As the Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
If you work in digital marketing (or even if you’re just someone who uses social media), you know that there’s a lot of noise on social platforms these days. From hot takes to memes to posts about new products and sales, our feeds are packed to the point where it’s nearly impossible to ever catch up. Brands (and people!) are doing a heck of a lot of “talking” online—but are they bothering to listen?
The answer to that question is… kind of. About half (51 percent) of brands utilize social listening in any capacity. However, only 8 percent of brands that leveraged a listening solution used it for competitive research and analysis.
It seems as though most brands know they should have a social listening strategy, and many do participate in some sort of social listening, but very few brands are taking advantage of everything social listening has to offer. Keep reading to find out what social listening is, what you can do with it, and why it’s absolutely crucial to your brand in 2021.
What Is Social Listening?
Put simply, social listening refers to analyzing conversations and trends that are related to your brand, your competitors, and your industry as a whole. It’s a very important (yet, as mentioned above, underutilized) part of audience research, giving brands the opportunity to track, analyze, and take action to respond to relevant conversations happening on social media—even when the company is not specifically tagged or mentioned.
Social listening should be an integral part of any marketing strategy. It looks forward and backward to help you understand what people think of your brand, why/where/how these conversations are happening, and how this should guide your future decision-making. Social listening can help brands improve content strategy and messaging, brainstorm creative campaigns, and create more impactful partnerships. (More on this later!)
Social Listening vs. Social Monitoring vs. Trendspotting
To clear up any confusion and help you further understand what social listening really is, let’s talk about social listening as it relates to a few similar terms: social monitoring and trendspotting.
- Social Monitoring: Social monitoring will give you the basics—things like engagement rate, relevant hashtags, or number of mentions. Basically, social monitoring tells you what, and social listening tells you why. Social listening looks beyond the data and helps you understand the mood behind it in the context of the bigger picture. From there, you can analyze this information and put what you learn into action—and when you take that action, you’ve moved from social monitoring to social listening. It’s helpful to think of social monitoring as data that drives reactive responses, and social monitoring as insights that drive proactive decisions.
- Trendspotting: Trendspotting is also tangentially related to social listening, though it is not synonymous. Trendspotting represents the process of predicting trends before they gain mainstream popularity, which can be achieved through industry-specific social listening efforts.
How Can Social Listening Help Your Brand?
We’ve touched on a few of the ways social listening can benefit your brand, but let’s do a deeper dive into how exactly you can leverage these different facets of social listening.
Brand Health & Customer Insights
Understanding your brand health means gaining insight into how people feel about your brand and the positive and negative associations they have. You might uncover things like:
- Whether perception of your brand is trending up or down (and the specific days on which it was high or low)
- What sorts of content people are sharing that relates to your brand
- Where customers’ pain points lie with your products (or what they love most!)
You might be surprised what you find—oftentimes, we have assumptions about how people feel about our brands, but social listening may very well prove those to be false. Once you start absorbing the data, you can use what you learn to inform future marketing campaigns, create FAQs for commonly asked customer questions, or even communicate relevant issues to other teams within your organization, like product or events teams.
Everyone loves having an edge on the competition. Using social listening, you’ll be able to find out not only what your competitors are doing and whether or not it’s working, but you’ll also be able to see how the general public and customers in your industry feel about your competitors. You can:
- Understand your share of the social media audience vs. theirs
- See what issues their customers have with their product
- Look into your competitors’ content and whether or not it’s resonating
From there, you can use all of this knowledge to improve your own customer experience. You can analyze why your competitors’ efforts may be resonating with your shared audience more than your efforts are, and brainstorm future content with this in mind.
Whether you’re in food, finance, fashion, or anything in between, social listening can help you analyze discussions within your industry and give you a better sense of where your market is headed. Like we touched on above, this industry-specific aspect of social listening is where trendspotting comes in. Once you’ve identified up-and-coming trends, you’ll be able to pivot your products, content, and messaging where relevant. Doing social listening within your industry can also help you:
- Keep an eye on external factors that could be disrupting the space
- Find gaps in the industry that your brand could solve with a new product or solution
- Look for frequently asked questions that can inform your content
For one of our clients, Party City, we employed industry-specific social listening to follow real-time conversations about how people wanted to celebrate the end of 2020—a year that most people were looking to forget. This inspired FU (Forget U) 2020, a social-first concept that leveraged humor as a way to cope with a traumatic year and helped Party City’s customers have the last laugh.
We spend so much time brainstorming and producing campaigns for all kinds of brand initiatives—and while we do often look at data afterwards, social listening can tell us so much more about how a campaign resonated and how to improve upon its efforts. You can:
- Gather general sentiment around specific campaigns in real time
- Identify the top influencers who are talking about your campaigns
- Determine key themes from the campaign that are standing out, both positive and negative
Recruiting & Influencer Sourcing
Recruiting is often overlooked as it relates to social listening. This goes for finding company employees, but also for discovering and sourcing potential brand advocates/influencers. You can:
- Track keywords to find folks who are looking for jobs in the industry
- Identify influencers or thought leaders who’ve already mentioned your brand or your competitors
- Use demographic and metric sorting features to find the specific type of influencers you’re looking for
One example of identifying a potential brand advocate through social listening was when Likeable noticed that Hannah Ann, a contestant on The Bachelor, had posted a photo a few years back holding an Edible Arrangement (a client of ours at the time). Our community management team reached out to her asking if she’d let Edible Arrangements reshare the photo. She happily agreed, and we sent her an Edible Arrangement to say “thank you.” She ended up sharing our gift to her Instagram Story and tagging Edible Arrangements, which significantly boosted brand recognition.
The bottom line is that people are talking about your brand. Directly or otherwise, they’re telling you what they like and what they want—but it’s up to you whether or not you’ll listen. Ready to embark on your social listening journey? Find out how Likeable can help.