Branding Marketing

Why Social Listening Is More Important Than Ever

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As consumers have lost trust in advertising, the cost of effectively gaining their attention has climbed. Indeed, a researcher at Harvard Business School found that obtaining customers’ eyeballs grew seven to nine times more expensive in the 20 years between 1994 and 2014, and studies show the mounting cost of acquiring new customers hasn’t slowed since.

That’s why using social listening to craft strategic messages that resonate with consumers is more important than ever. 

What Is Social Listening?

Social listening is a technique that enables marketers and other business leaders to understand their ideal customers. It lays the groundwork for developing messages that maximize the chance of reaching them effectively. The idea is to go beyond analyzing your consumers’ demographics and other quantitative data, and get to know them on a qualitative level. One does this by finding where these people are congregating and having conversations, joining them, and listening in.

This social listening allows you to understand what your customers think, believe, and care about. It can guide how you present your brand in relation to a specific topic, giving you ideas for how to align your business with the prevailing sentiment. It can also give you insight into your customers’ common hopes and motivations, challenges and fears.

In this way, social listening enables you to flesh out your ideal customer avatar and have a richer understanding of your target audience’s psychographics.

Finding and Monitoring Conversations

There are two basic steps to social listening. The first is to find and monitor consumers’ conversations online. In particular, look for any place your brand, product, or service is mentioned. It’s also a good idea to look for any mentions of your competitors.

This is important because if your business neglects to conduct social listening, you won’t know what people say about your brand in public. Yet these messages shape how others view your company. Online discussions play a critical role in the development of your brand image: the perception people have of your enterprise.

Social media platforms are made up of conversations — and debates! — among people, so they constitute a treasure trove of data for social listening. The amount of available information is so overwhelming, however, that choosing the right terms and phrases to search for is of preeminent importance.

Search for the Right Words

The first words to search for are obvious: your brand’s name and social handles, as well as any acronyms or nicknames people use to refer to your company. In addition, search for the names of your specific products and product lines. Your brand’s slogan and any branded hashtags are also important searches to conduct. Finally, don’t forget to search for the names of the spokespeople and other key executives at your company.

Regarding your competitors, use those same types of search terms, simply revising them to be appropriate for your rival. For instance, input the specific names of their products and services, rather than your own. It’s particularly important to watch your competitors see if they will launch new offerings or initiatives. That way, your own business can prepare appropriately.

While those two sets of search terms usually yield the most relevant results, it’s also a good idea to zoom your search out to monitor the state of your whole industry. To do this, search for any buzzwords people in the industry tend to use. Also look for common industry terminology and unbranded hashtags that relate to your field. Digging in these broader fields can unearth conversations in which people are looking for the exact product or service your company offers.

Analyze Consumer Sentiment

The second step is to analyze how your business and competitors are being talked about in these public forums. The goal is to gain insights about your consumers, so that you can generate messages that will resonate with them.

To do this, first analyze the sentiment of the posts that mention your company, key personnel, competitors, etc. Are they positive, negative, or neutral?

Evaluating customers’ sentiment is important because, contrary to the common platitude, all media coverage is not good coverage. If the mentions about your company are positive, find ways to boost those messages, perhaps by liking them or resharing them on your brand’s own account. If they are negative, it’s important to consider how you can make things right. This is an opportunity to engage with people and take accountability, which can change how they view your company. Try to address any budding issues before they escalate. If the mentions are neutral, think about how your company could improve the customer experience, and nudge those customers into positive territory.

On the other hand, negative and neutral messages about your rivals will draw your attention to those companies’ weaknesses, which you could choose to exploit. Positive mentions about your competitors can show you where they are strong.

Measure the Size of the Conversation

It’s also important to measure the reach of each mention to gauge how much influence it may have had. Some posts will have successfully captured more eyeballs than others, which means you should prioritize them. What got the most traction, and why?

Similarly, pay attention to how much attention your brand gets compared to your competitors. This is called “share of voice” and it indicates how visible your brand is. If your rivals consistently reach more people than you, your business probably needs to boost its communication efforts and invest more in marketing, advertising, and public relations.

The larger context in which the mentions appear is also important. Some mentions will only be stray comments in a discussion that’s largely about something else. But some mentions will center on your brand — those are the ones it’s most important to watch and intervene on.

Be careful whenever you insert your brand into an existing conversation, however. Don’t just drop in and try to take over, since this can come off as heavy-handed and salesy. Instead, it’s best to begin by cultivating allies among those who already hold prominent positions within that community. Find ways to help them, which will make them more willing to help you and your brand later. In short, whenever your brand joins these conversations, it should be done to build relationships. Sales pitches should take a back seat.

Social Listening Strategies

If you’re feeling daunted by the amount of work that goes into social listening, the good news is software can help. For instance, you can set up free Google searches that alert you whenever one of your key words or phrases is published on outlets it indexes. Major platforms like Sprout Social, Hootsuite, and Meltwater can also catapult you into the middle of key conversations online.

Hiring marketing and public relations professionals to keep tabs on and protect your brand’s reputation is another way to relieve yourself of the labor involved. An added advantage of this approach is that these specialists often have advanced training and experience in leveraging the insights from social listening.

Whatever business you are in, social listening helps you find, understand, and build connections with your customers. For that reason, no business can afford to neglect it.

About the author


Chan Desai

Chan Desai is an Account Strategist for Otter PR. Chan graduated with a Master’s degree in Management Communication, with a focus on Marketing Communication, and an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies with a focus on Media Studies. She also has a double minor in Public Relations and Journalism. Her experience stems from direct fieldwork in the media, and public relations experience from working in-house to agencies alike. Chan is a savvy PR professional with a passion for effective storytelling which has translated into earned client successes. Chan has landed her clients in a range of publications, including but not limited to Forbes, The Washington Post, Benzinga, Fast Company, WWD, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, MarketWatch, New York Weekly, California Business Journal and MSN.