What Is Social Listening (& Why You Need It in 2023 )
So, you’ve heard just caught wind of this little digital marketing strategy called Social Listening, huh?
And you’ve whipped out your phone to Google it because you want to avoid appearing out of touch in the marketing world.
Is it teed up to become one of the hottest trends of 2023?
Or is it just another fad like Sober October, Keto, and harem pants?
So, what is social listening in marketing?
It's a powerful social media strategy using AI-driven tools where you can gain invaluable insight into brand-related online conversations.
And why should you use these insights to feed your digital marketing strategy?
Well, grab your Starbucks™ Iced Caramel Macchiato and settle in.
We’ll explain the what, the why, and the how.
What Is Social Listening?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that social media listening sounds as creepy as Alexa eavesdropping in on your conversations.
Because we know that happened.
“So, what do you mean by social listening, exactly?” you ask.
Social listening is a proactive way of paying attention to what people say online about your brand, product, and competitors.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Then, you analyze the social listening data using social listening tools to understand why they’re saying such lovely or hurtful things.
“ And if you listen to them, you can soon improve all those niggly things which turn an average company into an exceptional company.”
High school dropout-turned-billionaire, Richard Branson
Social listening can reveal the root causes behind online chatter in real-time.
You can then take immediate action to implement long-term, Branson-Esque strategy changes.
Social Listening vs. Social Monitoring
Social listening is often used in conjunction with social monitoring.
Social monitoring tells you “what” people are saying, whereas social listening tells you “why” they are saying it.
Social listening considers the “online mood,” — also known as “social media sentiment.”
Sentiment analysis allows you to learn the emotional undertone of consumers concerning your brand and your competitors.
Let’s look at some real-life examples of social listening:
The fitness brand listened in on its customers' conversations in the hopes of discovering any areas for improvement.
They found consumers were discussing how cool an “Idle Alert” would be to remind them to get their daily steps in.
Lo and behold, Fitbit created a buzzing “Reminder to Move” feature.
Now, there’s simply no excuse for Fitbit users not to get their butts off the sofa.
Does anyone remember when Wendy’s introduced “natural-cut fries with sea salt”?
Well, this delicious little menu improvement was the result of social listening.
Wendy’s tracked online discussions and learned that consumers viewed “sea salt” as a healthier option than plain ol’ table salt.
Subsequently, Wendy’s gave the people what they wanted and made the switch.
Much to the delight of consumers and the fast food restaurant chain’s back pocket.
Benefits of Social Listening
How can social listening up your game? We’ve popped out six badass benefits with some examples.
1. Better customer engagement
Customers want to feel heard on social media.
Responding to your audience with thoughtfully crafted messages is the easiest way to keep them happy and engaged.
For example, HubSpot was pretty chuffed when a Twitter user gave the brand a virtual high-five:
HubSpot may have shot back a basic response, but it shows they appreciate positive feedback.
In fact, consumers who feel brands engage with them on social media will lay down 40% more dinero than customers who aren’t feeling the love.
Find and leverage opportunities to show your audience that you’re keen to engage with them – the fans and those who throw shade.
And when you do, you’ll humanize your brand, build brand loyalty and boost customer retention.
2. Competitor analysis
Businesses can use social listening tools to conduct a competitor analysis and derive insights into how they stack up against competitors.
What is a social listening tool? Social listening tools help you keep an ear to the ground in the social sphere.
You can monitor comments, posts, tweets, and reviews about your brand, competitors, and industry from one handy dashboard.
Use social listening tools to:
- Anticipate the impact any business moves made by your competitors will have on your brand.
- Understand your share of the social media audience, along with the volume of your messages vs. your competitors.
- Uncover unsatisfied customers. This can provide an incredible opportunity to improve the customer experience and generate leads.
- Analyze competitor content to learn if/why it resonates with your shared audience better.
- Quickly identify new products or solutions your competitors have brought to the table. Discover customer sentiment, and aim to outperform your competitor.
3. Insight about products
Social listening reports can reveal a gold mine of info on what’s working — and what’s not.
Consumers’ unbiased online conversations may inspire upgrade opps or spur a new product idea.
For example, a tweet tagging Zappos revealed a common customer frustration for the UX team to jump on:
As a result of social listening, you can make the necessary adjustments to address customer concerns.
4. Address problems in real-time
It’s easy to ignore one or two negative comments from time to time.
However, if the negative comments begin to outweigh the positive ones, you gotta sit up and listen.
Especially considering that 88% of consumers won’t buy from a company if they don’t take the time to answer complaints.
Through brand monitoring, you can analyze negative feedback and jump into damage control before problems get out of hand.
For example, the McDonald’s marketing team caught a consumer’s “D’oh!” moment.
By tracking sentiment in real-time, McDonald’s discovered a change in mood. They tweeted a helpful reply to show they care about their customers.
5. Lead prospects through your funnel
People generally love it when brands offer to help solve their problems.
But what do they not love?
When brands bulldoze their way into social conversations with all guns blazing and a hard sell.
Instead, simply view it as an opportunity to develop relationships with potential customers.
“Talk to your audience, make conversation, build relationships. Consumers are people, and they don’t want to be sold to. They want to be engaged, so engage them.”
Social media marketing guru, Carlos Gil
For example, let’s say a Twitter user tweeted something simple like “I need a new set of heels.”
If you were a shoe brand using social listening tools, you would have been all over this social media conversation.
You could then chime in with a link to your fabulous heel range, including a discount coupon.
Reach out. Connect. Be helpful.
These proactive yet lowkey practices will gently guide prospects through your social media marketing funnel.
🎯Pro Tip: Don't miss our handy guide to help you monetize social media!
6. Collaborate with influencers
Monitoring social media conversations identifies influencers — and micro-influencers — in your space.
Influencer marketing is an excellent way to expand your reach and cultivate brand awareness because:
a) Most consumers rely on a social platform to inform their purchasing decisions, and
b) They’re more likely to trust peer reviews over paid advertisements.
A great example comes from “ThatDadBlog” on Instagram.
Alan Lawrence posted a video of himself reliving the 80s using his new Boombox from JCPenney:
Way to holla at JCPenney, Al.
You nailed it, bro.
Ensure that the influencer you choose matches your brand wavelength and that their followers aren’t fake.
Tips for Social Listening
So, what do you look for in social listening?
Here are our 7 tips to level up and stay ahead of the curve:
1. Monitor relevant keywords and topics
Naturally, you want to track direct mentions.
But did you know that 96% of social conversations about brands occur outside official brand social media channels?
Where the brand isn’t tagged at all?
Imagine a user’s squeal of delight when you begin engaging with them, even though they didn’t tag you in a social media post or tweet.
Hence, you want to capture relevant mentions that don’t tag your tracked profile.
But, given the massive volume of social conversations happening on the daily, wading through them all can be a gigantic pain in the butt.
Luckily, with social listening tools, you can follow each social mention that ties to your chosen keywords or topics.
Monitor the following relating to you and your competitors:
- Brand name
- Social media handles
- Product names and product category
- Marketing campaign names
- Branded and unbranded hashtags
- Topics that interest your target market
- Industry keywords or buzzwords
- Names of key management and employees (CEOs, spokespeople, etc.)
Be sure to also include abbreviations and common misspellings.
2. Listen on multiple social platforms
Before you understand what your audience is saying, you need to determine where they’re saying it.
Users rely on various social networks for advice and recommendations. So, find out where your target audience is most active.
Check out what they’re saying, sharing, and interested in.
Then, you can pivot your advertising and marketing strategies for each social media platform.
3. Refine your search
Now it’s time to step up your search techniques.
Filter mentions by geographic location or demographic information to hone in on specific segments of your target market.
Doing this helps you market to niches where your target audience communicates their purchase or service needs.
You can also use Boolean search logic to create a more targeted social media monitoring query.
What the (bleep) is Boolean search logic, you ask?
According to Google:
Now you know.
4. Be inspired by the competition
We don’t recommend parroting a competitor’s social media strategy because you’re short on ideas.
After all, no one likes a copycat.
But if you pay attention to what people are saying about your competitors, you can learn a whole boatload of fascinating stuff.
You’ll gain a sense of what people love about them.
And where they’re failing miserably.
For example, Coca-Cola experienced a facepalm moment during a Euro 2020 press conference.
Football legend Cristiano Ronaldo not-so-subtly removed two bottles of Coke from view.
The public snub wiped a reported $4 billion off Coca-Cola’s market value.
It was an innocent gesture, truth be told. Ronaldo just wanted to encourage people to drink more water.🤷
Mike’s Hard Lemonade took note of the epic blunder and jumped at the chance to poke fun at Coca-Cola to promote their own product.
It’s much easier (and cheaper) to track what your competitors are doing and learn from their blockbusters and blunders.
5. Keep your team in the loop
To build an org-wide social listening strategy that works, you must harness the unique blend of your teams’ expertise.
So, meet with all the relevant departments. That includes customer service, content marketing, product development, and other marketing decision-makers.
Then, teams can collaborate on ways to improve the current online sentiment, boost customer loyalty, and address any issues.
6. Stay on top of brand sentiment
Regular social listening will reveal the volume of conversations about your brand.
And what the overall sentiment level is.
Then, you’ll be able to quickly spot negative mood swings and take immediate action.
Once you’ve made changes, be sure to let consumers know what you’ve done.
Pics, or it didn't happen.
Take Innocent Drinks, for example. Through their social media intelligence efforts, they found that consumers took issue with their branding.
They listened to brand sentiment and fixed what was broken. Then, created a cheeky self-deprecating tweet to highlight their stellar improvement.
7. Use social listening tools
If you’re still left wondering, “what is the most important aspect of social listening?”
Well, huddle in.
Social listening isn’t a one-night stand kind of sitch.
It’s more of a long-term kinda thing.
So, wine and dine various social listening tools until you find one you can commit to.
If you don’t spend the time investigating how it can best suit the needs of your business, you could end up choosing an inefficient tool.
One that could fail to provide proper guidance, making the whole thing unnecessarily exhausting and frustrating.
To find the best social listening tools to suit your purposes, you’ll need to map out the features that fulfill your team’s needs.
Sprout Social, HubSpot, Hootsuite, and Sprinklr are social listening companies worth checking out.
Important Social Listening Metrics
Here are four must-track metrics to excel in your social listening strategy:
Share of voice (SOV)
Share of voice puts the number of social mentions your company receives into perspective.
It can reveal precisely how relevant you are in your industry.
SOV works by measuring how much of the social conversation your brand dominates compared to your competitors.
For example, let’s say you run a French-inspired bakery called The Flaky Croissant in Pittsburgh, PA.
Using social listening tools, you discover that your bakery only makes up 19% of the social conversation in The Steel City.
Once you know where you stand, it’s a helluva lot easier to figure out how to get where you want to be.
You can work out a lot from audience engagement on socials – especially comments.
For example, say you’ve uploaded a sweet new product vid, and it turns out your audience isn’t loving certain sections of it.
Should you notice you’re suddenly being bombarded with negative comments, you could simply edit the video and re-upload it.
Your audience will be happier, and you’ll generate further social media engagement as everyone now enjoys your content.
Also known as opinion mining, this social listening metric gauges emotion to show how happy or unhappy your customers are.
We’ve all noticed that most people aren’t shy when expressing their feelings on social media.
Sentiment analysis can flag a radical shift in customer satisfaction quick-smart.
To analyze your brand's popularity, categorize mentions as positive, negative, and neutral.
At the end of it all, conversion is every boss’ fave KPI and the goal of any digital marketing strategy.
Digital engagement is the best indicator of trust, and trust drives conversions.
Your conversion rate shows how well you’re meeting the needs of your target audience.
If you don’t have your finger on the social channel pulse, you’re curating a marketing strategy with blinders on.
Social listening gives you an understanding of the bigger picture.
One that helps you make solid data-driven business decisions and sets your brand apart from your competitors.
All while improving the customer experience.
So, level up and investigate the right social listening tools for your business.
You’ll quickly discover what people are saying about your brand and why they say it.
And where you’re slaying and where you’re sinking.
Jump back into the driver’s seat and tap into social listening for exceptional audience insight.
Kirsty Wilson is a certified content marketer and experienced margarita drinker. She specialises in Digital Marketing, Landing Page Copy, and adding a touch of Aussie humour to lifestyle and travel blogs. Currently creating a whirlwind of chaos in Mexico, she documents her solo travels to inspire other Gen-X women to have a go! View her other epic publications here.