Social Listening – what is it and why is it important?

Since the rise of social media, and its importance to brand image, product placement and marketing in a modern day setting, it has become critical to understand what is being said and felt by audiences on these platforms.

This has been termed social listening. As in all things marketing and sales, if you are not taking the time to hear to the reaction, and taking measures to understand and analyse the result – you are not learning. A social listening strategy is key to long-term success on these now very influential platforms.

What is social listening?

The most important thing to understand about social listening is that it looks forward rather than backward. It’s about analysing the information collected and using it to guide strategy and day-to-day actions in the future.

Social listening is essentially a two-step process. The first step is monitoring social media platforms for mentions of any key words or subjects important to your business. This could be your brand name, your competitors, your products, hashtags or other relevant subjects or buzzwords. The second step is analysing that information, understanding these insights and then designing ways to put this learning into action. This may be as simple as responding to a happy customer or something as complex as completely changing a product or campaign message.

It is the forward thinking mindset of taking action that makes social listening different from social monitoring. Social monitoring focuses on data collection and looking at what has happened in the past.

The aim of social listening is to look beyond just the numbers and to consider how your audience is feeling and their ‘mood’ as a result of your social media content. This ‘on-line mood’ is called ‘social media sentiment’ and it involves understanding how people feel about your brand, your competitor’s brand and other factors within your marketing mix. Understanding this sentiment is key to communicating effectively with your audience. In short, it helps you design the best response and then engage.

Why is social listening important?

Having an effective social listening strategy is as valuable as engaging in a direct and honest conversation with your customers. Businesses that really take the time to listen, and to also hear and respond to their audiences reactions, are light years ahead of their competitors and actually able to provide their customers what they want.

What are the benefits of social listening?

Customer engagement – this one is at the top of the list for a reason – it’s very important and incredibly powerful. Listening to, and even participating in conversations with your customers about what they are saying about your brand allows you to identify opportunities to engage. This can be responding to either positive or negative feedback, or even a service request.

Make changes to your strategy in real time – engagement is good but only if the sentiment is positive. A good social listening strategy allows a brand to be aware of any changes in sentiment immediately, understand why there has been a change and respond in real time. If the sentiment is positive, it allows insight into why so its possible to keep up the good work. If it’s negative, it can be used to change direction and nip the bad in the bud.

Understand where you stack up – social listening also includes tapping in to what your audience thinks about your competitors and how you compare to them – in their eyes. This provides insight into where you fit in the marketplace.

This can even be taken a step further as effective social listening will provide information on what your competitors are up to – in real time. Understanding what they doing allows you to plan and respond quickly so as not to lose market share.

Expose pain points and nail product development – social listening will mean that you hear conversations and feedback about products, services and features – things that customers love and things that frustrate them. This information can be used for better product development and could possibly generate an idea for a brand new product or for adapting current features for an existing one to make it better.

Know who the movers and shakers are – Social listening will expose to you and identify to your business who are the influencers in your marketplace. These are important people and well worth connecting with in an authentic and positive way.


How to get organised for social listening

It is important from the very beginning to make a clear decision on what your business wants to listen for. The clearer and more relevant the set parameters are, the better the outcome and the better the ability to change these parameters in real time depending on audience mood and sentiment.

It is important to understand the best keywords and topics to monitor, and to understand that these words and topics will evolve and change over time.

When getting started and setting up your strategy the below key words and topics are important to be across right from the get-go.

  • Brand name and handles
  • Your product name(s), including common misspellings and abbreviations
  • Your competitors’ brand names, product names, and handles
  • Industry buzzwords
  • Your slogan and those of your competitors
  • Names of key people in your company and your competitors’ companies (your CEO, spokesperson, brand ambassadors)
  • Campaign names or keywords
  • Your branded hashtags and those of your competitors
  • Unbranded hashtags related to your industry

Using specific tools for social listening allows businesses to learn the words, phrases and terms used when talking about your business, industry and products and which are the most useful and relevant to you. The key is to remain flexible and evolve in real time and to not forget listening is an interactive conversation and as such it changes.

Social listening tips

Listen to where people talk about you, not just what they saydon’t limit yourself to one or two social platforms – listen to them all. What your audience says on Facebook might be completely different to what is said on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. It’s important to understand where people are talking and how it differs across different spaces. This will provide the information to build a strategy to get involved both in a paid and organic way.

Keep up with the competition – By listening to your competition, and what their audiences are saying, you can gain plenty of insight about what works and what doesn’t. It’s a lot less costly to learn from your competitors mistakes and beneficial to understand their wins.

Gather information, share and collaborate – social listening provides the opportunity to gather a wide range of information that will be useful to share throughout all parts of your business.

Keep an eye out for change and react – As your ear gets tuned, you will develop an understanding of the general conversation and sentiment about your brand. Armed with this knowledge, you can then monitor for changes. These might be intentional and positive, or unintentional and negative. Either way you can pick up on these changes and react accordingly.

Social listening tools

With the volume of content only getting larger, its impossible to listen without help. You will need tools to help you execute your social listening strategy. The following are some of the best ones available.

Hootsuite – you can use these tools to set up social media streams that monitor conversations and keywords. When an opportunity arises to reach out to potential customers, influencers, or advocates, these tools allow you to respond directly or assign the response to someone else on your team.

ReviewTrackers – this tool allows you to monitor reviews from more than 85 reviews sites, including TripAdvisor and Google Maps, as soon as 15 minutes after they’re posted.

Talkwalker – this tool offers advanced social listening capabilities covering blogs, forums, videos, news sites, and review sites, as well as social networks.

Synthesio – this tool is able to track conversations on highly specific topics within carefully segmented audiences. Synthesio can tag mentions by language, location, demographics, sentiment, and influence, and the reports include a social reputation score.

Audiense – with this tool you are able to identify any audience, no matter how large or how specific. You can then create reports that tell you what they talk about, what they like, and even how they think and behave.

Brandwatch – this tool lets you monitor the tone and impact of the conversation across 95 million data sources. You can set up email alerts to let you know when an important conversation is taking place.

In conclusion

It’s important to remember that social listening is something that looks forward and is done for planning benefits in real time. It is more than monitoring, it’s engaging in the audience sentiment now. When designing a social listening strategy it is important to aim to understand patterns and trends over time, rather than just individual comments. Having insight into the overall mood will provide the most powerful knowledge and help to guide decisions in the future.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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Margot Stolle

Margot Stolle is a marketing professional with over 15 years experience within several different industries including: sports and events sponsorship; business and financial planning; and fashion. She also owns and manages her own brand of children's sleepwear which is e-retailed and has experience in designing and editing websites and managing social media platforms.

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