Social media is a goldmine of content ideas for marketers. Thousands of customers use social media platforms to share their thoughts, complaints, triumphs and ideas with companies and their audiences. This is the kind of customer insight Don Draper would have killed to have, and we have access to it all for free!

However, it’s important to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your time spent on social media, and not just sitting back and watching followers discuss your brand. Taking a more proactive approach to your social media efforts can help you to define your own brand, enter new conversations with new audiences and generate content that truly resonates with your audience. Here are a few ways to become a more proactive listener in the social sphere — and do more with what you hear!

Follow Industry Conversations
Monitoring the existing conversations is only providing you with feedback on past performance. This is why existing listening strategies very rarely yield breakthrough insights or content ideas. Following larger industry conversations will allow you to see what current trends are shaping your space and concerning your customers.

Look for industry hashtags on twitter, third party industry blogs and conversations in relevant LinkedIn groups. These sources will provide a wealth of knowledge well beyond the conversations taking place around your brand.

Follow or Subscribe to Individuals
Unless they really love or hate your company, your followers probably talk about a lot of things besides your brand. Next time you see your company mentioned, take a few minutes to explore what else that person has tweeted or posted in the last couple of days.

Look for patterns or connections back to your company. Are you being mentioned in relation to a larger topic or discussion? Do they show an interest in a related topic? Certainly don’t tailor content to one individual, but be open to new topics that are of interest to your audience.

Make Connections to Current Trends
This is the easiest example of proactive listening because you’re probably already doing it to some extetnt. All of us are tuned into current events and trends, whether through television, social networks, or rss feeds. These sources provide a never ending stream of potentially viral content ideas.

The next time you see a breakout story (think Facebook purchases Instagram), take a minute to make connections between that event and your brand. Those connections can be as creative as they need to be, provided they still make sense. Creating content around those connections is a simple and effective way to generate content that will be compelling and interesting to your audience, and likely to others as well.

Don’t be a passive, reactionary listener. Take control of your brand identity and create truly compelling content for your audience. Your audience is telling you what that content is, you just have to start listening.