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Social Listening: What It Is and Why It's Important for Brands + Tips

Madisyn MacMillan
March 7, 2023
Last Updated On
September 18, 2023
social listening header image

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.

Social listening is not a ‘new’ concept in 2024, but it’s still as relevant as ever and remains an integral part of many brands’ marketing strategies. With the right tool, your brand can stop assuming what your consumers want and start knowing why.

But before that, let’s get into the basics. 

What Is Social Listening?

Social listening has been essential to 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, it 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. 

What’s the Difference Between Social Listening and Social Monitoring?

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 the two is that social listening is a proactive approach, while social monitoring is reactive.

Why Brands Should Use Social Listening

Understanding how consumers feel about your brand and the products you release has always been critical. And in 2024, 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:  

Improved Customer Service and Overall Brand Health 

Social listening gives you the ability to monitor conversations and identify pain points straight from the source — this can go beyond your social or content strategy and inform other areas of your organization where they’re succeeding or need to work on. 

Crisis Management

Beyond pain points, there are crises — social listening lets you act immediately and put your social media response plan into action as soon as possible. Brand reputation management is integral to any social strategy, and a listening tool ensures you never miss a moment to solve issues and uphold your reputation.

Access to In-depth Insights 

Social listening offers quantitative and qualitative data regarding your industry, content, competitors, and campaigns. This allows you to identify social media trends and areas of improvement.

Growth and Retention of Your Customer Base 

Users often provide their thoughts on a particular brand in a way that feels candid on social media — with the help of honest and actionable feedback, your team can use to pivot and meet specific needs.  

Increase Your Sales 

Developing a better understanding of how consumers feel about your product offerings and marketing strategy gives your team the opportunity to address these in your next planning strategy sessions, and tie your sales goals to strategies and tactics that will drive conversions — this can range from offering a better understanding of a product for users who are confused by its purpose, adding it to a more relevant retail location for your target demographic, or anything else that speaks to your audiences wants and needs.  

Refine Your Content Strategy 

Social listening lets you surface trends in the broad social landscape and monitor audience sentiment on owned content — so you can keep creating content your audience loves.

It 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. 

How Do Social Listening Tools Work? 

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 involves two main parts:

  1. Data collection and filtering: When the data is collected and filtered into saved searches based on specific criteria.
  2. Analysis and reporting: When the data is analyzed to identify patterns, trends, and other unique findings, the tool generates a report with actionable insights for brand review.

How To Use Social Listening Tools

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 tool. Here is what the process entails: 

Set Clear Goals

Setting clear goals is the first step of any successful marketing effort, and this process 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:

  • Customer reactions to a new product.
  • What's currently trending within your brand's niche.
  •  How your brand is being perceived on a specific channel.

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.

Choose the Right Tool

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 much different software as you need to find the right fit before you commit.

Select Relevant Channels

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. If your audience isn't active on Twitter, it might not make sense to spend time collecting Twitter social listening insights. 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, TikTok and Instagram social listening insights will make more sense to target versus Facebook, as beauty lovers are known to frequent those platforms. Once you want to deepen your research, you can start integrating more channels.

Set Up Your Search Queries

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 want 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 highly beneficial regarding competitive insights and benchmarking

Analyze the Data

Once you have gathered the data you are looking for, it’s time to analyze it deeply. A good 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.

Take Action

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.

Social Listening Tips

Once you've nailed down the process of listening on social, 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. 

Monitor Regularly

Social listening is not a 'set it and forget it' type of marketing tactic. To see the best results and truly and deeply understand your consumers, you must monitor your brand and brand topics as regularly as possible. 

Experiment 

It’s unnecessary to stick within the same parameters when collecting data. You shouldn't be afraid to try different channels and mix and match search queries to see if you get the same or different results — this can be especially effective since other users or buyer personas might be more likely to be active on different platforms. Who knows, you could find a whole new subset of data you were missing out on before. 

Engage With Your Audience

Just because you know you're listening to your audience doesn't mean they do. Ensure you're still staying extremely active in your community and letting customers know that you hear them and are working to improve their experience with your brand. 

Brand Examples of Great Social Listening Strategies

There’s no better way to learn how something 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

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. 

tacobell tiktok screenshot
Image via @tacobell.

Taco Bell is consistently creating audience-driven content and actively contributes to its social media community in a fun and engaging way. Listening allows the brand to quickly identify what its customers care about and base their strategy around that. 

Airbnb

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.

brown creature from air bnb ad
Image via Airbnb.

Nike

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.

man wears pink nike beanie and grey sweatshirt nike and nikebasketball ig screenshot
Image via @nike.

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. 

AI-Powered Social Listening by Dash Hudson

Video and images are leading the conversation on social media today, and because of this, traditional social listening tools are missing the mark. Dash Hudson has developed a powerful AI-driven social listening tool that is built with the way users communicate in mind. 

Dash Hudson’s AI is powered by its proprietary technology, Vision, which has been continuously learning since 2016. This means that you’re able to go beyond basic text and numbers to gather real insights into how your brand and competitors are being seen online, and how various audiences are responding.

FAQs

What are social listening tools? 

While the capabilities of social listening tools vary, you can generally expect a good tool to keep tabs on conversations and information surrounding your brand, bridging the gap between assumptions and real customer feedback. 

Why is social listening important?

Social listening is an important part of any brand’s social media marketing strategy because it lets your brand keep a finger on the pulse and see how consumers feel about you. This information can better inform future products and plans for your brand because you will have an in-depth understanding of your consumers and what they need. 

Can social listening help you find leads?

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 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.  

How can social media listening increase customer advocacy?

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.

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