10 Tips To Improve Your Social Listening Today

There's a universal principle that any marketing manager worth their salt knows, intuitively, is the foundation upon which all good marketing is built: Know thy target market.

While so much of social media marketing is focused on how many likes, follows, mentions or shares you can get, this is not necessarily a good measure of the success of your social media strategy. Instead, how satisfied or engaged your audience is, what and who they're talking about and what sort of sentiments they're expressing can be much more telling.

In fact, increased reach is often a bonus of having a happy, engaged, satisfied following – be it small or large. How do you achieve this? By listening to your followers and getting to know their behavior, habits, likes and dislikes. This will make it easy to intuitively put out content that speaks to your audience. Whether your aim is to promote a product or brand, increase your following or tap into a new market, having a sound social listening strategy is a crucial part of being a successful influencer.

10 Tips to Improve your Social Listening:

What is social listening?

While social media monitoring is keeping track of trends, popularity, virality and the likes, social listening is about listening to the broader landscape to really get a sense of who your audience is and why they are talking about certain topics. In other words, it's about staying in touch with sentiment around your brand, competitors and your general industry. This means looking further than just your followers' interaction with your brand or profile, to the overall industry and social landscape. This ultimately allows you to make better marketing decisions. Social listening involves listening, analyzing and where appropriate engaging in online conversations about your business.

Here are 10 suggestions on how to use listening to improve your social media marketing:

  1. Do the research

First things first. Do you really know who your audience is? If not, do the research. No point in listening if you don't know what to listen for. Often the idea of the 'ideal follower' you have in mind does not match the reality of who is actually interested in your brand or even in the general field you work in. If you have a monitoring program in place, that is a good place to start. Have a look to see who your audience is in terms of demographics, location, preferred network, etc. You might find that most of your followers are men under 30 who are politically inclined. What does this mean for your brand and how they interact with it? Think of Nike's "Dream Crazy" campaign, in which they took a stand with footballer Colin Kaepernick when he started kneeling while the national anthem of America was playing.

Also look at your competitors' followers to get a sense of the broader industry you're playing in. Follow brands that resonate with your audience, regardless of their industry.

  1. Follow your followers

This means two things that can seem quite obvious, but is a good starting point for social listening. First, follow your followers back. Do a bit of digging and see who those followers are who are themselves influencers. Then follow them back to get a sense of what they're talking about. This lets you plug into the world of your audience and see your brand through their eyes. Remember, social listening is all about understanding what your audience cares about. Following someone back is the quickest, easiest way to get to know your people.

Second, follow your followers to whatever platforms they are using. Just because you are an Instagram or Twitter influencer, doesn't mean that's the only place your audience hangs out. Most people are active on more than one social media network. So go where your audience goes – if that means making cute bunny faces on Snapchat then so be it. Once you're there, note their behavior and habits. You could simply learn something about your followers or it could be an opportunity to grow your brand on a different platform. A win-win situation.

  1. Touch. Pause. Engage

Interacting with your followers or audience can be a great way to learn what they care about. This is customer service 101. Personal interaction saves the day. People really appreciate being acknowledged. Remember, social media by nature encourages people to seek out others and grow their followings. But social listening is about thoughtfully crafting responses that provide real value. Those are the kinds of responses that will elicit brand loyalty. Being responsive on social media can make a big difference; after all, 48% of customers make a purchase with a brand that is responsive to its customers and prospects on social media.

  1. Spot great marketing opportunities

All the monitoring, planning and strategizing in the world can often not compete with spontaneous moments of interaction with followers or other brands and influencers. If you're in touch with what's going on in your industry, you'll be able to spot great opportunities to insert your brand into a trending conversation or topic or even create a viral interaction.

Think of big brands that talked to each other using humor and by poking fun at each other's campaigns. Remember Audi and BMW's billboard war a few years ago? Audi started the battle, but BMW won the war with an excellent, spontaneous comeback that had everyone talking.

Another way to make use of this technique is to publicly award a follower who has shown loyalty or a particular interest in you or your product or brand. This isn't meant to be a regular thing, but rather a surprise, spontaneous move on your part to show your gratitude to your followers. It's also really good marketing as your followers will love you for it.

  1. What triggered that crisis?

No one is immune to negative feedback or trolling on social media. It's part of the game. Sometimes, you can face a serious scandal or problem. This happens, but a small incident can trigger a wave of negativity that can follow you for ages. While it might be fine to ignore occasional rude comment and criticism, it's important that the negative doesn't overtake the positive.

This is where social listening can save your behind. Whenever you do have a negative incident you can do some research to see if the increased negativity has caused people to unfollow you or led to a dip in sales or fewer comments, or whatever metric you are interested in. This will allow you to make an informed decision about whether you need to take steps to respond to the negativity or whether it's simply a phase that you need to stick out.

Keeping your ear on the proverbial ground will also allow you to anticipate any negativity coming your way and, even more important, you will empower yourself to side step any possible landmines. When you're aware of sensitivities around certain topics, you'll be able to avoid putting any posts or content out there that might possibly offend your audience.

  1. Make sure you're tracking right

While social media tracking is not equivalent to listening, it does to an extent inform how you listen because it guides you in terms of what metrics you're considering. Don't just track your own metrics, make sure to also monitor your competitors. Once you've mastered the basics in terms of tracking, learn how to use whatever tools you subscribe to to listen further than just what people are saying about you. In other words, make sure you gather information through your tracking software that will allow you to also listen to what the broader industry is talking about.

Once your tracking is in place, make sure you read your curated feeds carefully. They're there for a reason. You'll find the exercise of listening much more meaningful and informative than simply measuring comments, likes and retweets. It will help you evaluate the landscape you're working and position yourself accordingly.

There are many excellent tools you can use that will enhance your social media listening. One example is Talkwalker which offers standard hashtag tracking including reach, mentions and engagement in real-time. It also has image recognition and sentiment analysis and tracks how your content is performing.

Hashtagify is another useful tool that allows you to monitor your own and your competitors' performance on Twitter and Instagram. This tool lets you search for the most popular hashtags, discover the influencers who use them and understand usage trends, which is handy if you want to explore trends and conversations outside your own following. You can easily set up this dashboard to track hashtags that you find your audience to be using so you can keep track of the conversation.

Here are some more useful tracking tools for social listening.

  1. Find user generated content

People often post comments, images or videos of their favorite brands and products online without the intent to necessarily promote that brand. If you're listening to your audience you are more likely to find that type of user generated content, which can tell you a lot about what people are talking about as well as how they are sharing that information.

Making use of UGC is an extremely effective and organic way to promote your profile or brand. It also adds credibility to your brand as this is not paid for marketing and comes straight out of the horse's mouth – the consumer. It will allow you to compete with big companies with deep pockets and huge followings without having to spend a cent.

  1. Understand what does and doesn't work for your competitors

If you're doing social listening right you'll have a good idea of what your competitors are doing, as well as what is and is not working for them. Read their posts and the comments on it so that you get an idea of their followers' sentiments on topics and products similar to yours. It will help you identify gaps in their offering that you can exploit. While you never want to copy someone else's social media strategy seeing what works for them can offer you some handy guidelines to use in your own strategy. Plus, keep in mind, that your competitors are probably listening to you too.

Also listen to how they engage with their audience. How regularly do they engage? Do they respond to complaints? Do they react positively to positive comments? What is the type of language that they use? These can all be useful to get a general sense of what people interested in similar brands than yours are used to in terms of interaction with brands on social media.

  1. Participate in meaningful conversations

Often products or promotions trigger bigger conversations about how that product fits into society or whether or not its use is a good thing. For instance, animal testing by cosmetics brands is a big issue for some people and can affect the way they receive products that you might be promoting. Plugging into these bigger conversations can be a powerful way to generate ideas for your own social media strategy but can also help you avoid possible disasters. By paying attention to the bigger issues people care about, not just the products they buy, you really access another level of consumer psychology to the benefit of your brand. Don't be afraid to engage in these conversations and even make it an integral part of your brand. You may lose a few followers, but chances are you will gain more of the loyal, committed kind who respects you for standing for something.

  1. Don't get sucked in

Remember to stay true to who you are and the message you want to convey. Don't get sucked into the wormhole that is scrolling through endless profiles only to look up three hours later from the other end of Instagram. You can't be everything to everyone and it's important to stay on message. Don't spend endless hours browsing social media networks in the name of social listening. Rather spend that time crafting a post you know will be well received or creating quality content for your followers.  

About the Author
With over 15 years in content marketing, Werner founded Influencer Marketing Hub in 2016. He successfully grew the platform to attract 5 million monthly visitors, making it a key site for brand marketers globally. His efforts led to the company's acquisition in 2020. Additionally, Werner's expertise has been recognized by major marketing and tech publications, including Forbes, TechCrunch, BBC and Wired.