In only a few short years, social media monitoring has become a booming market, being adopted by most large enterprises.

When social media monitoring first became a thing, there was much doubt about the technology’s future because of an explosion of alarmist headlines warning users of potential privacy invasion. In this age of growing privacy concerns, the prospect of businesses following your activity and eavesdropping on your conversations can easily be portrayed as a Big Brother-type situation.

With all the leaks surrounding major social media platforms over recent years, public distrust has grown higher than ever, despite the big tech companies’ efforts to introduce improved privacy settings. However, as social media has evolved and people have become better acquainted with the public nature of social platforms, we have come to accept and even expect that brands are following us and learning about our behavior, thoughts, and private lives.

In short, social media monitoring is about looking at metrics like brand mentions, competitor mentions, relevant hashtags, industry trends, etc. and collecting data about these metrics. Social media monitoring is great for things like split testing campaigns or monitoring ROI.

However, when you take action based on the data you’ve collected, that’s called social listening.

Social listening is when you track social media channels for any mentions or conversations about your brand and analyze them in order to gain insights and discover opportunities to act on them, thus building better relationships with your customers, improving your products, and improving the overall perception of your company.

Social listening is a two-step process:

  1. monitor social media platforms for any mentions of your brand, products, competitors, or keywords related to your company.
  2. analyze the information you have and act on it. This can be something as simple as replying to a happy customer or as complex as shifting your brand positioning.

Social media monitoring looks at metrics like number of mentions and engagement rate, while social listening goes beyond numbers and considers the mood behind all the data. This helps companies understand how people feel about their brand as well as their competitors, it is not simply counting the number of mentions the brand is getting.

This mood is also called social media sentiment and keeping track of it is essential to social media listening. Understanding how people feel about your brand can help you make better marketing and product development decisions. It also allows you to immediately respond to any positive or negative posts.

Keep in mind that social listening looks both forward and backward. It is all about analyzing the data you collect with social media monitoring and using it as a basis for your strategy and day-to-day activities.

Why social listening matters

Social media listening provides businesses with a lot of valuable insights. If you do not engage in this practice, you might be missing out on meaningful discussions about your brand that people are having online, and it’s always important to know what people are saying about you.

Customers are always telling you what they think of your brand and what they want from it, so you need to look at the insights you might gain through social listening.

Here are some ways that social listening can help:

Engage with customers

Social listening offers you a lot of opportunities to engage with customers. For example, a customer may tweet about how much they enjoy using your product, or they might reach out to you for a customer service request. Nike, for example, does this very well, and they even have a Twitter account dedicated to answering their customers.

Manage crises

Engagement is great, but only if it comes with a positive social sentiment. Social listening allows you to track customer sentiment in real-time, thus seeing which posts are performing well and which are not.

If there is a lot of positive engagement, be sure to look for what the reasons may be. Customers share a lot of information about what they like and what they do not, and those lessons can be very helpful for guiding your strategy across social media channels.

Social listening can also help you avoid any PR disasters before they get the chance to do any damage. If sentiment is down, analyze social feedback and look for any lessons which could prevent situations like this in the future.

If sentiment is very negative, find out what the cause is and make changes immediately, perhaps by deleting a problematic post of apologizing for a misstep.

Keep an eye on competitors

Social listening is about more than just understanding what people are saying about you. You also want to know what they are saying about the competition as this can give you insights into where you fit in the marketplace and which strategies work and which do not, as well as the reasons behind it.

This also allows you to know what the competition is up to in real-time, whether they are launching new products, starting new marketing campaigns, or just taking a beating on social media.

Through social listening, you can find out about new opportunities as well as threats as they happen, allowing you to plan and respond accordingly.

Uncover pain points

Monitoring conversations around your industry can help you gain a great deal of insight into what is working and what is not for your customers. This information can be extremely useful for your product and marketing teams.

The things you learn about may help you tweak existing products, add features that customers are asking for, or even come up with completely new product ideas. You will also learn about aspects of your products that customers may be unhappy with, allowing you to tweak them to address their concerns and run targeted marketing campaigns informing them about these improvements.

Get new sales leads

Everyone knows that customers love it when brands solve their issues. It is also known that they hate it when you try to sell them something right away without warming them up first. Social listening is great for developing relationships with potential customers, making it easier down the line to sell them your product.

Reach out to people, establish connections, and offer them helpful information. This will establish your brand as an authority on the subject and will convince people to turn to you when they want to make a purchase decision.

Identify influencers and advocates

Monitoring social conversation within your industry will help you identify important influencers. They are important people who you can connect with as they have a lot of influence over their followers, most of which likely also fall withing your target audience.

You can also find existing customers who are already saying good things about you. They are natural brand advocates and it is always a good idea to acknowledge them and build upon your existing relationship.

Setting up for social media listening

Good social listening means you need to know what you are listening for. This means choosing the relevant keywords for your brand. For example, a social media manager for a restaurant in Fargo is not interested in the same keywords as a tattoo artist in San Francisco.

The keywords and topics that you monitor are likely to change over time. When using social listening tools, you will learn what words people tend to use when talking about your brand and your industry as a whole. You will also begin to get a sense of the type of insights that are useful to you.

Here is a list of topics and keywords that any business should typically monitor from the beginning:

  • your brand name and any other handles
  • product names as well as common misspellings
  • competitor brand names, handles, and product names
  • typical industry buzzwords
  • your slogan and your competitors’ slogans
  • names of key people within your company as well as within your competitors’ companies such as CEOs or spokespersons
  • campaign names
  • branded hashtags, both yours and your competitors’
  • unbranded hashtags about your industry

Keep in mind to also monitor common misspellings and abbreviations to ensure you’re getting every bit of relevant data.

5 tips for good social listening

1. Listen everywhere

You need to know where people are talking about you, not just what they are saying. This entails casting a wide net to catch everything that is being said wherever it’s being said.

Conversations about your brand will probably be much different on Instagram than they are on LinkedIn, for example. You could discover that there is a lot of talk going on on Twitter as opposed to Facebook. Knowing where people are talking about your brand is just as important as how they do it. This will allow you to develop a clear strategy on how to join the conversation through both organic engagement as well as paid advertising.

2. Learn from the competition

Studying your competition and learning from them is always a good idea, and you can also learn a lot from what people are saying about them. Look at everything they are doing right and wrong and why people like them or dislike them when they make a mistake. It is much easier to learn a hard lesson by watching a competitor make a mistake than by making it yourself.

3. Foster collaboration between teams

Social listening can offer a lot if important information that is useful for your whole company. It could be a customer post which needs an immediate reply, a great idea for a blog post, or even an idea for a new feature for an existing product or a new product altogether.

The product development, content marketing, and customer service teams can all benefit from the insights gained through social media listening, so make sure that there is communication with all the teams. Keep in mind to also ask them for input, as they might have some specific questions that you could answer my making adjustments to your social listening setup.

4. Roll with the changes

As you begin collecting information, you will also start to develop a sense of what regular conversations look like and the general sentiment surrounding your brand. Once you have an idea of how people generally feel, you will also know when it changes.

If there are major changes in engagement or sentiment, that can mean that the general perception of your brand has changed. If this happens, it is crucial to understand why and adapt your strategy appropriately. This can mean correcting a mistake and getting back on course or simply riding a wave of positivity.

5. Take action

Keep in mind that if you do not take any action, all you are doing is just social media monitoring, without the listening part.

As mentioned earlier, social listening is about more than simply tracking metrics, it is also about gaining insights into your customers and potential customers, how they feel about you, what they want from you, and how you can give it to them.

Be sure you analyze trends and patterns over time instead of just individual comments, as these overall insights may have a huge impact on your future strategy.

Final thoughts

Social media monitoring is a crucial part of any good marketer’s marketing strategy, but it is important to keep in mind that measuring metrics on its own will not do much to help your business. This is where social media listening comes in.

While monitoring answers the “what,” social media listening answers the “why.” It provides valuable insights into your customers and potential customers, showing you what they think about you and your products, how they behave, and what they feel toward your brand in general.

Social listening is a crucial component and deciding factor in your strategy moving forward, allowing you to build better relationships with customers and improve your reputation and products based on the insights gained from listening to what people are saying. It can help you improve your content strategy, your messaging, outpace the competition, establish an effective influencer program, and build better and more impactful brand partnerships.