LISTEN UP! Social Listening 101


Building a strong social media presence involves more than just generating a steady stream of content.  It requires activating a strategy that revolves around not just talking, but…guess what? Listening!

As in any healthy, reciprocal relationship, listening is a skill. It takes discipline and practice. While the concept of social listening is not new it has not, until recently, been tapped to its fullest potential. And the reality is you may unknowingly be tuning out valuable marketing feedback if you turn a deaf ear to your followers.

In a recent Outlook Marketing Services blog, “The Eight Biggest Mistakes We See Companies Make with Their Social Media,” author Stephanie Manola flagged the lack of effective monitoring and proactive engagement as a missed opportunity. While marketers may recognize its value, many still lag in listening to social media generated conversations and taking action on these insights. In fact, only 24% of brand marketers say they do social listening.

Social Media Monitoring vs. Social Listening

There’s a difference between social media monitoring and social listening. Social media monitoring is a more passive, reactive look at social media engagement through capturing and tracking mentions, comments and relevant topics to measure the performance of a social media campaign.  Social listening, on the other hand, takes it a step further and is not limited to a company’s own channel activities.

It’s a multifaceted process that provides a more proactive and interactive view of what customers and prospects are saying and emoting about your company, brand or campaign.  Social listening probes below the surface to reveal more qualitative data than traditional quantitative monitoring metrics (i.e. followers, clicks, likes, etc.).  These deeper insights are often uncovered through listening to your target audience’s:

  • Pain points and preferences
  • Types of questions asked
  • Language and hashtags used
  • Perspectives on headline news
  • Perception of the competition
  • Trade show/event experiences

Aside from the “what,” you can also learn a lot from the “who” by observing who your audience is engaging with in conversation.  Who are their peers?  Go-to gurus?  Top influencers?  Most trusted sources?

The social data collected around these and other parameters can be used for analysis of customer sentiment, topic affinity, competitive behavior and building a strategy to support an overall marketing plan, campaign, event and much more.

The list goes on!  Let’s take a closer look at the key benefits and tools available to drive a sound social listening strategy.

6 Biggest Benefits of Social Listening

Beyond mere monitoring, social listening offers several advantages that help businesses to connect directly with their audience to:

  1. Generate sales leads. Many sales leaders predict social selling will become the dominant avenue for B2B sales. For example, if a customer or prospect expresses interest in a product or shares their intention to purchase, a company representative who is listening to this conversation over a social channel can seize the opportunity to point them to helpful content resources or a contact within the organization to assist the buying journey.
  2. Identify customer service issues. On the flipside, many customers turn to social media as a forum to vent complaints rather than send an email or make a call. By responding promptly and professionally, companies can demonstrate empathy and work quickly to resolve problems before they spread and escalate into crises.
  3. Guide brand and product development. Customers voicing their preferences and dislikes over certain product features via social channels are a rich goldmine for gleaning insights that can help shape new brand opportunities, tackle bugs or flaws and inspire future product updates and innovations.
  4. Track the competition. Using social listening to gather competitive intelligence about significant moves, product launches, marketing campaigns, sales strategies, key customer wins, executive hires and customer feedback allows you to keep a real-time pulse on competitors.
  5. Build advocates and influencers. Identifying and nurturing positive influencers through social listening can help cultivate a following that generates word-of-mouth referrals, favorable recommendations and peer-to-peer discussions that positively impact purchasing decisions.
  6. Serve content your customers seek. By actively listening to your constituents and using topic affinity analysis, you can crowd-source content development ideas and turn those into future thought leadership articles, blogs and social media posts about relevant issues your customers care most about – and keep them coming back for more.

Let Social Listening Tools Do the Heavy Lifting

Going where the conversation happens to listen and engage is both an art and a science. Every interaction with your customers is a valuable data point but, depending on the nature of your business, not all of your clients may be active on all social channels.

If it all seems daunting, don’t panic. There are many social listening tools available that can point you to where these conversations are taking place. These automate the process of collecting and digitally aggregating data across social channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook), Internet communities, online news sites and the web as a whole. Many tools also analyze and deliver it in a visually compelling format to make the data easier to interpret, draw conclusions and take action.

For example, social listening tools from Sprout can capture conversations and deliver in-depth analytics that put them into context.  Sprout’s query builder feature allows you to search specific brand mentions, keywords and hashtags. It watches all the popular social media channels, popular social news aggregation sites like Reddit and community Q&A platforms such as Quora.

Khoros (formerly Spredfast + Lithium) is another popular social intelligence-gathering tool. It lets you listen to social conversations and generates a dashboard of top terms ranked by popularity, number of tweets, peak times of the day/week when there’s an uptick in engagement, potential reach and many other criteria.  Khoros also evaluates content type, devices used and sentiment to help marketers adjust their social media campaigns and create on-demand content.

These are just two of a variety of social listening tools that let you set up and customize your listening feed to capture these parameters and others such as geo distribution, engagement by gender, topic trends and competing brands.  The list is nearly endless, and next generation technologies that use natural language processing and artificial intelligence are making it even easier to keep up with social media’s evolution and sophistication.

Take the Next Step

Social listening is becoming more widely embraced as a powerful way to complement conventional marketing research methods. Whereas focus groups and one-on-one interviews only provide a snapshot in time that reflects the feelings of a small group and therefore can be selective and skewed, social listening offers uncensored, up-to-the-minute insights into true market sentiments and behaviors. But, beyond just monitoring, social listening requires time, discipline and the right tools to reap the benefits and make the best, data-driven business decisions that transform insights into action.

Learn more tips and techniques to optimize your social media strategy from Outlook Marketing, like this recent blog post by Veronica Chaidez, “You’ve Got a Social Media Plan…Now What?”

Is your organization actively engaged in social listening?  Share your successes and lessons learned!  Post a comment or connect with us through Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Do you need support with your social media program and listening initiatives?  Contact us to see how Outlook Marketing can help.


Kristin Fayer



Kristin R. Fayer, Senior Vice President, Outlook Marketing Services


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