Social listening is the quintessential way to rapidly gain information about consumers’ changing preferences, habits, and expectations.

Times like the coronavirus pandemic have shown that social listening truly is an invaluable source of insights for PR and marketing professionals. Yet, a Gartner survey reported that just over 51% of marketing leaders worldwide utilize it.

That is an underwhelming percentage, considering the numerous and potentially transformative benefits of social listening to businesses of any niche and size.

But, we’re here to change that by empowering you with all the knowledge needed to start using social listening to your advantage and growing your business. Stick around to learn all the whats, whys, and hows of this amazing process!

What is social listening?

Social listening is the activity of identifying potential growth opportunities and then reacting accordingly based on insights obtained through media monitoring.

It provides the most value through monitoring online conversations about topics of interest. A media monitoring tool will enable you to learn what people online are saying about your:

  1. Company or brand
  2. Products and services
  3. Key people
  4. PR and Marketing efforts (press releases, campaigns, hashtags, etc.)
  5. Competitors
  6. Industry news, trends, and buzzwords
  7. Other stakeholders.

But, rather than just simply collecting data, implementing social listening means you will learn the meaning behind the data as well.

the bigger picture, a picture showing a human hand holding a frame through and outside which a beach can be seen
Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

What’s the difference between social listening and social monitoring?

Although they may seem similar, social listening and social monitoring are not synonymous. We’ve established what social listening is, so let’s start by defining what social monitoring is.

Also commonly referred to as social media monitoring, social monitoring is the activity of continuously monitoring conversations on social media in order to identify relevant mentions of a brand, product, industry, or any other relevant topic, for that matter. 

As you might grasp, the difference between social listening and social monitoring goes beyond semantics – let’s see exactly how far!

Monitoring vs Listening

The first difference is the most obvious one. As mentioned previously, social monitoring is the foundation for social listening. The data collected through the process of monitoring keywords of interest is what enables the process of social listening.

As such, social monitoring has the role of an observer in online conversations. If you’re just monitoring, you’re acquiring the data. You are aware of these online conversations and stay on top of them mostly to focus on measuring the success of your marketing campaigns and brand reputation management.

On the other hand, social listening takes the data to the next level. Listening to online conversations means that you engage with relevant conversations in a way that guides your strategy and defines actionable steps based on the provided insights.

Automated vs manual

Up to an extent, social monitoring can be done manually. You could do it the old-fashioned way and research social media platforms to identify relevant posts. Anyhow, we would not recommend it – not only is it time-consuming, but it is also not effective. It’s highly likely that you’ll track down only a fraction of what is really out there.

On the other hand, social listening is automated. You could not do it manually, not even if you had taken months or even years to catch up with the internet. Being based on complex crawlers, algorithms, and machine learning processes, social listening tools do the hard work for you, with the added bonus of providing advanced analytics behind the obtained media intelligence.

Proactive vs reactive

Although social monitoring is done in real-time, it can only track what has already happened or been said. Consequently, your approach will be reactive. For example, if someone posted a negative review of your product, you could, of course, promptly respond to it, but you probably wouldn’t take it much further.

In contrast, given its wider scope, social listening enables you to identify trends and patterns. This allows for a proactive approach based on informed decisions. In that case, we would probably take into consideration the importance of addressing the negative review itself, but also inspect whether there are more similar experiences with the product, what is the reason behind those concerns and is there a way to prevent the same from happening in the future.

Insights-driven vs data-driven

As we established, social monitoring is the foundation for social listening. It provides information about who said what, where, when, and with what impact. As such, it is mainly data-driven.

In addition to the aforementioned information, social also provides the why, crucial for seeing the big picture. Once again, it is essentially the case of looking at your data vs looking into your data. It’s the art of getting to truly know your customers and respond to needs they might not yet be aware of.

Macro vs micro

Another key difference is the scope. As Dan Neely, CEO of Networked Insights summed it up perfectly:

“Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.”

Dan Neely

While social monitoring is a great starting point for establishing vital metrics about your brand’s online presence on a micro-level, social listening provides the full picture, or better yet, a macro perspective. By doing so, you access the wide spectrum of online conversations that go beyond just tracking your brand name. In the following section, we’ll explain how you can benefit from this amazing process.

Benefits of social listening

To demonstrate the benefits of social listening, let’s start with the data it is based on. It all starts with mentions that include keywords of interest.

Shown below is an example of a mention tracked with Mediatoolkit.

an example of lush cosmetics mentions tracked by media monitoring tool mediatoolkit

As you can see, the keyword of interest (in this case the query is ‘Lush Cosmetics’) is highlighted in yellow and the original post is shown fully in the tool’s feed.

Other than the post itself, the tool also tracks information such as:

  • Source
  • Username
  • Location/language
  • Time and date of posting
  • The sentiment (green dotted line on the left indicates positive sentiment)
  • Reach, interactions, engagement, and influence data.

Suggested read: What you need to know about tracking mentions

As your keyword is mentioned more and more, your tool feed will start to fill up, and detailed data analytics will generate in the background. That leads us to…

9 benefits of social listening

Although there are (many) more than nine benefits of social listening, here are some of the most important ones:

#1 A single feed for all your brand mentions

Keeping track of all your social media can get overwhelming, especially if you have an engaged audience. The good thing is, social listening tools will enable you to be in the loop without having to go through all your social media channels.

All mentions containing your keyword will be placed in a single place – your tool’s feed. The feed displays mentions from various sources, all available at a glance.

a screenshot of a feed filled with mentions of 'lush cosmetics' tracked by mediatoolkit, a media monitoring and social listening tool
Mediatoolkit’s feed for the ‘Lush Cosmetics’ query

Of course, you can also easily filter the feed if it gets too crowded. In the right-hand toolbar you can:

  • Set date range
  • Sort by time, reach, or virality
  • Show only mentions from a certain source
  • Show only a certain sentiment
  • Choose options to:
    • Show reversed order
    • Group similar mentions
    • Show images

The great thing about filters is that they can show you a completely new perspective on your mentions, depending on the options you choose.

Scrolling through all the mentions will enable you to easily spot emerging trends across all your outlets and sources, even without having to look at the analytics.

#2 The ability to engage directly with your target audience, even if they haven’t tagged you

As we’ve mentioned previously, any post in which your keyword is mentioned will be fully displayed in your feed. But, what you might not know is that you can click on that mention and open it on the platform it originated from.

Remember our first example, a user who is casually chatting to a friend on Twitter about Lush Cosmetics, but has not tagged the brand? That happens a lot. In fact, 96% of conversations about brands happen outside official brand channels and without tagging the brand in question.

Imagine the surprise factor if Lush Cosmetics actually engaged with someone who obviously did not aspect a direct answer, hence the lack of a tag? So many success stories could stem from this scenario, many of which we’ll discuss shortly.

#3 Valuable audience behavior insights

Gaining a deep understanding of your target audience is surely one of the most impactful benefits of social listening.

If you don’t know how your audience feels about your brand, you can’t engage with them effectively. But when you do, you can tailor your strategy to fit their liking and improve the receptiveness of your content and overall efforts.

How to do that, you may ask? Media monitoring reports are the answer.

What happens in the background is that while the tool tracks your keywords across millions of online sources, it also creates ample data analytics based on the results.

For instance, you could learn which channels your audience already uses the most to discuss a certain topic. Then, amplify your marketing efforts there.

The Sources chart in Mediatoolkit from a blog on social listening
The Sources chart in Mediatoolkit

Or, you could detect that your brand sentiment changes over time, depending on which type of content you post.

The Sentiment over time chart in Mediatoolkit from a blog on social listening
The Sentiment over time chart in Mediatoolkit

It all comes down to actually listening to your audience’s needs, interests, and preferences. Thus you can optimize your efforts in order to ensure the best results.

Suggested read: All you need to know about brand sentiment analysis

#4 Crisis management and prevention

An increasing amount of buzz about your brand might sound good in theory. But what if that buzz is a crisis in the making?

We live in a world of peak social media activity, consumer empowerment, and easily accessible and shareable information. All of these can have a serious impact on your brand reputation.

Regardless of the company size, niche, or basically any other factor, no brand is untouchable when it comes to crises. But, you can easily mitigate a crisis or completely prevent one by turning on real-time alerts.

You’ll get notified the moment a mention of your brand appears online. Hence, you can stay on top of things and be proactive. If your brand is being mentioned more than usual, a Spike alert will automatically come your way.

A Mediatoolkit Spike alert from a blog on social listening
A Mediatoolkit Spike alert

As a result, if you identify an issue as it emerges, you can easily react in a way that is informed, effective, and extremely quick. The speed of your response is what can make or break your brand during a crisis. Why not make it as swift as possible?

#5 Lead generation

Oftentimes brands overlook the opportunities that lie in social listening, with one of the most prominent ones being lead generation. This method is very effective, as it’s a personalized approach responding directly to the needs of your lead.

Social listening enables you to easily track down people who are:

  • Seeking advice or recommendations for a product or service like yours,
  • Interested specifically in your product or service,
  • Unsatisfied customers that use a competitor’s product or service.

For instance, a chocolate brand might track ‘birthday gift ideas‘. Someone with a shoe brand might identify users looking for ‘best running shoes‘.

Depending on your industry or niche, you may adjust your queries to find the right fit for your brand. When you do, you can engage with the user. Then, offer a solution to their problem, just like we did in the example below.

a screenshot of social listening done well

#6 Finding influencers and brand advocates

Another great benefit that comes with social listening is the ease of identifying relevant industry or topic influencers.

When monitoring, you might notice some users are much more active or engaged than others. Sometimes they will be popular influencers, and sometimes they’re regular users who have the potential of becoming future brand ambassadors.

Regardless, your social listening tool should make the process of finding the right influencer simple and straightforward. Mediatoolkit, for instance, has an entire dashboard dedicated to Top influencers, who are sorted in the tool by:

  • Number of mentions,
  • Source,
  • Reach,
  • Sentiment.
The Top influencers by source chart in Mediatoolkit from a blog on social listening
The Top influencers by source chart in Mediatoolkit

The example above is once again a result of the ‘Lush Cosmetics’ monitoring. Clicking on any of these influencers opens a list of all their posts mentioning your query.

The list of posts by a certain influencer in Mediatoolkit from a blog on social listening
The list of posts by a certain influencer in Mediatoolkit

Having such an overview will allow for effective market research and aid in the process of choosing the best fit for your brand, based on the content they post.

#7 Improving your online customer support

In order to provide excellent customer service, one of the most important skills is the ability to listen. And when you do listen to your customers, you can learn so much about their wants, needs, and potential pain points.

We’ve already mentioned people often go online to get advice on certain products and services.

But even more than that, they love to share their experiences and opinions with friends and followers. At one point or another, those will be about your brand, and they might not tag you or reach out to you directly.

Social listening makes identifying such posts easy. And, just as importantly, it enables you to respond fast since mention tracking is done in real-time. Once again, speed is of the essence when resolving any online customer issues.

Not only do you thus provide a solution to the customer’s challenge, but you also show others that you are willing to provide the utmost customer experience.

Suggested read: 10 Steps to Manage Negative Online Reviews

#8 Content marketing inspiration

It’s always nice to get fresh content ideas. And, yes, we all have our customers in mind when creating something new. But, marketers can get so deeply involved with a certain topic, they stray away from the customer’s perspective.

To prevent that, and get the best content marketing inspiration, turn to social listening. Insights from online conversations will be your best guide for optimizing your strategy and providing customers with the content they want and need.

For example, you can use the Word cloud chart to detect which words people use the most when mentioning your brand. The size of the word represents the number of mentions – the bigger the word, the bigger the number of mentions.

Let’s use Lush Cosmetics as an example once again.

The Word cloud chart in Mediatoolkit from a blog on social listening
The Word cloud chart in Mediatoolkit

Based on all the keywords that are mentioned alongside Lush, the brand might notice people are looking for more information on a topic they haven’t covered yet, so they’ll produce content about it.

These keywords can also serve as inspiration for campaign slogans, hashtags, and other creative elements – empowered by your customers.

#9 Keeping up with your competitors

Tracking your competitors might be just as important as tracking your own brand. There are several reasons for this:

  • Your competitor’s business moves might impact your own brand, so it’s better to anticipate them early.
  • Knowing your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses means you can identify opportunities and threats for your own brand.
  • By keeping track of their media coverage and influencers they work with, you can easily reach out to them and offer your product or service instead.
  • It’s easier (and cheaper) to track their communication strategy and learn from their successes and failures than to invest your own budget into testing new types of content or approaches. Chances are, your ideal personas are similar, so they might react similarly too.
  • Monitoring posts and mentions by their unsatisfied customers is an incredible chance for you to generate leads and turn them into customers.

Also, tracking both your and competitor’s brand enables you to precisely measure how you stack up against each other in terms of visibility and receptiveness.

Share of voice in competitor analysis
The Share of voice chat in Mediatoolkit’s Competitive analysis dashboard

Take advantage of the Competitive analysis to compare where you and your competitors stand, and then figure out how to surpass them if they’re in the lead.

Social listening examples

To really understand the process, let’s take a look at some real-life social listening examples and ideas.

Take Wendy’s, for instance. Back in 2010, this fast-food restaurant company debuted their new fries marketed as containing sea salt, rather than your standard salt, and had massive success.

Prior to the launch, Wendy’s tracked online discussions about the raising concerns of high sodium intake. What they learned was that consumers perceived ‘sea salt’ much more positively than ‘salt’ or ‘sodium’. The predominant positive sentiment of ‘sea salt’ encouraged them to create a campaign focused on much more positive health associations with their new fries. 

As a result, customers were delighted and the sales of their french fries improved. 

This is a great example of how social listening can provide growth opportunities. They are not necessarily limited to tracking the company name directly but also include relevant topics and keywords. 

There are tons of social listening examples out there. Tracking a phrase such as ‘gift ideas’ might provide a chocolate brand with opportunities to directly engage with customers. Tracking online mentions of ‘best gift ideas’, for instance, might enable them to identify users looking for such advice and then suggest their product as a solution.

A sports shoe brand might track online conversations about running shoes to discover what their potential customers’ needs and preferences are. Based on that, they can improve their product or craft a strategy tailored to their target audience. 

Online conversations can also serve as inspiration for various brands when it comes to content creation. Learning which topics and keywords are most mentioned alongside your main query can indicate consumers are interested in more on those specific subtopics.

As you can see, actually listening to the target audience’s feedback and topics of interest might open a lot of doors for any brand. Being proactive and recognizing trends and patterns will allow you to use insights to guide your strategy and easily define actionable steps, just like Wendy’s. With a bit of creativity, the possibilities are endless. 

Social listening strategy

We’ve already mentioned numerous social listening strategies throughout this blog, so you probably get the gist by now. Now, let’s recap on the ways you can enrich your social listening strategy immediately:

  1. Stay on top of all your brand mentions in real-time and from one place
  2. Acquire the most genuine and up-to-date feedback
  3. Gain insights into online conversations mentioning your brand
  4. Track the volume of online conversations and changes in sentiment
  5. Create content based on your audience’s wants, needs, and pain points
  6. Identify emerging trends and patterns
  7. Conduct market research to guide your strategy
  8. Create meaningful engagement with your target audience
  9. Respond directly to your customers, even without them tagging you
  10. Respond to unsatisfied competitor’s customers
  11. Generate leads through monitoring relevant keywords and phrases
  12. Identify influencers to promote your brand
  13. Resolve any customer issues that might occur
  14. Keep up with industry news, trends, and competitors to anticipate any changes that might affect your own business.

The next step is finding a tool that can enable all of the abovementioned.

Best social listening tools

Now that you know everything there is to social listening, it’s time to pick the right tool for your needs. Here are the 5 tools most often quoted as favorites (not listed in any particular order):

Socialbakers

Socialbakers is a social media marketing platform that monitors over 8 million business profiles across all major platforms. That includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Pinterest, Google+, and VK.com. 

Socialbakers enables you to gain vital insights into your audience. That way you can gain control of your brand reputation, as you are able to always be in the know about what is being said about your brand online and directly engage in those conversations. 

It also automates all content and comment tagging to let you access valuable data instantly. There is a free trial available, while the entry plan is priced at 200$/month for 10 profiles or 400$/month for 20 profiles.

Mediatoolkit

Mediatoolkit is an award-winning media monitoring and social listening tool that helps users to be notified immediately when their company, products, or services are mentioned in any language across 100+ million online sources.

Be it a web article, social media post, or a blog comment, businesses of all sizes can track brand mentions and build their strategy on valuable audience insights.

Advanced data analytics allows for measuring reach, sentiment, and engagement, identifying influencers, top locations and languages, as well as top-performing channels. There are more than 2000 charts and dashboards that can be fully customized to get unique datasets and gain that competitive edge.

The number of users, keywords, and brand reports is unlimited on all paid plans that start from 117$/month for 5 queries and 10 000 mentions. You can sign up for the free trial and test out the full suite of features.

Buffer 

Buffer is a publishing, analytics, and engagement platform which is your go-to ally for social media management.

With Buffer, you can visually plan and schedule your social media content and campaigns to drive better engagement on social media channels. 

It can also be used to analyze your campaigns and measure their success. Besides these features, the tool allows you to directly engage in conversations with your audience in the replies from one centralized dashboard. 

A 14-day free trial is available. If you enjoy the platform, you can switch to paid plans that start from 15$/month to publish and another 35$/month to analyze (both include 8 social media accounts).

Synthesio 

Synthesio is a social listening platform that captures social media intelligence from 195 countries in 80+ languages.

It provides great audience insights and is used by brands to rationalize and understand consumer motivation and measure the impact of online conversations against their business goals.

With Synthesio, you can track likes, replies, views, favorites, retweets, and shares from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube directly on your social media listening dashboard.

There is no free trial or pricing information available at the time of writing this blog, but you can request a demo to see the tool in action.

Keyhole

Keyhole offers automated social media analytics for agencies, marketers, journalists, and executives.

It measures real-time and historical social media data and illustrates information in easy-to-read graphs and layouts that simplify reporting and strategizing.

Keyhole tracks hashtags, accounts, keywords, and URLs on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram. It can also be used for real-time campaign monitoring and optimization, brand monitoring and optimization, as well as data-driven market and competitor research.

You can test out during the free trial, while the paid plans start from 49$/month for either social media and account analytics or social listening and campaign tracking.

To conclude

There is a quote by Epictetus that perfectly sums this blog up: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Keep this in mind when crafting your communication strategy. Equipped with all this knowledge on social listening, all there is left to do is pick the right tool and get straight to growing your business with the help of media intelligence.

Want to get started with social listening?
From brand monitoring and reputation management to ample data analytics and audience insights, Mediatoolkit is the only social listening tool you’ll ever need. Sign up for your free trial today.

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