[This article originally appeared on Memeburn]

One of the more appealing opportunities for brands engaging with customers in social media is soliciting candid feedback about their products and service. With the right amount of investment in your communities these insights can have a profound impact on the way you conduct research, design business processes, train staff, build products and more.

Strategy starts with defining clear objectives. The same applies to social media (or digital) strategy — without clear objectives at the start, engagement falls flat. Traditionally these objectives are defined by the business and are in line with your brand ideals. Your brand ideals are all those things you believe your customers think and feel about you.

The problem is that your brand is far more complex than that – rather than being the amalgamation of marketing collateral and messaging you broadcast on a daily basis, it is in reality the collection of thoughts, feelings, associations, stories and emotions your customers (and your staff) share about you. Today, that narrative is shared online.

Responsible brands understand the weight of this narrative, and are cleverly filtering the conversation for gems that can influence strategy at the most fundamental level. These customer insights, plus your brand ideals will produce a set of “brand objectives” that should form the drivers for social strategy.

Because engagement is an unpredictable variable in the strategic framework for brands in social media, you will constantly be learning and evolving in line with the growth and maturity of your audience. Your strategy should be considered cyclical and iterative, and treated as such.

Before you get to that point, here are five steps to creating the kinds of communities that produce remarkable insights:

1. Invest

Building healthy, mature online communities takes time… a long time. As we say to our clients, social media is a five-day game, not a T20 match! Before you can extract powerful insights from your community you need to earn trust. Remember, as a brand you are invading social media channels designed for interpersonal connection. Therefore, it’s that much harder to gain respect.

2. Be human

Stop being precious about your brand and logo. Stop freaking out when someone whines, when people complain or when you don’t get a hundred percent positive response to your tweet or campaign. You’re an organisation made up of human beings – act with humanity. Be open, honest, authentic and vulnerable, and your audience will open up too. Constructively so.

3. Solicit feedback

If you want great insights, ask for them. Sometimes your job as a brand in social media is akin to that of a therapist – listen, absorb, engage, respond. Tailor your content to the user, ask questions that produce interesting answers, be controversial, challenge your audience and challenge yourself. You’ll be surprised how smart the market can be…

4. Beware the mob

Not all customer insights are helpful though – remember the line between an engaged community and a flaming mob is marginal. Never underestimate the impact of a large group of stupid people. The skill lies in filtering the signal from the noise.

5. Implement

It’s all fair and well extracting insights from your customers, but if you don’t listen and use some of those insights to make executive, strategic decisions, you’re missing the point. Listening is not enough – your actions will speak louder than your words. Taking great insights and changing the business along those lines will encourage further engagement and enhance trust with your audience.