Social listening: What it is and why it matters
One of the best ways to understand what people are really saying about you in their environment, social listening should be an integral part of your brand strategy. Here’s how it works.
Social media platforms are a treasure trove of data that can help you understand what people are saying about a chosen topic, which you can use to improve the experience for your customers, employees, product, and brand.
In order to harness the power of this data, it’s important that first, you listen. Which, naturally, is what social listening is all about.
What is social listening?
Social listening is where you track conversations and mentions related to a chosen topic (often this is your brand) on social media platforms, and then analyze them for insights into what actions you can take that will improve the experience. These conversations and mentions may be directly aimed at the brand (talking or replying to the brand), or they may be broader where the brand is not directly mentioned (talking about the brand).
Social listening as a concept has been around for decades. People regularly request feedback via surveys and other means. But with advances in technology, it’s now possible to surface this seamlessly from social media channels without having to ask, meaning you can seamlessly collect rich data at scale.
Effective social listening strategies require continuous monitoring of social media platforms because by doing so you can constantly learn and uncover new insights, and continue to improve your business based on what users are saying. It should not be treated as a “moment in time,” rather, just like social media itself, monitoring should be “always-on.” That way, if sentiment or trends shift, you have your finger on the pulse and you can adapt quickly where needed.
What’s the difference between social listening and social monitoring?
In order to listen, you need to monitor social media channels. Social media monitoring on its own is more passive than social listening and typically involves identifying and responding to individual mentions. Like social listening, it is a form of reputation management, but it is less focused on action because it only tracks metrics. For example, social media monitoring might track:
- Brand mentions
- Relevant hashtags
- Competitor mentions
- Industry trends
Keyword monitoring is particularly important during a crisis when a brand wants to collect all coverage related to that incident.
Social listening goes one step further and takes action on the data you have collected. It is more active because it analyzes the data and provides insights that will help you make better customer-focused decisions as a business.
Why is social listening important?
Social listening is important because it gives you valuable insight into what your customers are thinking. By meeting the customer where they are, rather than relying on direct survey data, you can really get to the heart of what people are saying about you - without having to ask. Therefore it is an alternative, and valuable, source of feedback.
Knowing this information, you can be confident in the actions you take to address these insights, with peace of mind that your decisions are for the good of the customer and will improve your business. There is less risk involved too.
Social listening can improve the whole experience of your business, including customer, employee, product, and your brand.
When to use social listening
Social listening has multiple uses. We’ve outlined a few below.
Brands need to make sure the experience they provide is in line with their reputation. If there is a discord between the two, then the brand will suffer because there will be an “experience gap.” During a crisis, this reputation can be tarnished - sometimes permanently. This is why reputation management is so important. If something has gone wrong for your brand, you need to know about it and fix it quickly. Typically, if there is a problem with your reputation or a crisis, then it signals that there is an issue with the experience that needs to be addressed.
Tracking and analyzing brand sentiment is a really helpful benchmark for assessing your reputation. If sentiment towards your brand is falling, then something you are doing is at odds with the experience your customers expect and your reputation is being impacted as a result. Analysis of brand sentiment will give you an idea about what that is.
This is also very valuable in a crisis because you track and analyze the sentiment and engagement of particular keywords associated with that crisis.
Alternatively, if sentiment is rising you’ll be able to see what’s working and can look to build on that.
By tracking and analyzing your competitors, and their relevance to you, you can stay one step ahead and ensure you differentiate yourself from the rest and create or maintain your competitive advantage.
Engage with your customers
Some of the best marketing campaigns have used social listening as a key part of their strategy. By listening to your customers, and identifying advocates or critics of the brand, you can listen to what they have to say and use this opportunity to create a conversation and a moment that brings the community together.
From consumer FMCG goods to football signing announcements, or brand product campaigns (like Apple’s Shot on iPhone campaign), social listening provides an opportunity to be creative and elevate the brand. As an example, many brands, such as Innocent Drinks, have actually highlighted critics of product features, fixed what was broken, and then used this feedback in tongue-in-cheek style to highlight the improvement of their product.
innocent super smoothies: The Final Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Rebrand
More vitamins than you can shake a stick at.
More label redesigns than we know what to do with.
And just three months later than we originally planned.
Please don't tell our boss. pic.twitter.com/V5ZJ0Twuxs
— innocent drinks (@innocent) June 29, 2020
Campaigns and strategies such as these drive engagement and humanize your brand because, by nature of the concept, it shows you listen to them.
Alternatively, you can drive engagement with customers by providing better support to customers online. By listening, and acting to rectify any issues a customer may come onto social media with, a brand can quickly turn a bad experience into a good one.
Hunt down and fix experience gaps
As the previous point eludes to, social listening is another stream of feedback that can help you to identify problems with the experience - whether that’s for customers, employees, or the product and brand experience. This might be a 1 to 1 problem like a late delivery, or a more significant, wider issue - such as repetitive product feature issues.
Knowing this information in real-time means you can work with the relevant teams and departments in your business to fix these as quickly as possible.
Other use cases of social listening include:
- Crisis management
- Customer service
- Customer satisfaction
- Brand health and reputation
- Content creation
- Marketing campaign performance
- Trend and demographic insights
- Business pitch research
What metrics to track using social listening
There are many metrics you can track, each of which useful if used in the right context.
Share of voice - tracking mentions and references to your business, in comparison to your competitors will help you to determine how much of the conversation you own and your relevance or position in the industry. You’ll be able to see what your audience is saying about them too.
Engagement rate - The rate at which users interact with your content upon seeing it. Engagement covers multiple actions users might take on social media including retweets, likes, shares, direct messages, comments, and follows. Within this, you might look at seasonal changes, differences between demographics and sudden spikes or drops in mentions.
Engagement is closely tracked because it can lead to building a profitable relationship between you and the user. The more engaged a user is, the more likely you are to be able to convert them into a customer. High engagement can indicate trust, enthusiasm, interest, and enjoyment of the brand, although it should be noted that high engagement won’t always be positive. For example, replies may have a negative sentiment attributed to it.
Sentiment analysis - This leads us onto the next metric that you can track - sentiment of your brand. Using natural language analysis, you can assess whether people talking about/to your brand are positive, negative, or neutral. Analyzing how sentiment changes over time can be used as a good indicator of shifts in customer satisfaction. If sentiment is increasingly positive, then you can see if satisfaction is also rising, meaning you are doing a good job of meeting the needs of your customers.
Conversion rate - Social listening is vital if you want to align your customer experience to your business goals. By understanding what really matters to your customers through social listening, you can take steps to meet these needs. Conversion rate is a good metric to track this. For example, the more people you get through to the website, the more likely it is that you are effectively showing your audience that you can meet their needs.
How to use data gathered from social listening
Social listening should be aligned with your business goals. When analyzing the data you gather, look for trends, patterns of behavior and key drivers of the data you are seeing, and see how these insights can help you meet these goals. For example, if people are saying your in-store experience is poor and satisfaction is suffering as a result, look for the reason why. Perhaps people are saying the lines are too long?
As with any source of feedback, how you not only analyze but act on this data is essential. Attributing metrics (such as sentiment) to certain goals (such as increasing customer satisfaction), means you can take action on the feedback you receive, knowing that this will help you to achieve your goals.
Tools to help with social listening
There are various tools that can help with social listening, and Qualtrics has an integration with a few partners - such as Brandwatch. Brandwatch is an expert in social listening and can help challenge your own perceptions of what you think is true by learning what your customers are actually saying about you and your competitors in their own context.
The platform gives “structure and meaning to the voices of billions of people, so you can make decisions that truly fit with consumer and buyer needs.” Brandwatch can also do scene analysis from sources such as pictures to help businesses understand the context in which they, and their competitors, are being consumed.
Its partnership with Qualtrics is a game-changer for any marketing professional. This is because your data from social listening gets pulled through into the Qualtrics platform, and analyzed to identify key insights, trends and patterns of behavior. Based on this information, recommended actions are sent to the right teams to implement, designed for maximum impact and to help you reach your business goals.
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