What is Social Media Listening?

Nowadays when somebody has a gripe, they often vent their concerns on social media, sometimes before they do anything else. And once something is written on a social media site it is there forever, ready to be unearthed one, two, or ten years hence. This can make things extremely difficult for brands on the receiving end of a social media rant, particularly if they don’t know the conversation occurred. Many firms have found it better to use social media listening software to discover their online social mentions and to react appropriately before it is too late.

Social media listening, aka social listening, involves firms using special software to track conversations about them in the social sphere. But it is more than just social monitoring. Social media listening involves listening, analyzing and where appropriate engaging in online conversations about the business.

Of course, it helps if your firm doesn’t have too generic a name. I once ran the social accounts for a software development company called Castle. We always struck a problem when we tried social media listening. Castle is just too generic a name, and there are too many other firms with a variation of that name. However, the biggest problem was that at the time there was a well-known and much-discussed television show called Castle. The bulk of the online references to “Castle” our software uncovered were about the television show.

Social listening doesn’t just need to be for bad mentions, either. It can be highly beneficial to discover who is ringing your praises on social media. It may even unearth possible influencers with whom a brand could strike up future partnerships.

What is Social Media Listening?

The Difference Between Social Media Listening and Monitoring

Social media monitoring is just a subset of social media listening. There are plenty of tools on the market that will help you monitor the social web for uses of your business or brand name. But social media monitoring, alone, is of little use to you. It is passive, like watching television. Social media monitoring simply collects data. If you’re just social media monitoring, you are not actually doing anything with the data you collect.

Technically, you can’t call the data that you collect with social media monitoring, information. Data only turns into information once it has a use or purpose. If a business monitors social media for references to its name and then sits on that knowledge without acting in any way, then it might as well be random data. You are not gaining any insight from your brand references. You are not joining any conversations and engaging with the people who talk about you.

How Does Social Listening Work in Practice?

You first need to find social mentions of your brand’s name before you can engage in any meaningful way. Successful social media listening strategies usually listen for more than just some reference to a company’s name, however. They use software that monitors references to business names, brands (if different), individual products, and often even chief competitors.

We have previously looked at 15 social media monitoring tools in the marketplace. These tools search far and wide in the social sphere for your selected brand mentions and even look at sites such as Reddit and Quora. They don’t just rely on people @mentioning you on Twitter or Instagram, because in reality, people generally don’t, particularly if they are unhappy with you. They’re far more likely to leave a comment in a Facebook post along the lines of “Just bought an XYZ pie – it was covered in mold and cold in the middle. I’m never going there again”. The person is unlikely to take the time to check XYZ Pies’ actual Twitter handle and refer to them by it, e.g., @XYZPiesLondon.

This makes it tricky for a brand to search for their own brand mentions without using special software. People rarely bother to use correct names online. They often shorten them and use nicknames. For example, somebody writing a Facebook post about their visit to McDonald’s may refer to their visit to “Maccas.” That organization has an additional problem, of course, as many people forget whether the brand is spelled as McDonald’s or MacDonald’s, with an apostrophe, or without one. And when most people write social media comments, they don’t care whether they spell the business name correctly, if their readers understand their message.

Good quality social media listening software can get through these issues. For example, they will pick up all references to McDonald’s, no matter how people spell the name, or even call it Maccas. Many of the apps can even distinguish between a local reference to a similarly named company, such as McDonald’s Lime, on social media and references to the burger restaurant chain.

If a business doesn’t use specialist social listening software, they will miss the myriad of brand mentions that are not formal @-mentions.

Social Listening Requires You to React to Social Mentions

The other part of social listening, of course, is reacting to your mentions – for example, taking the mention data and joining the conversations. If a customer vents about poor customer service, they will usually moderate their feelings if the brand participates in the discussion and tries to fix the problem. And if the original mention was positive, those feelings will magnify further if the brand acknowledges the support.

Likewise, if you are monitoring references to competing brands, you can jump into conversations and come across as providing better customer service than the opposition.

Social media listening also acts as an early bellwether for trends or potential problems. Your social media listening may indicate that something has gone wrong in your production or distribution process. It gives you a chance to fix a minor issue before it becomes an enormous problem.

Benefits of Social Listening

  1. You Can Resolve Customer Problems Before They Become Major Issues

One of the most important reasons for social listening is to discover negative comments about your firm. It is important that you react appropriately, however. If you get upset and threaten legal action, you are likely to inflame the situation even worse. You certainly don’t want to create your own Streisand Effect, where your reactions to a situation make it substantially worse.

Social listening can even unearth situations where customers ask legitimate questions online, but don’t correctly label or tag the company. This means that you can answer their question or assist them, rather than it looking as if you don’t care.

You can even salvage situations where customers have vented their fury about you or your product. People will be pleased that you are prepared to listen to customer issues. It gives you the opportunity to resolve the problem if the customer has made a fair point. And if the customer is clearly overreacting, your polite answer may swing social media sympathy in your favor.

  1. You Can Engage in Meaningful Conversations

You may consider your business and its product(s) the most important topic of conversation. Most other people, however, won’t share your views. They spend their time chatting on social media about the issues that interest them. They will take little interest in your blatantly promotional; posts.

However, if you set your social listening parameters widely enough to encompass all the conversations in your niche by potential customers you can join them in meaningful discussion. But don’t make your conversations sales pitches.

For example, if you are a toy manufacturer, search for conversations by young parents about toys that interest their kids. You could join a conversation on the importance of toy safety, for example. While you could mention some of the measures you have to take to keep your toys safe, don’t make any blatant sales pitches for your own range of toys, however.

  1. You Can Create Social Content Based on Your Social Listening

We know the benefits that businesses gain from content marketing. Many brands run their own blogs and others create content for their social accounts or to assist influencers to share on their behalf. But coming up with new ideas can be challenging. It can be demoralizing to spend a great deal of time planning, researching, writing, and editing a blog post, only to see it go virtually unread, perhaps liked by just one or two brand advocates.

But remember, that people are not going to read your blog or social pouts unless they benefit them in some way. Just because you believe your post interesting, doesn’t mean others will.

If you use social listening, you can learn the questions that people ask. You can use peoples’ questions, complaints and compliments to create a blogging or posting schedule and tailor your content to focus on the topics they care most about.

  1. You Can Use Customer Feedback to Guide Your Future Product Development

Social listening can be very useful to brands because it gives them valuable feedback. You can use it to discover the features that your customers would most like you to add to the next version or upgrade of your product. You can use that knowledge to prioritize your investment and development spending.

  1. It Can Help Find Potential Influencers

Hopefully, you will come across regular posters who say complimentary things about your products. This will be particularly useful when these are people with high social followings who regularly engage with their followers. You could consider approaching them with a proposal to participate in influencer marketing on your behalf.

  1. It Can Help You Keep an Eye on Your Competition

Many of the social listening tools allow you to “listen in” on mentions of your competitors. You can learn what works for them and what doesn’t. You might even learn about their new products before you have had a chance to examine them yourself.

You can combine this knowledge with what you learn about preferred features from potential customers to help you design new products and upgrades that will favor you over your competitors.

Use Social Media Listening to Improve Your Business Fortunes

Information is essential to business success.  There is a considerable amount to data created on social media each day, and if even a small amount of it can become useful to your business, then it becomes worth the time and effort.

In future posts, we will look in more detail at the processes involved in social listening and the software you can use to make it more manageable.