Everyone thinks Twitter is a great place to initiate and engage in conversations. It is. But more importantly it’s a great place to listen!

Let’s face it access to real time information and key individuals in your industry can be a huge differentiator and game changer. That’s why businesses spend so much time, money and energy on market research.

Want a world-class real-time intelligence-gathering dashboard on a small business budget?

No problem.

Start by building up your key Twitter Lists.

Here are some suggestions to get you started List-ening:

Industry trends

Who are the top though leaders tweeting on topics related to your industry? Find them all and add them to one list. Scanning the tweets on this list on a daily basis will provide you a real time boots on the ground update as to what is really going on in your industry. Access to timely information will not only ensure you are well informed, but often times you’ll know about major changes about to happen in your industry first. Even before even the media does. This advantage can allow you to jump on opportunities or avoid missteps. Beyond just listening, it’s also a great opportunity to ask questions of your very own expert advisory board. Once you’ve taken the time to get to know these folks, why not engage with them a little as well? Being able to query the top minds of your industry in real time can provide significant value and insight.

Customers

Make sure you create a key customers list to provide account level intelligence, conversation starters and to pro-actively provide customer service. Let’s face it a lot of people are passive in person but become passive aggressive online. A customer may not call up and tell you they are unhappy with your product or service but they just might tweet that you #suck. This is a great opportunity to jump in and help that customer and show that you are really listening with the whole world watching how proactive you are.

Competitors

You should be monitoring a list of  your competitors to find out what they are saying about themselves and about you. That’s a given. But you should also keep tabs on what customers are saying about your competitors. Not only is this a more accurate way to determine what is really going on in the market, it’s also a great way to find new customers. If someone (or many people) are complaining about your competitor and that competitor is not listening on Twitter, offer to help out! You don’t need to hard sell them to change suppliers. In fact I’d encourage you no to. If you are genuinely helpful to a competitor’s customer who has real problems to solve… they may very well choose to become your customer!

Prospects

People talk about all sorts of things on Twitter including their problems. If you are in business you more than likely spend a great deal of time probing for pain points with prospective customers that you can address with your products and services. People are generally not keen to give out this information easily because they don’t want to be “sold to”. And yet these same people will jump on Twitter to vent or ask for help. Be there for them. Listen and assist when they are ready.

Interesting people

Have an Interesting People List. Staying too focused on your niche market will not allow you to expand your creativity, passions, interests and network. Take a liberal arts approach to this list and surprise yourself. Some of the “interesting people” in my own “interesting people” list have turned out to become some of my best mentors, customers and friends in real life too.