What is social listening? What benefits does it bring? Why do brands get involved in social listening? Where to start? As a company that provides one of the most advanced and precise tools for monitoring and understanding online media, we can offer a few tips. Read our beginner’s guide and get the answers to these and many more questions.
Table of contents
What is social listening?
- Social listening glossary
Benefits of social listening
- Gathering information
- Data analytics
- Consumer engagement
- Brand development
Key objectives for social listening
- Market segmentation
- Brand awareness
- Competitor analysis
- Acquiring leads
- Crisis management
- Customer relationships
- Brand authority
- Product improvement
- Best practices for social listening
- How brands are using social listening?
How to set up social listening?
- The “Brand” scenario
- The “Social Profiles” scenario
- The “Other” scenario
- Filtering mentions and data analysis
Chapter 1 What is social listening?
In a perfect business world starting a company would look more or less like this: you take a walk in the park and out of nowhere, an idea comes – a wonderful idea for a flawless product. Then, you simply make it. And since it’s a perfect product, people obviously were waiting for it for a long time.
Now that it’s here, they can’t stop themselves from buying all of your stock. You just sit by the fireplace with your cigar and watch your account numbers go up, doing nothing else for the rest of your life. Sounds nice, right?
Well, I hate to pop your bubble, but it’s totally fictitious. Even if your heart is pure, even if you close your eyes and visualise it with all of your might. Seriously. Not going to happen.
If you want your business to succeed, simply having the perfect idea is not enough. Simply put, you need to work hard, be persistent and humble. Obviously, there’s more – but let’s focus on the last quality for a moment. Why should you be humble to build a successful brand?
The thing is, at the end of the day, it’s the customer who chooses which brand to go with. This means that your product should cover the needs of your audience in the best way possible. The accepted practice is to create a Buyer Persona and understand its needs.
In the world where almost half of the population shares their opinions on social media, along with their wishes and desires, all you need to do is to listen.
“And if you listen to them you can soon improve all
those niggly things which turns an average company
into an exceptional company.”
In simple terms, social listening is discovering what your current and potential clients are saying on social media. Then, you turn this information into specific marketing strategies that will help you get your product or service to the most interested potential customers. This way, you can optimise your investments in acquiring new customers and retention costs.
Social listening glossary
If you are completely new to the subject, we recommend getting accustomed with some social listening terminology. Below, you’ll find the most commonly used definitions, terms, and phrases used when talking about social listening. Consider this a baseline collection of terms needed to get going.
- Brand Authority:
- Common trust in a company’s expertise. This is what you achieve by sharing knowledge with your audience; the more valuable and credible content your representatives create, the more reliable your brand will seem.
- Brand Awareness:
- A brand’s presence within its industry – and how recognisable it is to customers. Interestingly, the term doesn’t specify whether the brand is perceived positively or negatively.
- Brand Monitoring:
- Searching for and analysing social mentions that contain a brand’s name.
- Communication Channels:
- In the context of social media, the term refers to a brand’s official website, blog, and social media profiles that the company uses to reach out to current and potential customers.
- Encouraging the audience to participate in social communication with a brand and the outcome of these activities.
- The scope of online activities. Each piece of online content (such as posts, comments, mentions) can be seen, liked, or shared by a certain part of users; the wider the reach, the more brand awareness, which translates to more sales. To achieve high reach, your brand’s statements and other online activities need to be comprehensive and attractive, tailored to your audience’s preferences.
- The emotional undertone of online mentions, usually estimated by algorithms based on natural language processing. When analysing how your brand (or any other subject) is perceived online, you rely on automated summarisation of gathered data to get an overview and various insights in real time.
- Social Media Analytics:
- The process of gathering, measuring, and interpretation of social media data (such as the number of followers, likes, shares, most popular dates, best hours for content publication, and others).
- Social Media Mining:
- The automated process of searching for patterns in social media data, usually based on big data and text analysis.
- Social Listening (or else: Social Media Monitoring*):
- The process of tracking online conversations to learn what people are saying about a specific brand, industry, person, etc. and using the insights as business leverage.
*In some approaches, social listening is considered a more complex concept than social media monitoring, but we use the two terms interchangeably.
- Social Mention:
- An online statement which contains a defined keyword or key phrase (e.g. brand or product name, online phenomenon, trending topic etc).
- Social Media:
- platforms that connect users in online communities, based on user-generated content such as statements, comments, photo and video uploads, etc. In social listening, these platforms are used as sources of consumer data. Examples include Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, QZone, VKontakte, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn.The most popular social networking platforms accoridng to Statista .
You can learn more social listening terms and definitions at social listening glossary.
When dealing with dozens of different platforms and literal billions of users, you need to cover thousands of different topics and conversations in order to stay up-to-date with trends and customer preferences.
This is why social listening tool, such as SentiOne, are so crucial. They utilise advanced algorithms for natural language processing, web crawling and parallel data processing. Don’t worry – you don’t need to know the inner workings of these tools.
The bottom line is that you get instant access to detailed results and an user-friendly interface which will enable you to complete your work easily.
But before we get to all that, let’s explain why social listening is so crucial for business.
Chapter 2 Benefits of social listening
The opportunities of the web are countless and should definitely be explored by brands that aim their products to the right target group, like Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z. Of course, a good brand manager knows the differences in communication styles for these groups but the point is most of the people, who are now fifty and less, use the web on a daily basis. The internet content generated by these people, especially since the breakout of social media, became an endless source of information. As long as you organise this information skillfully, social listening helps you on four basic levels.
Using a social listening tool is surely a smarter way to listen. As it’s been said above, listening is a way to go to improve your company. Monitoring online discussions, you get the access to unfiltered feedback about your (or your competitor’s) product or service. Although, with today’s online data overload, there’s practically no way to manually cover everything that digital societies have to offer to your business. Social media platforms provide notifications if someone mentions you online, you can say. Sure. And a lot of unsatisfied clients will address you directly. That’s also true. But not all of them. From my experience, I’d say that over half of brand mentions take place outside of brand’s official channels or with no tagging. On Twitter, for example, if someone doesn’t add “@” to brand’s name, you will never know they said something about you unless you use a proper tool. And by proper I mean the one that will easily search through billions of mentions, cover sources that you need, and won’t keep you waiting. Plus, there is a lot more to monitor than just your brand’s name. You can learn a lot if you track your competitors as well and topics specific to your industry. That’s why you think outside notifications on each platform and get an all-in-one tool. So say, you listen on a global scale with real-time results. But how to find what you’re looking for in this ocean of data?
Understand your digits. There’s no point in gathering thousands of online statements, comments, mentions if you don’t gain precise information. We live in times when, fortunately, not only vanity metrics matter; it’s not just about how many followers, likes, shares you get, but who are the people standing behind those clicks. After all, they are the buyers. The more you know about them, the better suited your brand can get. To discover actionable insights, that you can base your business decisions on, you need to learn how to manage big data. And again, this may seem like too much to a newbie but remember that’s what computers are for. To divide, calculate, measure your data for you. You just ask a right question (choose the right keywords) and what you’ll get are fixed charts with mention sentiment analysis, geolocation, author’s gender estimation, most popular channels, and many more features providing social insights. You can use this analysis either as the representation of general conclusions for your reports and overall strategy building, or dig into it for more specific consumer insights to build relationships.
With online mentions gathered and filtered, you can discover the right audience and address them directly. React to your current and potential client’s needs. Show that you truly care. Join online conversations if you ever see the need to nip social media crisis in the bud. Or to find new leads and lay the ground for sales. There are a lot of studies proving that the more humane a brand seem, the more likely are the people to buy its products. The better part of our purchases is, after all, based on emotions no matter how rational we try to be about it. That’s why, as a company, you’d like to explore the empathic marketing. Aim to acquire clients that buy your product or service not as a spur of the moment but as a result of feelings based on your long-term relationship. Remember to base your social media presence on consistent strategy, try to be professional, and answer on time (it’s no news that the expected response time doesn’t let brands snooze – more than half of respondents claimed that they expect brands to answer within just an hour).
With today’s speed of life, there’s literally barely any time to adapt. However, if you use technology to do the time-consuming work for you, you get an extra moment for designing and implementing improvements. With unlimited research results, precise analysis, brisk reputation management, you can show your agility. Adjust according to unbiased evaluation that you get from online media. Use your social listening experience to optimise the way you communicate with consumers, get your ROI straight, establish your position in the market. Even negative feedback can be turned into social proof of your value as a company.
In a nutshell, there are many ways you can use monitoring to your advantage but key benefits of social listening are:
- Access to billions of online conversations
- Keeping up-to-date with real-time monitoring results
- In-depth social media data analysis
- Efficient online reputation management
- Preventing social media crises
- Building client relationships
- Discovering new sales opportunities
- Genuine feedback
- Optimising communication activities
- Control over brand perception online
- Learning trends for improvement
Chapter 3 Key objectives for social listening
As you can see, there are many reasons to use social listening. There are also many ways to do so. When you decide to try monitoring social media, make sure you create a consistent strategy. Preferably, depending on your profession and goals. It’s easy to get lost in unlimited possibilities of tracking billions of online mentions but to draw actionable insights from your social media data, remember to first think your projects through. You can mix and match all kinds of projects or choose to set them one by one. It’s all connected – if you join the online conversation about a subject that is connected to your product and give value to it, it’s hard to draw a straight line whether you’re building brand awareness, authority, or finding leads. And you don’t have to focus on separating these tasks. Simply take a moment, analyse your current position in the market, and prioritise your actions.
This is the approach for new businesses, new product launches and all things new. To sell your product, address your audience with the right communication, speak their language. Change your language and design style depending on your potential buyer’s gender, localisation, lifestyle and match your social media activities to your industry rush hours on social media. If you want to get to know your audience better with social listening, you need to equip yourself with the proper tool and follow these steps:
- Pick keywords specific to your industry.
- Include these keywords in your search queries.
- Take a look at the statistics – gender analysis, geolocation, most popular sources, hour histogram.
This way you get the overview of who, where, and when is talking about topics that refer to your brand and industry. Then select the most representative group and create a personalised marketing strategy.
The takeaway: Use social media data analysis to define your target.
Regardless of whether you are the only one in the blue ocean or your industry is pretty much crammed, your brand needs to be recognisable. Perhaps you know all about the purchase funnel, also known as marketing funnel, based on AIDA-model invented by St. Elmo Lewis in 1898! The concept evolved since then, obviously, and had to be adapted to new technologies. Still, it’s the basis of creating an effective product strategy. According to this concept, awareness is the first stage of potential buyer’s metaphorical journey from not even knowing about your existence to falling in love with your product and binge-buying it.
Social media can be used as space for subtle yet persistent reminders of your brand, whether it’s by your community managers or your brand ambassadors. Whom you can find easily using social listening. See who’s been talking about your brand online a lot while you’re tracking your brand mentions on the web.
The takeaway: Discover online discussions and join them to mark your presence or find brand ambassadors.
There’s this trend on the internet saying that you don’t need to trouble yourself with your business rivals. That when you concentrate on your goals, you will win in the long run. That you may lose your focus, time, and probably your mind too if you keep spying on them. But seriously, the things you can learn from your competitors! Especially, if you are the new player in the red ocean. Think of it as learning on not your own but other’s mistakes and achievements. A wise marketer will always stay aware of where his competitors are, if only to know that he’s ahead. In the ocean full of sharks, you need to find your niche and simply keep swimming to survive. This may sound harsh but business isn’t just rainbows and unicorns, right?
Luckily, there are business intelligence techniques that allow you to spend just enough time to know what’s what and not waste time obsessing about the others. Social listening help can be count in. Gathering and comparing social mentions about you and your competitors can tell you a lot. The number of mentions makes the difference but qualitative analysis too. The text mining algorithms let you see the sentiment of mentions; you can tell which sources are “it” for your industry; also the precise mention analysis can show you where’s the spot for you to swoop in.
The takeaway: Stay up-to-date with your industry thanks to social mention analysis.
Remember door-to-door selling? There’s a big chance that if you told a travelling salesperson from the 1970s that one day people would sit at fancy offices and get leads through a big calculator connected to other big calculators, they would never believe you. Or that they would know which house in particular to visit because – given the interests of inhabitants – there’s a better chance that they will buy the product. Or that they no longer have to cover uncountable amounts of blocks because they could casually slip the topic of their product in a random conversation. Or even further, the potential buyers would ask all their friends and acquaintances which product to choose and they could just swoop in.
However, today it’s probably not even possible to survive as a business without the web. And it’s not just about e-commerce. Even if most of your sales happen offline, you can try and find leads by joining discussions regarding your industry. Track keywords that reveal purchase intentions, filter mentions to match your target (e.g. by source) and try to gently connect with consumers. Remember to match your communication style to the people you are approaching; otherwise, you will look like an intruder or seem needy.
The takeaway: Find potential buyers on multiple sources specific to your industry and blend in.
The unlimited connections that the internet give us sure improved the quality of life of most people. However, like all tools, the web should be used carefully too. There are a lot of potential risks you’re facing when joining the social community, like malicious behaviour that you can come across, spiteful users, rumours, frustrated clients… It’s good to be aware of what’s the potential threat and create a strategy in case of danger.
With social listening and alerts triggered by negative mentions, you can avoid a crisis before it escalates. Sentiment analysis algorithms are based on linguistic expertise and natural language processing, which means that the system can automatically sort statements that are neutral, say nice things about your brand, or do you wrong. It can be rumours spread around the web or people’s reaction to your actions. You can never fully predict the extent of your campaigns and the important thing is to be ready to react. Especially when you are taking the risk or your industry is facing hard times. Sometimes it’s worth being rather bold than boring and social listening should become your crucial asset in fragile times. Because the speed of scandalous news spreading across the internet can compete with the speed of light, seriously. However, when you are the user of social media monitoring tool and you have alerts set up, you can be the first to know about anything unusual regarding your brand. And right the wrongs or make amends. Take full control of your brand reputation.
The takeaway: Never underestimate the power of social media when it comes to brand’s online reputation.
It’s no news that Client Service and audience engagement via social media have become a must. This is the first line of the brand-customer contact. Skilled PR and CS teams should be the entire company’s foundations of the online brand reputation as long as they manage the social with the right amount of professionalism, subtlety, and ease. Although, social media channels can be both spaces for very specific and well-targeted PPC campaigns created by big players and budget-friendly option for uprising companies. It’s the common practice to first create a brand’s fanpage and try your best at social organically and then invest in sponsored content. Either way, you should be present and responsive. Social media have become the virtual area where consumers meet their product or service providers and brands meet their audience. The distance can be shortened significantly.
As was said above, the more human-like the brand, the better it’s perceived by customers. Tracking online conversations can help you discover your audience’s needs, likes, dislikes. Can help you know them better. Subsequently, addressing your client’s needs via social listening can make them feel needed and important. Show your human face on social channels, engage your audience, interact with them and discover your way to successful client retention.
The takeaway: Build the relationships with your clients by discovering and getting involved in their issues.
What is trust built on? It’s the belief that you can rely on the person. It’s knowing that they won’t let you down. It’s the substantial confidence in their knowledge and abilities. Would you like your customers to trust your brand? Well, give them a reason. Be reliable, dependable, and competent.
Building a brand authority is a strategy that is highly recommended to brands providing technologically advanced products or services, but the truth is it won’t hurt in any other case. People will more likely buy what you offer if you know your stuff, whether it’s rocket science or not. But how on earth are they going to know that you know? The secret of charismatic brands is – amongst other things – sharing their know-how. Just enough so that the audience will listen and get interested and not enough for them to do it by themselves. That’s why content marketing is so in. We want to learn and trust our teachers. Of course, it can be tricky. If you create content that’s merely related to your industry, you will get a lot of traffic and awareness, and maybe some authority too. But what you’re aiming at is to win the client that will buy your product or service fully intentionally and stay with you for some time after that. Because he trusts you. To do so, try to add the direct approach. Feel free to share your experience, whenever you discover some stray sheep. Try not to brag or make the appearance as a buffoon, though. Join the online conversations regarding your industry and mark your presence as an expert who is open to a scholar discussion.
The takeaway: Improve your conversion rates based on the mix of professionalism and charisma.
If you get the signs that your product (or service) would use an upgrade but you have no idea where to start, start with asking around. Create a survey and ask your clients, ask their neighbours, ask your mum. Ask anyone who is willing to share their opinion because the more feedback you get, the more fool-proof the statistics. And now imagine you can get unlimited and totally unbiased feedback. Oh wait, but you can! Use social listening and find out precisely what your clients have to say about your product.
What you should consider, though, is that to take the effort of writing a post about a brand online, a person needs to have strong feelings. Sometimes they are not enjoyable feelings. Try to remember that your statistics might be influenced by more outliers than in the offline surveys. That is the price of honesty.
The takeaway: Explore your social mentions and get the true view of how your brand is perceived to make progress.
Chapter 4 Best practices for social listening
If you are new to the matter, learn from the best. Or more experienced at least. There are surely more than 10 real-life practices of social listening but this is what we find most of the successful social listeners have in common. Basing on verified examples, build your own way of using social listening and see for yourself. To discover the general truth behind social media data, try to focus on this advice:
- Find social mentions about your brand and see if you are talked about and how much, what are the common associations with your brand, etc.
- While setting up your first project, try to gather all variations of your brand’s name (from the SEM point of view even misspells may count) and put it into your query.
- Compare the numbers with the sentiment analysis; this may show you the outburst of a potential crisis (if the number of mentions is unusually high and most of them are negative).
- Don’t just listen – react! Think of social media monitoring as a vehicle on your way to the best client relationships and brand image management. You can use it to get to the destination faster but still, you need to steer the wheel. Respond to the mentions of your brand on social media (especially if they are negative).
- Draw general conclusions from social analytics. There’s a time for focusing on each mention and a time for taking the bird’s eye view on your audience. Match your product to their specifics and personalise the communication.
- Confront trends with your audience’s preferences. Discover the most popular sources not to the internauts around the globe but specifically to those interested in your field. This may differ, take the notice.
- Compare your brand to your competitors in precise analysis like gender analysis, geolocation, hour histograms, sources to find the leverage or spot the niche.
- Double-check your ideas and decisions with your audience. Listen to the voice of the customer to show that you truly care.
- Find out the rush hours in your market and double the efforts to make sure you are up-to-date and always on time.
- If you’re looking for an influencer to work with, take their reach and relevance to consideration (this you can learn on your own) and check their audience engagement. Don’t fall for vanity metrics but find a charismatic expert matched to your brand strategy.
- Carefully listen to the questions and issues your potential clients have and address them to become a trustworthy brand. Use the insights to create your content strategy to benefit from inbound marketing.
- Try the social proof as a selling point, if you find it useful. Find out how many people were satisfied with your product or service and highlight the data.
- Use the possibility for one on one communication with prospects you discover on social media. Don’t underestimate any potential client. Do your best to contact them directly.
Chapter 5 How brands are using social listening?
There are more and more brands using social listening as a part of their legitimate business strategy. The reasons and ways to do so can be spoken about for a long time. But there’s nothing like a real-life example. According to statistics,
a brand can increase their activity rate by about 25%
and decrease reaction time on social channels by 50 minutes
in just a year of using online monitoring and reputation management platform.
But the most spectacular things that happen thanks to online listening can be witnessed by all social media users. If a consumer is exceptionally happy or frustrated with your performance as a company, the chances, that they will share it with the world on social media, are high. As it was mentioned, a great part of them won’t officially put you on the spot by notifying. And using online monitoring tool is your only chance to know. Unless a fellow brand will help you out like in this example with Virgin Mobile:
Anyway, the appreciation from consumers is precious and your effort is always appreciated.
Plus, watch out for your competitors as they can try to use social listening (with the search set up for your brand name) as the opportunity to capture your unsatisfied clients.
Whether it’s your bad or not, the nice thing to do is to simply apologize for the situation because this way you show that you are not afraid of direct contact and take the opportunity to make amends, hence your intentions are pure. Plus, you may need the feedback in the service improvement.
Chapter 6 How to set up social listening?
When you decide to use the advanced but claimed one of the most intuitive and user-friendly social listening platforms like SentiOne, make sure you make the most out of it. There are a lot of possibilities that you can try for free.
Nevertheless, the one thing to remember at the beginning is that you need to set up your project which is the cornerstone of all of your online monitoring adventures. First, you need to open the Projects module, click the button to +Create a new project and choose one of the following:
The “Brand” scenario
This is the case with you monitoring any brand name. First, we recommend to focus on your own brand but later on, you can add competitor analysis too.
In the “include” box, type in your brand name and you will get a quick preview of the internet mentions including your brand.
To see all of the mentions, you need to save the project and go to Mentions module. But we will get to that later. Within project set-up, you get the preview and the total number of gathered mentions to get the sneak peek. If you see anything you don’t want to insert in your analysis later on, simply exclude some phrases using the “exclude” box or the drop-down in the upper-right corner of each mention. With the latter option, you can exclude the chosen author, domain or just the URL. Next to the total number of mentions, you can see how the numbers change with your changes.
This process is quite easy and the real fun starts after you save your project, so don’t forget to do so! At this moment, you can decide whether to create a dashboard for this project (which I highly recommend) and daily summary of your mentions.
The “Social Profiles” scenario
With this type of project, you can search for keywords within specified social profiles (like Facebook fanpage, Twitter account, Instagram or YouTube channel, or some of them mixed and matched. The including and excluding part of the process looks basically the same as above. If you authorise your social accounts, you get data from your private messages as well as the ability to track reviews and dark posts.
The “Other” scenario
This is the space for you to create projects that don’t basically fit into the brand monitoring. Technically speaking, it doesn’t differ from the first scenario but you get separate options so that you can get your online listening strategy straight. We hope with these three scenarios your search process will be easier and much more structured.
Please note that there’s a difference when you put your monitoring phrase in quotation marks. The system will find the exact phrase in this case. Otherwise, it will look for all words typed into the “include” box separately.
Filtering mentions and data analysis
After you save your brand new social listening project, you will get put automatically to Mentions module where you can play around. You can filter the gathered mentions by time, sources, sentiment, the gender of their authors. And scroll away to read them carefully. If any of them catches your attention, you can go straight to the source and join the conversation.
The next step is the analytics of gathered social data. To get perspective, go to Dashboard module and see visual data analysis.
I highly recommend using the “Customize” button at the upper-right corner. It gives you the chance to add some widgets that you need or move them around. Also, each of the widgets gives you the ability to change its settings or download the analysis as raw data or image.
One of the most important steps of social listening in terms of crisis management is setting alerts. In SentiOne, you have many options to customise your alert depending on what you want to achieve. You can choose to get the emails or in-app notifications, with the summary of social mentions divided by type and sentiment. This way you will always stay up-to-date.
Follow the steps above to make sure your social listening will go smoothly. When you master the first stage and will be ready for a higher state of enlightenment, remember that SentiOne is one of the most sophisticated online listening and brand reputation management tools based on proprietary algorithms using unique and totally cutting-edge technology. There are some super advanced rules for setting up your projects; you can track basically anything. Keywords written in uppercase, chosen languages, specific sources, specific time of publication, you name it! There are Reports, Tags, and Users modules to uncover where you can do some additional magic. But all journeys begin with the first step.
Go through the warm-up and double-check with our manual in Help if you need more technical information. Also, feel free to contact us with questions or more advanced needs, as you go further along this road.