As a marketer you work hard to get your brand in front of the right audiences, with the end goal of turning them into enthusiastic brand advocates. Social media is an essential part of this strategy, enabling your brand to talk to audiences, as well as allowing you to read what customers have to say back.

If social media monitoring like this is a key part of your day to day, then social listening could be what you need to take audience engagement to the next level. Going beyond simply monitoring conversations relevant to your organisation online, social listening provides data to inform your marketing strategy to keep your community engaged.

What is social listening?

Your brand is likely to appear online in places you’d never expect - social listening is the tool that reports every online whisper of your brand back to you. It’s a way to gain clear insights into what people are saying about your organisation and your competitors online. With social listening you can track, analyse and respond to conversations about your brand and industry.

It’s similar to social media monitoring, but goes way further by allowing you to also monitor news, forums, blogs, videos, images, and other websites for online conversations about your brand.

These insights give you a far deeper understanding of your current and potential customers. By seeing your audience’s conversations, you can tap into their values, likes, dislikes, and other aspects of their lives. Used correctly, these insights can inform your marketing strategy to move your organisation forward.

This powerful approach allows you to act quickly and respond to engagement opportunities with relevant audiences. With this intimate knowledge of your consumers, you can provide truly personalised customer experiences.

5 reasons to adopt social listening

1. Customers like companies delivering a responsive service

Customers want to feel heard on social media. According to research by Sprout Social, 83% of users like it when brands respond to questions, and 68% like it when brands join conversations.

Social listening allows you to get talking to your customers, and thoughtfully craft responses that provide real value. Those are the kinds of responses that will spark brand loyalty and boost your customer retention rates.

2. Track your brand perception

Sometimes organisations face serious issues. Social media is a place where people go to sound off about their brand experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes, one incident can cause a wave of negativity that plagues your organisation’s reputation. It's tempting to ignore a couple of rude comments here and there, but if you’re seen to be ignoring criticism, it can damage your hard-earned relationships with customers.

And if you don’t have time to manually monitor every comment (let’s face it, who does!), let social listening come to your rescue. By analysing recent incidents, you see if the rise in negative comments has actually led to a negative impact on your organisation – whether this be through loss of sales, donation rates or whatever metric you measure in line with your business objectives. Then, you can craft your responses and decide how to combat this in future.

3. Tailor your content and increase your customer engagement

Using social listening, you can find out what type of content that those who follow and mention you enjoy by reviewing their posts, shares, hashtags, photos and content. You can then use this to create relevant content that matches their tastes to draw them into your brand.

4. Discover new opportunities to improve the customer experience

When many customers start complaining about the same problem, or starting rooting for the same win, it's a sign that there is something to take note of and run with.

Rather than simply monitoring these changes, you can gain insights and use social listening to find ways to innovate and improve the customer experience.

5. Build connections with social media advocates

Social advocacy is more powerful than ever. Today’s customers want to know what other people have to say about a brand, before they spend their hard-earned cash with it. Research indicates that around 82% of adults read reviews before purchasing something for the first time.

You can use social listening to figure out what the general sentiment is about your brand. If you notice someone who seems to be particularly invested in your organisation, you can identify them, and nurture them into becoming an advocate. Organisations that can achieve both loyalty and social advocacy are the ones that will thrive.

Gaining deeper insights through data

You may think that you’re conducting social listening already because you run a Twitter search for your company name every now and again. The truth is, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

When you use dedicated social listening tools to search for mentions of your organisation and related terms, you’ll discover that only a fraction of mentions will be from Twitter and Facebook. The rest will be from Reddit, blogs, discussion forums and microsites. And you can take things even further by analysing form submissions, chatbot and livechat conversations.

If you’re interested in truly understanding your organisation’s brand perception, you should need to get a full view of the data around your brand online.

Uncovering the good, the bad, and the ugly

Engagement is great, but only if it comes with real, positive social sentiment. Social listening allows you to spot changes in sentiment in real time, so you can get a sense of what triggered the change.

Look at your recent social posts, web activity and company developments to get a sense of what has gone right (or wrong).

If you’re getting lots of positive engagement, look for the reasons behind it. Your customers share lots of useful information about what they like and those lessons can help guide your strategy across channels.

Equally, identifying complaints and seeing how your organisation responded to them is extremely beneficial for informing your marketing strategy.

A study conducted by Edison Research, detailed in Jay Baer’s book Hug Your Haters, found that advocacy was raised by 20 to 25% when brands responded to complaints on social media or review sites. Individuals that complained in these places and did not receive a response reported an astounding 38 to 43% decline in advocacy, even though about half of them never expected a response in the first place.

This goes to show that It's vital to keep a close eye on your brand's channels and look out for any red flags, as well as opportunities. That's where social listening really becomes your best friend.

Whilst you can never fully control the overall narrative, you can use conversations as a source of real-time intelligence and steer them in a natural way to best support your organisation.

Important keywords and topics to monitor

Using social listening tools, you’ll learn what kinds of words people tend to use when they talk about your organisation and your industry. You’ll also start to get a sense of what kinds of insights are most useful for you. These items will give you a strong starting point for your research:

  • Your brand name, strapline and key messages
  • Any product names
  • Competitors brands and their product names
  • Your employees names
  • Campaign and advertising titles
  • Relevant hashtags relating to your industry

Remember also to monitor for common misspellings and abbreviations of the above – your audience may not write as carefully as you do!

Software is the solution

You’ll need high quality software to achieve anything beyond the most rudimentary social listening activity.

The good news is there are plenty of options to choose from, such as Brandwatch, SproutSocial, Talkwalker, Audiense, Synthesio, Mentionlytics and Hootsuite.

Your choice will be depend on your organisation’s size, budget, and the resource within your team to build queries, analyse, and act on mentions.

Whichever tool you decide on, the key to turning the data into actionable insights is you. You have the power to use social listening to strengthen your marketing strategy, and boost your success. For more advice on ways to build a winning marketing strategy, head over to our insights hub.

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