A successful social media strategy involves knowing that social channels are more than just broadcast platforms. They contain a wealth of information that can be mined and analyzed to make sure you are reaching the right people with the most insightful content.

The first step is understanding the difference between monitoring and listening.

Social monitoring is simply “monitoring” what is being said and possibly responding, but not really going beyond that. With monitoring, you are looking at engagement opportunities.  These opportunities can be as simple as “liking” a mention of your brand all the way to customer service oriented engagements. 

Every company should monitor, but should you do more? That next step is to “listen.” With listening, you are looking at these interactions and much more from the proverbial 30,000-foot perspective to spot trends or glean insights you can integrate into your strategy, turning the data into actionable intelligence.

What is social listening?

According to Sprout Social, the definition of social listening is “…the process of tracking conversations around specific topics, keywords, phrases, brands or industries, and leveraging your insights to discover opportunities or create content for those audiences. It’s more than watching @mentions and comments pour in via your social profiles, mobile apps or blogs. If you’re only paying attention to notifications, you’re missing a huge group of people that are talking about you, your brand and your product.”

In an article for MarketingProfs.com, Dan Neely, CEO of Networked Insights, provides a good analogy for social monitoring versus social listening. He said, “Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.”

Social listening involves “listening” to social conversations and deriving bits of wisdom, insights or common threads you can use to improve your strategy and consequently the effectiveness of your efforts. This goes beyond just mentions of your brand and includes things that interest your audience(s). There are many ways beyond customer service to use the information that can be gained through smart social listening. Some of the most common are:

  • Tracking mentions of your brand, your competitors and subjects of interest
  • Identifying personalities or influencers who have credibility with your audiences
  • Measurement of the success of your engagement efforts including campaigns and communities
  • Broad market research, customer profiling and/or persona development
  • Product development ideas
  • Reputation management

Where do I start?

More and more people are sharing their views about anything and everything on social media, giving marketers the opportunity to better understand their audiences and tailor messages to them. If used correctly, social listening can almost serve as a focus group.

The first step in social listening is to use one of the many available platforms that tally the volume of instances a particular brand, or topic, is mentioned online. This data alone is interesting, but the true value comes with the interpretation of this data and the insights a professional can glean from this data, such as understanding the underlying sentiments and key conversation drivers and how to address them or take advantage of them.

You can look at this approach as another way to gain consumer insights that can be difficult and expensive to identify. The sheer volume of conversations allows you to gather data at levels that can be statistically significant. This saves time and money over more traditional market research approaches. However, this volume of data can also be intimidating. Because the true value lies deeper than vanity metrics, it is imperative you use the proper tools and have an experienced person analyzing the data.

Social listening does not take the place of traditional market research, but is a great complementary tool allowing quick, deep access to information that can be used to drive strategy and can actually be used to inform your market research.

Cost is generally not a barrier to getting started as there are numerous free tools available, many with paid options and free trial periods. The key to success is allocating capital and human resources to gathering the intelligence, deriving the insights and turning those insights into action.

There are a lot of good examples of how these practices have influenced strategy and product development. Here are just a couple.

  • Arby’s: The company noticed comments through social media about meats other than roast beef. This valuable feedback came from their own customers when they launched their “Meat Mountain” campaign poster showing meats other than roast beef. Their customers mistakenly thought it was a new sandwich, and through social media, indicated they were anxious to try it. Thus, the birth of Arby’s new $10 Meat Mountain sandwich.
  • Dell: The tech giant has an online community called Idea Storm where Dell invites customers to share ideas about product improvements they want. To date, there have been close to 550 different ideas from this community that have been implemented in Dell products.