What Is Social Listening And How To Get Started

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Most marketers now understand the value of social media as a marketing tool – and countless companies have now established their own presence across a variety of social platforms.

But while the importance of creating content and building an audience is well understood, many organizations are lacking when it comes to another key strength of social media: social listening.

Social listening is a strategic approach that can help your brand tap into the incredible breadth and depth of social media to hone in on what your target audience is saying and feeling – and why.

By investing in social listening, you can gain a deeper understanding of conversations happening around not just your brand but your broader industry, and extract meaningful insights to inform multiple areas of your business.

In this article, we’ll explore what social listening is, why it’s crucial for businesses today, and the tools that exist to help you do it before diving into tips for getting started with your social listening strategy.

Let’s get started.

What Is Social Listening?

Social listening is the practice of tracking conversations on social media that are related to your brand, analyzing them, and extracting insights to help inform your future marketing efforts.

These conversations can include anything from direct mentions of your brand or product to discussions around your industry, competitors, relevant keywords, or other topics that might be tangential to your business.

The idea of social listening is that you’re really getting to know your audience by sitting back and listening in to what they talk about – what their gripes are, what they’re interested in, what’s getting them excited right now, and much more.

Gathering this data and then examining it can help you in a number of ways, from uncovering useful product development insights to inspiring new content ideas or better ways to serve your customers.

Here are some of the things you can achieve through social listening:

  • Tracking mentions of your brand, products, or services across social platforms.
  • Evaluating public perception and sentiment towards your brand by assessing whether mentions are positive, negative, or neutral.
  • Spotting trends that are emerging among your target market by noting common themes, topics, or keywords in conversations.
  • Gaining a better understanding of your audience, including who they are, where they spend time online, what they want, and how your brand can connect with them.

As such, social listening isn’t just a powerful tool for marketing, but can also be leveraged to improve customer engagement and service, product development, and other areas of your business.

What’s The Difference Between Social Listening And Social Monitoring?

If you’re finding yourself a little confused about the difference between social listening and social monitoring, you’re not alone! The terms are often used interchangeably – when, in reality, they have different scopes and objectives.

Generally speaking, social monitoring is narrower and more focused on your brand specifically, while social listening takes more of a big-picture approach to gaining insights.

If social monitoring is about seeking out brand mentions and conversations to hear what people are saying, social listening is diving even deeper to understand why they’re saying those things.

Social monitoring typically involves tracking social activity directly related to your brand so that you can stay abreast of what’s happening at the moment and tackle any pressing issues.

In this regard, it’s often leveraged as a component of a company’s customer support program to help respond to queries, answer questions, and remedy complaints in a timely manner.

It can also help to identify trending topics or industry moments that might apply to your brand. Basically, social monitoring is all about being aware of what’s happening around your brand on social media so you can respond quickly.

Social listening does all of this, but also takes things a few steps further, expanding the scope of what you’re tracking and focusing on obtaining insights to help with brand strategy, content planning, and decision-making.

Where social monitoring might focus on mentions of your brand, social listening goes beyond that to explore broader consumer behavior and emerging industry trends, and make qualitative analyses of the conversations that are happening in those areas.

One analogy I’ve encountered that I find helpful for understanding the difference between the two: If social monitoring is akin to tending your own backyard, social listening is like taking a walk through your neighborhood and eavesdropping on conversations to better understand what your neighbors are interested in and concerned about.

While we are focused on social listening in this particular article, both social monitoring and social listening are important parts of an effective marketing strategy.

Why Is Social Listening Important?

As we’ve touched on, successful social listening can benefit many areas of your business – from your marketing to your product and your customer support. And all of this means it can have a big impact on your bottom line.

Let’s look closer at just some of the reasons why social listening is an important tool in your business’s arsenal.

Reputation Management

Social listening can help you get a sense of how your audience – and the general public – feels about your brand, products, messaging, or services.

By understanding both the positive and negative sentiments around your brand and where they come from, you can work to fill the gaps and improve perceptions of your company.

Understanding Your Audience

On that note, social listening is a great way to learn more about your audience – from your current customers to your prospects and beyond.

It offers a looking glass into what your target consumer is thinking about, their opinions, pain points, desires, etc. With this information, you have the power to customize your content, message, and products to serve their needs better.

Market Analysis

Social listening is a powerful tool for unearthing insights into your industry – trends, consumer behaviors, opportunities, etc. This is the kind of information that you can use to get ahead of your competitors and deliver the ultimate customer experience.

Competitive Insights

Speaking of competitors, social listening enables you to keep a watchful eye on your competitors and learn from their successes and failures.

You can use active listening to determine how your target market perceives your competitors and apply your findings to differentiate yourself from the pack.

Crisis Management

Let’s face it: Crises happen, no matter what your business or industry. But social listening can help you identify crises before they hit a boiling point, and address them in a timely manner.

Content Strategy

Want to know what content types and formats resonate best with your audience? Try social listening! Once you have the necessary insights, you’ll be able to create more engaging content.

Lead Generation

Social listening can drive lead generation in a number of ways.

You can use it as a tool to discover prospects who are interested in your industry, product niche, or topics related to your business.

Beyond this, by improving your content strategy, reputation, products, customer experience, and more using your social listening insights, you will ultimately boost more leads to your business.

Social Listening Tools

Given that social listening requires pulling data from millions of posts across social media and analyzing it, we would recommend using a tool to help with your efforts.

Here are a few popular social listening tools.

Hootsuite

Known for its social management features, Hootsuite also offers a comprehensive suite of capabilities to help with your social listening efforts.

The platform allows you to create custom streams to track hashtags, keywords, or mentions across a range of social platforms. You can use these to spot conversations in real-time and engage with them.

Using some of Hootsuite’s tools and integrations, you can also do things like track brand sentiment, listen into Reddit conversations, access consumer research, and more.

Pricing:

  • 30-day free trial.
  • Paid plans start at $99/month for the Professional tier and 249/month for the Team tier (billed annually).
  • Hootsuite offers an Enterprise tier with custom pricing.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is another leader in the social media management space that is super useful for social listening.

With Sprout Social’s Smart Inbox, you can pull all your mentions, comments, and DMs from across your social platforms into one single feed – helping you keep on top of what’s happening.

Other key features include audience analysis, campaign analysis, crisis management, competitor comparison, influencer recognition, sentiment research, and much more.

Pricing:

  • 30-day free trial.
  • Paid plans start at $249/month for the Standard tier, $399/month for the Professional tier, and $499/month for the Advanced tier (billed annually).
  • Sprout Social offers an Enterprise tier with custom pricing.

Brandwatch

Brandwatch is a strong social listening and analytics platform that can help you track and analyze conversations online. It pulls data from 100 million sources, ensuring you’re not missing anything.

The Brandwatch tool will sift through brand mentions in real-time to analyze sentiment and perception, saving you a ton of time and manual effort.

Other key features include AI alerts for unusual mentions activity, conversation translation across multiple languages, tons of historical data, and more.

Pricing:

  • Book a meeting with the Brandwatch team to learn more about pricing.

Meltwater

Meltwater’s social listening tool monitors data from a ton of different feeds, from Facebook to Instagram, Twitch, Reddit, YouTube, and many more. It can even recognize when your brand is talked about in a podcast!

Key features include topic and conversation trends analysis, custom dashboard and report building, consumer segmentation and behavior analysis, crisis management, and more.

Pricing:

  • Contact the Meltwater team for pricing details.

Talkwalker

Another top name in the social listening space, Talkwalker monitors 150 million websites and 10+ social networks to power your real-time listening experience.

It offers AI-powered sentiment analysis in over 127 languages, notifications for any atypical activity, issue detection, conversation clustering, and much more.

Pricing:

  • Contact the Talkwalker team for pricing.

6 Tips For Building A Social Listening Strategy

Now that you understand what social listening is and why it’s important – as well as a few of the tools you can use to power your social listening program – it’s time to start considering your strategy.

Here are six steps we recommend when building out your social listening strategy.

1. Define Your Goals & Objectives

As with any big project, your first step before starting should be to set clear goals for what you want to achieve.

Why are you doing this, and what is the desired result? Sit down with your team and talk through these points in order to align with your objectives.

You might have one key objective or several. Some potential options could be:

  • Improve your company’s customer service and support.
  • Gain insights to help inform product development and enhance product offerings.
  • Track brand sentiment across current and potential customers.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape in your industry, and how your competitors are performing with social audiences.
  • Stay on top of industry events and trends so you can spot content gaps and opportunities ahead of time.

Whatever your goals are, make sure you have them set from the beginning so you have clarity as you move forward.

2. Pick Your Tool Of Choice

While social listening can technically be done manually, it will never be as comprehensive as what you can get from leveraging a tool or platform.

Social media listening tools, like the ones we highlighted above, are able to synthesize data from millions of sources at once – not to mention their abilities to analyze sentiment, identify trends, spot activity, and more.

So, while they typically come with a price tag, the good ones are worth their weight in gold.

Do your research and choose a tool that aligns with your objectives and your team’s budget.

Look for something that monitors many different touchpoints, offers comprehensive analytics, is customizable, and integrates with your existing tech stack (if necessary).

3. Identify Target Keywords And Topics

This step is crucial: Take the time to define the keywords, topics, and hashtags that you want to “listen in” to – as these will provide the basis for your listening efforts.

Be sure to include keywords and themes that are relevant to your brand but also your industry, so that you get information that’s most useful to you. You could also discuss any keywords or topics you might want to exclude and why.

These might evolve or change over time, and that’s okay – this is about setting up a well-considered and focused foundation based on what matters most right now, and what will help you achieve your goals.

4. Decide On Your Workflow

Who will be responsible for monitoring your social listening data? Who should be responding to relevant mentions? Whose job is it to analyze the data and report on learnings and progress?

These are all things you should consider early on so that you can develop a clear workflow that outlines responsibilities.

By establishing the process early on, you’ll make sure that your efforts are not in vain and that you’re able to really put your data to use.

One recommendation: Make sure that somebody is regularly monitoring conversations and engaging where necessary. You should be keeping a keen eye on your listening activity – and automated alerts can be very helpful here.

5. Adapt As Needed

As part of the workflow we just discussed, somebody (or several people) should be responsible for routinely analyzing the data you’re collecting – as, unfortunately, it won’t analyze itself.

Set up a consistent process for diving into your data, extracting insights, and then acting on them.

There’s no point in allocating resources to a social listening program if you’re not using the learnings to benefit your business.

So, be sure to adapt your content strategy, marketing efforts, customer service, and so on based on what the insights are telling you.

6. Don’t Forget Measurement

We all know the importance of social media measurement – and this extends to your social listening efforts.

As time goes on, continue to measure the success of your efforts against the goals and objectives you set out for yourself.

This will help you evaluate the impact of your social listening, and whether there are areas you should pivot or refine based on the data you’re seeing.

You can also track social engagement metrics over time to see if your learnings have provided a boost in your social performance as a whole.

In Conclusion

With millions of conversations happening all around us on social media, any brand that isn’t engaging in social listening is missing a major opportunity.

By taking the time to proactively (and attentively) listen to your audience and target consumers, understand them better, and put their feedback to use, you can drive considerable success for your business.

So, take some of the advice we’ve shared here and start building out your social listening strategy today!

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