Social Media Listening 101: Why it’s important, why you should care and how to do it well

Imagine all the business insights you can gain from an organic market research where the focus group is made up of people already using your products and engaging with your brand. Sound sweet, right?

That’s precisely the kind of business information that you can access when you have a social listening strategy in place to monitor, analyze and engage in online conversations about your company and industry segment. 

Companies already know that social media is way more effective than a broadcast platform. For building a good content channel strategy you need to reach the right people with good content and at the right time. In order to do this, you need to sharpen your social listening techniques in addition to your communication skills.

So, what is social listening? 

As the name implies, social listening means monitoring social media channels for mentions of the brands and its products, the competitors, and any other news that is relevant to the industry in which your business is. The next step is to analyze the information for actionable insights, which can range from engaging happy customers to changing the branding strategy for the company. 

Social media listening often gets confused with social media monitoring. The latter is the process of gathering data from events that have already happened and replying to incoming comments and questions about the brand. Although they are both similar and work best together, they should not be used interchangeably. 

CEO of Networked Insights Dan Neely describes it perfectly saying:

Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.

Honestly, if you are not engaged in social media listening, then you will end up having a business strategy with blinders on. You will end up missing out actionable insights from people who are actively talking about you and using your products. In short, if you don’t care about social listening, you don’t care about your customers. And that is just bad for your business. Here are some benefits of social listening. 

Customer research and engagement: You think you know your customers. Think again!! In a survey, Pegasystems found that although 66 percent of retail banking and telco/broadband companies thought that they “deeply understand” their customers, only 41 percent of banking customers and less than a quarter of broadband customers actually agreed to that. In the same survey, people also said that companies failing to listen to their requests and needs topped the list of three customer service complaints. 

In a research article by Sproutsocial, it has been seen that social media is the place to track your brand’s overall health. With social listening, you can go beyond addressing disgruntled customers and access the overall sentiment towards your brand.

Social listening can give brands a good insight into what customers expect, and whether their expectations are being met. It will also give you moments when outreach is required to engage in positive or negative conversations that are happening around the brand.

Identify strategic advantages or mistakes in real time: Which posts are getting the maximum amount of social engagement combined with good social sentiments? If the sentiment about your brand suddenly changes, then you can dig into individual posts to get a sense of the shift. If you have had a good campaign, make notes of the elements or strategy that worked. In case the campaign didn’t go well, then you can review the social feedback to identify the mistakes. 

Find what people think of you compared to competitors: Social listening means that not only do you listen to social conversations about your brand, but also that of your competitors, and form a fair idea of where you stand in your industry. In fact, you will get all the information and real-time intelligence about your competitors, and use that to plan responses to opportunities and threats accordingly.

Uncover pain points that you can address first: By monitoring important industry keywords, you can uncover conversations where people talk about product and features that don’t work for them. These conversations can help you tweak an existing product, or create an entirely new one to meet the demands of your customers. 

Identify advocates and influencers: Social listening will give you a general idea of who the influencers are within your industry. Connect with them as they have a significant influence on how their followers feel about your brand and your competitor. Identify your brand advocates as well, connect with them and collaborate on the content production. In a study, Nielson found that 83 percent of respondents trusted information and recommendations about products from people they already knew. Social listening will help brands identify them quickly.

Here are some tools to help you in the process of social listening: HootsuiteTalkwalkerSynthesioBrandwatchReddit Keyword Monitor

Setting up for social listening

With many potential data sources, companies need to have a clear idea of what they want to listen. The exact topics and keywords will evolve over time, as you learn the language people use while talking about your brand. But to begin with, here is a list of things you can look at:

  • Brand name and handles
  • Product names
  • Competitors product names and handles
  • Your own slogan, and that of your competitors.
  • Industry buzzwords
  • Campaign keywords and names
  • Names of high ranking company executives like the CEO or CTO
  • Your own branded hashtags and that of your competitors
  • Unbranded hashtags of the industry

Listen carefully, do it better

  • Cast a wide net and find out all the places where people talk about you- Conversations vary across platforms. For instance, conversations about your brand on industry blogs and LinkedIn is very different from Facebook. Understanding this will help brands join the conversation by paid advertising as well as organic engagement.

  • Learn from your competitor- Let’s be honest- it’s a lot easier to watch your competitors make mistakes and learn from them, rather than go through the process yourself. Learn from their success and mistakes, and incorporate everything into your strategy.

  • Collaborate with content marketing, product development, and customer service- Social listening will provide a range of information about addressing customer posts, to designing more engaging content, to ideas for new features in existing products, if not new products. By listening, you will get to know what your customers want. You can find pain points and directly address them in your content. Share this with all the teams, and ask for suggestions to tweak social listening parameter.

  • Benchmark the normal, and then watch out for changes- Once you start collecting social data, you will quickly develop a sense of the normal amount of conversation surrounding your brand, and the overall sentiment. You can monitor these numbers, and always work to improve them. Significant changes in engagement mean that the overall sentiment and perception have changed, and the brand needs to re-strategize their plan.

  • Examine the data and take actions- If you are not tweaking your plans based on the insights gleaned from the data, then you are not listening, but just monitoring. Spend some time and money to understand the data, rather than just reading individual comments, as these insights play a big role in shaping future strategy. Social listening will help brands identify opportunities in the marketplace. Check out what Marshalls did on Pinterest and YouTube. 

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