For years, brands have been in tune with what customers say and think about them. Social media has made that especially easy. But as time passes and schedules get busier, it only makes sense to use existing data, results, and assumptions to predict what consumers want to see in the future.
The problem with this type of guesswork is that it is precisely that – guessing. And while previous data and results are a good indicator of what’s worked in the past, it isn’t nearly as accurate or proactive as finding out what is working right now. This is where social listening comes into play.
We know social listening is not a ‘new’ concept in 2023, but it’s still as relevant as ever and remains an integral part of many brands’ marketing strategies. With the right social listening tool, your brand can stop assuming what your consumers want and start knowing why.
But before that, let’s get into the basics.
Social listening has been an essential part of most brands’ marketing strategies for years, so it can be hard to define and means many different things to many people.
To keep it concise, social listening is the automated or manual collection of conversations and data around a brand, topic, or industry to understand what people say and how they feel about a particular topic. It lets brands monitor how they (or their topic of interest) are received. It gets taken a step further by analyzing that reception to help brands make effective business decisions for the future.
The difference between social listening and social monitoring is very subtle, but important. As mentioned above, social listening is the analysis and data collection that gives context to what people say and how they feel about a particular subject. Social media monitoring is just that – monitoring specific mentions, keywords, comments, and DMs related to your brand to make conversing with users easier.
While they sound essentially the same (and are both crucial for a well-rounded result), the main difference between social listening and social monitoring is that social listening is a proactive approach, while social monitoring is reactive.
Understanding how consumers feel about your brand and the products you release has always been critical. And in 2023, it’s become increasingly important as more and more customers become active participants on social media — both as consumers AND creators — talking about your brand and products with the masses.
Social listening tools compile all of the sentiment around your brand in one place for analysis and, in turn offer invaluable benefits like:
Social listening shows brands exactly what customers love (and don’t), which is precisely the type of information brands need to leverage to perform better on social, and give target audiences what they want.
Social listening tools use natural language processing (NLP) and other machine learning techniques to understand and contextualize social media posts, comments, messages, and conversations based on pre-set criteria like keywords, hashtags, mentions, and more. The process can be broken down into two parts:
With a clear understanding of social listening and how it works, it’s time to learn how to implement it into your workflow. While the process can be done manually, doing so is far more efficient through a third-party social listening tool. Here is what the process entails:
Setting clear goals is the first step of any successful marketing effort, and social listening is no different. Set goals that revolve around the type of insights you want to find. Some examples of what you may be looking to see include:
By setting clear objectives, you not only make it easier to know where to begin, but you also save yourself time when recording and presenting results.
There are countless social listening tools on the market, so how do you know which is suitable for your brand? Start by researching the best social media management tools out there. Choose the ones that align best with your brand and objectives, then read their reviews. Reviews will give you insight into how these tools work for brands. To ensure the reviews are relevant to your brand needs, there is usually an option to filter results based on industry, company size, and more.
It can feel overwhelming to look at so many different tools, but luckily, many tools allow brands to trial their marketing software for free before signing up. So, don’t feel pressured to choose one tool and stick with it, and try as many different softwares as you need to find the right fit before you commit.
Just because you start using social listening as a part of your strategy, it doesn’t mean you have to include every platform and channel on which your brand or topic of interest could be featured. Only select the channels that make the most sense in terms of the information you are looking for.
For example, if you’re looking for data or conversations surrounding the launch of a new beauty product, Instagram and TikTok will make more sense to target versus Twitter or Facebook, as beauty lovers are known to frequent those platforms. Once you want to deepen your research, you can start integrating more channels.
Having already set your objectives and channels, setting up your search queries should be easy. Select any relevant keywords, hashtags, and phrases related to the topic you want to know more about. Use your brand name if you’re looking for information on your brand or brand mentions. If you’re looking for information on a new product you’ve released, use the name of that product alongside your brand name and related hashtags.
You can even use social listening to check in on competitor performance by using their brand name and any other relevant keywords you may want to find more information on. This information can be extremely beneficial regarding competitive insights and benchmarking.
Once you have gathered the data you are looking for, it’s time to analyze it deeply. A good social listening tool will provide analysis, but if you want to dig into the data yourself, start with sentiment analysis. This will give you an idea of how people feel about your brand or topic, whether positive, negative, or neutral. Next, keep an eye out for patterns, trends, or any outliers that may be able to inform any decision-making going forward. Social listening can often catch trends (or issues) before they become bigger, making now the perfect time to hop on.
Next, it’s time to take the data and turn it into actionable insights.
Being able to take action is arguably the best part of and the whole purpose of social listening. Once you’ve deeply analyzed your data, it should be clear what your next steps are. Whether it be to stop doing something, start doing more, or even try something new, you can officially begin making data-driven decisions to improve your strategy and your product, and that ultimately serves your end user.
Once you've nailed down the social listening process, the work doesn't stop there. It's also important for social listening to be top of mind for your brand moving forward. Here are three tips to help integrate social listening into your social media marketing routine.
There’s no better way to learn how social listening is done right than from the experts. So many brands have social listening at the forefront of their marketing strategies, but here are three of the best social listening examples of brands not just hearing but really listening to their customers.
Taco Bell utilizes social listening in many different ways. It actively participates in trends, promotes UGC, launches fan-approved merchandise, and more. But the element of its social listening strategy that sets them apart from other brands is how it interacts with customers.
Taco Bell is consistently creating audience-driven content and actively contributes to its social media community in a fun and engaging way. Social listening allows the brand to quickly identify what its customers care about and base their strategy around that.
After years of travel bans and limitations, Airbnb used social listening to truly understand how customers felt about traveling and hosting other travelers in their homes again. Unsurprisingly, it found both parties were hesitant and even a little scared.
To combat these feelings, Airbnb created Strangers to showcase that having what one would consider ‘strangers’ in your home doesn’t have to be that strange or scary after years of isolation. Because Airbnb listened to its audience, they were able to try to ease the fear of hosting again.
Nike has always been a leader in social media. It experiments with different content types, follows (and creates) trends, consistently engages with its community, and collaborates with its audiences' favorite public figures.
But how does the brand know what its customers want? Social listening. It uses the tool to monitor trends and be on top of what people say about its brand and the industry. By staying up to date on conversations happening on social media, it's easy for Nike to deliver what its consumers want.
While the capabilities of social listening tools vary, you can generally expect a good social listening tool to keep tabs on conversations and information surrounding your brand, bridging the gap between assumptions and real customer feedback.
Social listening is an important part of any brand’s marketing strategy because it lets your brand keep a finger on the pulse and see how consumers feel about you. This information can then be used to better inform future products and plans for your brand because you will have an in-depth understanding of your consumers and what they need.
In short, yes, social listening can help you find leads — lead discovery is one of the many benefits of social listening. But how? With the right social listening tool, you can monitor untagged brand mentions and dissatisfied competitor customers and even find discussion surrounding your brand’s particular niche. These are all great ways to get your brand in front of potential new customers and leads.
The great thing about social listening is that the whole purpose of the data collection and analysis is to serve the end user, AKA: the customer. By pinpointing exactly what your target customer likes, dislikes, wants, and needs, you can gather actionable insights that solve a customer's issue or simply make them happy. Customers are much more likely to advocate for a brand that they see putting in the work and actively interacting with and responding to customer feedback.