Social Listening: What it Is, Why it Matters, and How to Use it Effectively

by on February 27, 2020

How clearly have you defined your target market? After all, it’s the foundation upon which your marketing strategy is built, so knowing your audience is integral. But how well do you know your target audience? Do you have a clear idea of who they are and what they truly think about your brand and industry? Well, if your company has yet to join the social listening world, then you have yet to join the important conversations happening in your industry and around your brand. If these seem like uncharted waters, you’ve come to the right place! The social media marketing pros at VitalStorm are here to tell you everything you need to know about social listening.

What is Social Listening?

So, what exactly is social listening? Simply put, social listening is a tool for audience research. It allows you to monitor your business’s social media channels for mentions of your brand, products, competitors, and any relevant key words. As the name suggests, you are, in effect, listening to conversations people are having on social media about your company, brand, and products.

Now, you may be asking, “But don’t I get most of that info from the regular social media metrics?” The answer is no. While social monitoring is based on metrics like engagement rate and numbers of mentions, social listening delves deeper. Although these basic metrics are important, social listening allows you to go beyond the numbers to uncover the “online mood” or social media sentiment. In other words, social listening helps you understand how your target audience actually feels about you and your competitors.

Why Social Listening Matters

Although you now have a better understanding of what social listening is, you may be wondering why it should matter to your business. While it’s an important question to ask, the answer lies in how you use it. To break it down for you, here are the most effective ways to use social listening for your business goals.

1. Engaging with Your Customers

Real people are having conversations about your industry and brand, so why not join the conversation? With social listening, you can more easily identify opportunities to join these conversations. From someone raving about how much they love your brand or product to a service-related inquiry, social listening allows you to communicate more efficiently with your target audience. Once you use social listening to actively engage with your customers, you will be well on your way to building a more trustworthy brand and more loyal audience.

2. Real-Time Tweaking of Your Marketing Strategy

If you’ve spent any time in the social marketing sphere, you’re probably well-acquainted with the frustration of an unexpected spike in negative or decreased engagement. Before you know it, down the metric rabbit hole you plunge, in search of the elusive element that triggered these changes. However, instead of following a trail of metrics breadcrumbs, you can use social listening to spot sentiment changes in real-time. As a result, you can get a much quicker sense of what caused the change, allowing you to tweak your strategy more effectively.

Perhaps just as discouraging as a spike in negative sentiment is a decline in overall engagement. While you may be pulling out all the stops to create compelling content, your topics may not resonate with your target audience. With social listening, you can monitor keywords used in conversations about your industry and brand. You can then analyze these keywords to learn which topics your audience truly wants to talk about and include these topics in your content calendar.

In addition to studying your recent posts through the lens of social listening to get a sense of what has gone so wrong, you can learn what is going right. If you find that you’re getting a spike in positive engagement, social listening helps you look deeper into the reasons behind that positive uptick. You can use these insights to inform your content, and to stay on track with your marketing and product development goals.

3. Tackle PR Disasters More Effectively

Another treacherous part of managing the online presence of a business is PR. In today’s world, the bulk of PR disasters begin and live on one social media platform or another. Considering the rapid pace at which negative sentiment can spread on social media, minimizing the damage is no small undertaking. That being said, social listening helps you address PR disasters before they get out of hand. If sentiment hits a sudden downward spike, you can find the cause quickly and make necessary changes in real-time. Whether the solution is pulling a problematic post or apologizing for a controversial Tweet, social listening helps you take immediate action in controlling the damage.

4. Learn More About Your Competition

Another important part of developing a successful marketing strategy is knowing your competition. Just as social listening allows you to listen to conversations about your brand, it also allows you to stay a step ahead of your competition. Beyond tracking what people are saying about you, even deeper insight can be gained from monitoring the social sentiment of your competitors. In fact, keeping tabs on the sentiment around competing brands can provide vital insight into where you rank within the marketplace. Also, with the ability to see what your competitors are up to in real-time, you can anticipate any new product launches or marketing campaign plans from your competitors. Additionally, you can learn about any negative press your competitors might be facing.  In any case, finding out about new opportunities or threats before they round the corner affords you the necessary time to plan and respond effectively.

5. Discover Influencers within Your Industry

It’s no secret that social media influencers have become key players in the world of digital marketing. In fact, many businesses have carried out lucrative partnerships with influencers, from expanding their reach to running fruitful campaigns. However, finding the right influencer for your brand and industry requires extensive vetting and, in many cases, a lot of trial and error. That being said, social listening can prove to be a useful tool in narrowing down the field of influencers. By listening to social conversations about your industry, you can more easily pick out who the important influencers are. From there, you can begin the process of deciding which influencers most echo your brand voice, and the role you want them to play in representing your company.

As you begin combing the field for influencers, don’t overlook your brand advocates! Any customer who already loves your brand and regularly sings your praises is a brand advocate. If you can identify some of these natural brand advocates, reach out to them and explore opportunities to collaborate.

6. Be the First to Discover and Address Pain Points

One valuable discovery you can make when you monitor industry keywords with social listening is how you can improve your products. In uncovering conversations about services, products, or features that customers don’t like, you can proactively address these pain points. Whether that means tweaking an existing product or adding features to fix the issues people are buzzing about, the solution will be much clearer with social listening.

*Pro Tip: Once you’ve made changes to your products, tell people about it with a targeted campaign. Your customers will be happy to see that you listened to their feedback and will reinvest in your brand. This will not only help you retain customers, but it will increase brand trust and loyalty.

7. Generate New Sales Leads

As the different platforms continue to evolve, the focus has shifted to building a community, not just a following. Especially when broaching the topic of social selling, building a community around your brand is key. In order to build a loyal brand community, you must take time to nurture new leads into relationships before social selling is an option. With this in mind, you can use social listening as a tool to identify people who are asking questions about your industry. While it’s ill-advised to jump into someone’s online conversation with solicitous comments, there are tactful ways to connect. Start by reaching out with some helpful information to establish your brand as a reliable resource. Avoid any pushy language – this initial move should be all about making a connection on a basic human level.

How to Use Social Listening Effectively

Navigating the waters of social media can sometimes feel overwhelming, with such an overabundance of content out there. However, when you use social listening effectively, you can refine your targeting and marketing strategies to make these platforms work for your business. To start, here are some social listening best practices:

1. Pay Attention to Where People Talk About You

Even if you aren’t on all the social platforms, it will behoove you to cast a wide net with your social listening plan. No two platforms are the same, with the audiences and conversations varying from forum to forum. Considering these variations, you’ll find that the conversations about your brand or industry differ based on where they are happening. For example, you may find that people talk a lot about you on Twitter, but not at all on Instagram. While conversations may be more in-depth on LinkedIn, you may find the discussions on Facebook to be of less substance. By learning where people are talking about you and your industry and how the conversations vary across networks, you can create a clearer strategy. Not only will these details help you join the conversation more strategically, but it will pay off in better organic engagement and paid advertising.

2. Work with Other Teams

The benefits of social listening often reach across multiple different teams. With the wide range of information social listening provides, you’ll get more out of your efforts by sharing the data throughout your company. From a PR standpoint, social listening offers the opportunity to address customer posts that require immediate attention. If your content marketing team is looking for fresh ideas, these insights can be a gold mine! Furthermore, your product development team might generate a new product or feature idea based on conversations on social media. In addition to sharing information from your social listening efforts with your teams, ask for their input. In many cases, other teams might have questions that can be addressed by tweaking your social listening program.

3. Learn from Your Competitors’ Mistakes and Wins

While we would never recommend copying another company’s marketing strategy, you should still observe your competitors closely. By listening closely to what people are saying about your competitors, good or bad, you can gain valuable insight for your own company. Look at it this way: it’s a lot less painful and costly to learn the hard lessons by watching your competitors make the mistakes than making them yourself. While keeping a keen eye on your competitors’ missteps, also make sure to learn everything you can from their wins.

4. Expect Things to Change

As you collect more information, you’ll gain a clear understanding of what normal conversations and sentiment look like for your brand. However, it’s wise to keep an eye out for changes. If you notice any major shifts in engagement or sentiment, it may mean that something has impacted the overall perception of your brand. With social listening, you can understand what brought on the changes, so you can adapt your strategy appropriately.

*Pro Tip: This is an instance in which looping in your PR, Content, and Product Development teams would be beneficial. With the right information sharing, all teams can more effectively help steer the ship back on course with minimal damage.

5. Act on What You Learn

In distinguishing between social monitoring and social listening, taking action is the key difference. While social monitoring allows you to look back on what has already happened, social listening is all about putting the metrics into action. Once you’ve made a social listening plan, act on what you learn, both in real-time and in future planning.

Get the Most Out of Social Listening

Now that you know about some of the ins and outs of social listening, you have an understanding of how this tool can serve your business goals. Getting the most out of your social listening program is all in how you apply the information being gathered. The VitalStorm Marketing team has the experience, knowledge, and passion to put your brand at the forefront of your industry. Step up your marketing strategy today – visit our site or give us a call at (877) 311-5695!