Home Blog Qualitative Research What is social listening and why is it important?

What is social listening and why is it important?

They said WHAT about me?  

Okay, you might think social listening sounds a bit like snooping on the latest gossip, but it’s actually an incredibly valuable tool in your brand-building arsenal. You might not want to know what people are saying about you behind your back (even though we’re sure it’s all great!), but you should definitely want to know what people are saying about your company.  

In this blog, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about social listening – from what it is and why it’s important, to the difference between social listening and social monitoring, and how to get started with social listening. We’ll even give you the lowdown on social listening tools (don’t know what they are? Stick with us!), and offer up some prime examples of the best in social listening.  

Wow, we said social listening A LOT! Let’s go find out what it’s all about.  

What is social listening?  

Social listening is a little bit like spying – except for the fact that it’s completely legal and in no way morally dubious. Through social listening, you can track social media channels to monitor any mentions of your brand, your competitors, your industry, or a particular topic or keyword.  

Social listening gives you the chance to listen in on conversations related to your brand, and understand what customers (or potential customers) really think about you. You’ll also get a real handle on how they view your competitors – which is invaluable market research. You’ll get the full story of people’s human experience of you and your market.  

People (and their opinions) change at a quite-frankly-alarming rate, which is why you need to listen, follow the data, and innovate. Social listening allows you to gain incredibly in-depth insight, and then act on those insights. That’s how you go from standard customer experience to human experience – by delving deeper into what people are saying – good or bad! The opportunities are endless!  

You can analyse the info gleaned through social listening to improve the customer experience (interact directly with your customers; respond to a positive comment; diffuse a tense situation), create the sort of content people want to see, tailor your customer strategy to meet the specific needs of your target audience, use industry insights to generate new ideas, and even alter your brand strategy.  

Done right, social listening can really help you to build your brand.   

Why is social listening important?  

The ultimate goal of any brand is to achieve a high level of brand awareness – making you a household name, and your customers far easier to sell to. 

In your journey towards building brand awareness, it’s important to understand people’s perception of you in the marketplace. But because brand awareness surveys can only get you so far (unless you use some incredibly insightful software to squeeze out every bit of useful info), you need to keep a realistic and objective ear to the ground. 

You want people to know your name, but only for the right reasons. If your brand becomes mired in scandal, it can be a sticky label to shift – which is why it’s crucial to stay on top of your digital mentions. If a customer has a less than ideal interaction with a member of staff, encounters a big ol’ problem with one of your products, or feels like you’re not sticking to your brand values in some way, shape or form, chances are they’re going to voice it on social media. 

Social listening is important because it allows you to pick up on any mentions – good or bad – and interject. If a customer has been let down in some way, and you find out about it immediately, you stand a much better chance of resolving the problem and changing their perceptions. Without that instant alert, a post could quickly go viral and ruin your rep before you even know what’s hit you. 

Difference between social listening and social monitoring  

I swear we’re not making this stuff up; they really are different. 

While social listening and social monitoring might sound similar, they differ in some pretty crucial ways. Social listening is far more broad in scope, as it involves monitoring customer feedback, brand mentions and industry trends, while social monitoring hones in on specific keywords or campaigns.  

You also get different things from each of them. 

Social monitoring is data-driven, and simply seeks to track mentions and conversations; social listening goes further – analysing the results, considering the motivations and causes behind the conversations, and creating changes to brand strategy. Without that added layer, you’re going to struggle to meet the needs of your customers – even if you do know what they’re saying. 

Social monitoring helps you to see what’s already happened, while social listening gives you the chance to look to the future and influence change; it also breaks down your social engagement to assess the sentiment behind the data (think ‘heart’ reaction versus angry-face emojis).  

Social listening tips  

Right then; let’s dive into the nitty gritty of how to make social listening work for you.  

  1. Figure out what’s bothering your target customers 

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to easily identify gaps in your industry and pain points with your products? Listening in to social media conversations directly is the ideal way to get to the heart of what’s bothering your target audience, because people often take to social media to air their grievances. That leaves you free to swoop in and either fill the gap, or make things better.
  2. Choose your keywords carefully 

    When it comes to which keywords and topics you ought to be monitoring through social listening, it’s important to decide what’s relevant to your brand. As a rough guide, start with your brand name and social media handles, the names of your products and services, any industry buzzwords, campaign names, branded hashtags, hashtags relevant to your industry, and the brand/product names of your competitors. You should also monitor common misspellings, as people rarely proof their posts.  

    The keywords, topics, hashtags and names you monitor now will probably evolve over time, as you start to learn which insights are the most useful, and engage in conversations relevant to your business. 
  3. Act on your insights 

    There’s little point in monitoring mentions or snooping on conversations if the data you gather is going to sit gathering dust. Through social listening, you have an absolutely golden opportunity to align your approach with what your customers want to see, improve the overall customer feedback process, and build real relationships with your customer base. It’s also crucial to consider how you’re going to deal with negative feedback online, as your approach really can make or break your brand. 
  4. Cast your net wide 

    For social listening to be truly effective, you need to listen in the right places. You won’t know what those places are until you’ve cast a wide net and found out where most of the relevant conversations are taking place. Knowing where people are talking about you will also help to inform your marketing strategy. Keep in mind that you’re likely to get different insights in different places: the way people talk about you on twitter will be very different from a LinkedIn audience. 
  5. Hone your search 

    Once you’ve had a good look around, with your net cast wide, it’s time to get more granular. Identifying which words and topics matter the most for your brand allows you to use advanced search techniques, and filter results accordingly. You might find that one of your competitors is no longer relevant to what you do, or that you want to focus your social listening on one specific geographical location.  
  6. Look out for any changes 

    When you’ve got a good idea of whether people mention your brand name on the regular, and what sort of things they say about you, it’ll be easier to spot a change. Any significant changes could suggest you’re either doing something very well, or very badly – depending on the nature of the change. Look out for it, and act on it. 

What are social listening tools?  

So now you know how important social listening is, and how to approach it – but we’re going to go out on a limb here and say you probably don’t have the time (or the patience) to sift through trillions of social media posts across every platform out there? And even if you did, you absolute sadist, can you imagine how boring that would be?  

Instead of giving yourself the most tedious job in the world and manually sifting through endless reams of social media data, there’s some really nifty software that can do the whole thing for you. Now doesn’t that sound better? 

Remember all of those keywords, topics, names, buzzwords and hashtags we spoke about? Social listening software can track all of that without breaking a sweat, the show-off.  

Choosing the right social listening tool is incredibly important to your overall strategy. But we’ll get to that shortly. 

Examples of social listening  

Do you want to see how some of the big brands use social listening to great effect? Whether you’re interested in creating real craic with your audience, tailoring campaigns that speak to consumer sentiment, or making videos that jump on a trend, these brand know how to bring it. 

Watch and learn people; watch and learn.  

Aldi  

Aldi gives us all a lesson on how to entertain and engage an audience. 

They’ve tracked what works for them – humour – and tailored their entire content strategy towards giving the people want they want. Never taking themselves too seriously, the brand (which is at the heart of the now infamous ‘Cuthbert versus Colin’ debacle) plays up to what they’re famous for to superb effect. They even bring their competitors along for the ride

Through social listening, Aldi has created a solid understanding of their customer base, and what it takes to engage and entertain them. Most importantly, they act on this insight at every available opportunity. 

ASOS 

ASOS just ‘gets’ its customers. Since starting out back in 2000, their digital strategy has evolved to meet the habits and demands of its many consumers. Capitalising on the fact that 90.4% of millennials use social media, ASOS likes to plump for User Generated Content (UGC) – where the brand can track, monitor, and interact with ease.  

One of their most successful campaigns to date has been the #AsSeenOnMe hashtag, where ASOS encourages Instagram followers to upload photos of them donning their best ASOS look, accompanied by the hashtag – with the chance to be featured on ASOS’s own social media channels. And with 1.4m #AsSeenOnMe hashtags currently gracing Instagram, it’s clear that ASOS has listened to the online chatter, and devised a strategy that speaks to a social media generation.  

Netflix 

Netflix shows that social listening goes above and beyond simply replying to online mentions, or resharing posts from their heavily engaged audience. The streaming giant really tunes into the conversations and trends surrounding their brand and industry and has aligned their marketing strategy with these insights in mind.  

Incorporating customer sentiment, and latching on to the ever-popular “Netflix and Chill” meme, Netflix created a video teaching their followers how to make their own socks for Netflix and Chill time. This direct response to a consumer trend is a perfect example of the benefits of social listening. 

How can Forsta help?  

Fancy turning the chaotic cacophony of social media into straightforward, priceless insights? Wonderful! That’s where we come in. 

With Forsta’s social listening tools, we make the sheer mass of social media work to your advantage – allowing you to get to the heart of the opinions you didn’t even ask for! 

With 3.5b people using social media, and a convincing 90% of people reliant on online reviews to inform their purchasing decisions, it pays to keep on top of what people are saying about you. That’s why we send you instant alerts to negative reviews: giving you the chance to fix what went wrong, and show you care. 

And because our platform uses analytics tools to break down the data – including AI, machine learning, and a fancy thing called deep learning – every comment is in its proper context. This means you can easily spot trends! 

Ready to find out what people are saying about you? Let’s go

Open your ears to the whole conversation 

So there you have it: social listening in a nutshell.  

Hopefully by now you have a pretty clear idea of why keeping track of your online mentions is so important for brand awareness. It’d be great if we could follow our own path without worrying what anyone else is saying – and in life, that’s something to strive for – but when it comes to your business, you really want to do everything in your power to keep track of the conversation. 

Listen to it; take part in it; shape it. The future of your brand is there for the making.  

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