard’s responses were light hearted however the importance of remaining vigilant has been highlighted, especially for large brands. Tools such as Mention, Hootsuite and Tweetdeck can help brands stay on top of the conversation and monitor what is being said at all times. Target clearly were not using such social listening software, they were clearly not using social listening tools in any capacity otherwise they would have picked up Melgaard’s activity much quicker than what they did and put a stop to it.

Melgaard has received so much attention that it could be likely we see people trying to copy what he has done and jump on other big brand announcements. It is important that you invest in social listening tools for your brand if you are not doing so already. Target did issue a response after all of the antics had concluded.

“At Target, we are committed to providing outstanding guest service to our guests wherever we engage with them—in our stores, online, or on our social pages. Clearly this individual was not speaking on behalf of Target. Should guests ever have questions on whether a communication from Target is legitimate, we encourage them to reach out to guest relations at 1-800-440-0680.”

And on their Facebook page they made a post in jest to Melgaard, who took the time to respond in the comments.

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