What It Is & How to Incorporate It Into Your Strategy

What It Is & How to Incorporate It Into Your Strategy

76% of marketing professionals today say that data drives marketing success. Without it, it’s nearly impossible for businesses — even small ones — to compete.

Sometimes data comes in the form of numbers. You have your statistics, traffic increases, number of shares, conversion rates and revenues. But if you’re only looking at the numbers, you’re missing out on the more human side of data.

That’s social listening.

It’s hearing what the people are saying socially. It’s looking for the trends and opportunities in a sea of noise. It’s leveraging what you find to grow your business.

Let’s explore how to incorporate this more human side of data into your marketing and business strategy.

What Is Social Listening, Exactly?

You’ve been using social media for business for a while. So you’ve likely come to a very important conclusion. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — they’re not just places to broadcast your message.

That doesn’t work!

Instead, listen first. Listen often. Learn about your audience. Social listening is the efficient, data-driven way to do that.

Find out things like… What are their common problems and goals? What do they really think about Product X? How do people compare you to the competition?

Make smarter, more cost-effective decisions when it comes to your customers and business. But don’t confuse social listening with tracking your mentions.

It’s not synonymous with reviewing Facebook analytics to see which posts are most popular.

It goes beyond that. It involves using advanced software to follow relevant social media conversations. You then gather from it useable data on which you can make data-driven decisions.

This is how some of the most successful social media brands create that enviable level of social media success everyone wants to achieve.

Why Do You Need Social Listening?

Popular brands like the one you strive to be are bombarded with messages, comments and mentions. The more popular your brand is, the more interactions you have.

On top of this, just focusing on your own profile is too narrow. You need to know what’s happening across your:

  • Industry
  • Region
  • Target audience culture
  • Competition

As you can imagine, doing this manually would take endless hours!

Not only would you be sifting through millions of posts in search of important information. Even a team of people could only review a fraction of the information. You’d be leaving a lot on the table.

Automating your listening is essential to getting the most usable data in the most efficient way.

social listening

All of this social chatter influences buying decisions. According to a Sprout Social survey, 74% of people say that social media is a primary driver when they make a purchase.

And even more interestingly, 92% of people trust an opinion of your brand from another consumer on social media over whatever you might say about it.

social media stats

Knowing what people are saying about you has never been more crucial for business success.

When you listen through social media, you hear things customers would never “say to your face” — the good, the bad and the completely embarrassing.

If you don’t know what they’re saying, you run the risk of becoming that unfortunate kid in middle school with the “kick me” sign taped to the back of his sweater.

What you don’t know can hurt — a lot.

Social Listening Impact on Marketing & Your Brand

Use social media listening to:

  • Track overall brand health & adapt
  • Build content that your audience can’t get enough of
  • Get ideas & Develop your next big marketing/ad campaign
  • Keep your social media marketing and other marketing strategies on course and delivering results
  • Identify & leverage your competitive advantage
  • Better track the competition’s efforts to undermine your brand
  • Increase brand awareness and improve brand sentiment
  • Improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your branding and marketing efforts
  • Optimize your ROI!

Social Listening Impact on Business

In the real world, you can’t fully separate marketing and business. But it’s helpful to see how listening impacts the business as a whole.

When listening to your audience on social media, you not only make better decisions in regards to social media.

What you discover may influence broader business decisions like:

  • Introducing new product lines or services
  • Entering new markets, or not
  • Improving existing products/services
  • Adding certain features or upgrades to your offerings
  • Creating a certain kind of loyalty program
  • Adjusting pricing
  • How to handle customer service & complaints
  • Catering to a new demographic

Avoid the “Rabbit Hole”

In Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice chases a talking rabbit. It leads her down a mysterious rabbit hole. She emerges into a nonsensical place where there is seemingly no reason or rhyme to anything.

alice in wonderland effectSeemingly logical actions only result in the unexpected.

The further she ventures, the more bizarre her surroundings become.

The “rabbit hole” has become symbolic in business. It’s building business strategy around what seems to be an important piece of information. But in reality, it just takes them into a tangled web of unproductive efforts.

The result is always a disaster.

You spread your strategies too thin, trying to please everyone while losing your core audience. You spend money “fixing things” that don’t really make your business better and more profitable.

This is the opposite of smart social listening.

When you listen socially, you put tools in place to identify trends in a sea of one-off comments, opinions and reviews. You aggregate data to look at things more collectively.

You prioritize initiatives to do the most good possible with the least resources possible. You identify and solve problems throughout your business that really matter to the vast majority of customers.

Now let’s look at some specific and impactful ways to incorporate listening into your strategy.

1. Identify Your Buzz Words

On Facebook alone, half a million comments get posted every minute. Add to this 300,000 Facebook updates and over 100,000 photos and videos.

social media statisticsYou can’t possibly sift through this to find your brand.

So the first step to incorporate social listening into your strategy is to identify what words people use to talk about you. These include more than just your social media handle.

  • Product names
  • Industry terms
  • Your slogans, catchphrases & mascots
  • Names of the most visible people in your company (CEO, Directors, etc., Employees who have been featured in campaigns by name)
  • Branded hashtags
  • Industry Hashtags
  • Local Hashtags (Teams, Popular events, Places) that your audience cares about
  • All of the above in relation to your competitors

While you do need consistency so that you can track trends over time, think of this as a fluid list. You’ll launch new products. Customers, competitors, fans and non-fans will come up with new words to describe your brand.

If these words catch on, you may want to start listening for them.

Some reputable social listening software companies include:

  • HubSpot
  • Hootsuite
  • Sprout Social

But these products don’t just track words.

They help you make sense of all of these seemingly unrelated mentions by showing you things like:

  • Times of day/week/month/year when people are talking about X
  • How the conversations about X increase or decrease over time (trends)
  • What other branded or unbranded terms you’re tracking are used with X
  • The overall sentiment that people feel toward X… For example, advanced social listening software might track the number of times that X is used in conjunction with certain negative words and emojis. “Hate”, “broken”, “clueless”, “terrible” or “vomit emoji”, “angry emoji”, “Unamused emoji”, etc.
  • How well your marketing efforts are impacting any given trend.

This is the cornerstone of being a social listener.

2. Establish Your Current “Normal”

In order to begin incorporating listening into your strategy, establish what’s normal. Do this for each of the various terms you’re tracking. This may take a few weeks of gathering data and taking an average.

After all of that hard work, you’ll have your baseline. Your “normal” is the starting point.

Once you have it, you can start doing some very interesting and impactful things with that data.

Track terms over longer periods of time. As you continue to listen and build strategies around them, raise the bar as greater positive brand awareness becomes your new normal.

In order to see these longer-term upward trends, target specific terms with marketing initiatives and ongoing content strategies. We’ll discuss this more below.

Focus on increasing the positive buzz around one or more of these terms. Then note how your efforts affected your established benchmark. If there is an actual “problem” with your product or service, you may consider changing the product design if the demand is there.

3. Uncover Pain Points

Social media is a place to celebrate, stay informed, share and connect. But it’s also where people come to vent their frustrations about everything. These may be related to your specific product or service.

But you’re also tracking your industry more broadly through as a social listening. Through it, you’ll also learn your target customer’s pain points.

Build both your product and the related marketing strategies around these customer challenges. Connect with them in a meaningful way.

When you listen and solve customer problems through your brand, people notice.

4. Discover Your Us vs Them

Compare what people are saying about you to what they’re saying about Joe Competitor.

Is he perceived as the more trustworthy or quality brand? Building this perception of your own brand may win over their customers.

Does he seem to be neglecting a portion of his customers? You may have just found your “in”.

Discover unique but very effective ways to increase market share and edge out the competition.

DirectTV Capitalizes on a Movement

The satellite TV company DirectTV made an interesting play in 2018. They launched a TV and social media campaign targeting “cord-cutters”. In 2018, another 33 million people canceled their cable TV service.social listening example

This furthered the national trend away from traditional TV. People are leaving cable for online streaming services like:

DirectTV’s marketing team was obviously listening and watching this unfold. They capitalized on the cord-cutter movement.

They launched a campaign to establish themselves as a cable alternative.

DirectTV has a lot more in common with cable than streaming services. But they listened to what people were saying on social media. They made a smart move.

The results were positive. DirectTV lost fewer net customers than cable giants like Comcast.

This at least slowed the loss of customers as they work to expand their own streaming service DirectTV NOW.

5. See Mistakes & Opportunities in Real-Time

What’s the value of seeing social media trends in real-time? You can adapt, respond and do damage control almost instantly. Remember, a lot happens in just one minute on social media.

If you’re using more delayed data, the damage has already been done.

Barbie Celebrates Body Positivity

Think what you might about Barbie by Mattel. But over the years, the company has exemplified social listening. They’ve changed their dolls to better represent the current industry and culture again and again.

They’ve been able to do it without losing their fan base because they always worked on well-collected and analyzed data.

For example, Barbie has long celebrated career women and motherhood alike.

They are at the forefront of movements like those encouraging girls to explore their interest in tech and science. These are industries where women are largely underrepresented.

barbie body imageIn 2014, the iconic doll line, decided it was time for a big change that could alter the course of their brand forever. Since the explosion of social media, a certain criticism grew louder and more frequent.

The dolls’ unrealistic body proportions could potentially harm young children’s sense of self. After extensive social listening, they added to the Barbie family:

  • Tall Barbie
  • Petite Barbie
  • Curvy Barbie
  • International Barbies

barbie social listeningBarbie’s social media management team was listening. They could see through the social data a changing culture that promotes values like:

  • Body positivity
  • Healthy at any size
  • Say no to body shaming
  • Love & acceptance of various body shapes

Based on the data, the company knew it was time for a change. But even after extensive consumer product testing, they were uncertain. How would this change be perceived by the general public and their fans?

Would people:

  • Say, “Too little too late”?
  • Create hurtful nicknames for the new Barbies because they were different?
  • Call the company “opportunistic” or “out of touch”?
  • Say they were disregarding their long-time fans who loved Barbie as she was?

So again they turned to social listening. In real time, they “listened” on the various social media platforms with bated breath as the new dolls hit the market.

They developed strategies to stay ahead of any negativity. They planned for the worst case scenario while hoping for the best.

The launch was overwhelmingly received well by the public and fans alike.

But had there been a backlash, they had that real time data and a social media team ready and waiting to respond.

6. Identify Influential Fans

Is an NFL player, famous pop singer or local celebrity a fan of your business? When you listen on social media, you learn more about who’s talking about your brand.

These could be potential partnerships waiting to happen. If you’re listening on social media, you can find posts like this from people your target audience already follows.


If someone influential already uses your product or service, it won’t take much convincing to get them to share more about your brand — perhaps for a fee and in some cases for free.

7. Keep An Ear Out Across Platforms

You may put your focus on Instagram or Twitter. You’ve built a solid social media brand there.

But remember to listen across platforms. This may influence your decision to expand onto another platform or put more focus there.

Because you listened, you already know that you have a fan base there just waiting to be engaged.

social media demographicsChart Courtesy of Pingdom

8. Know What the Competition Is Doing

Did a major competitor just “call you out” in their new ad campaign?

What would happen if you didn’t even notice? You just start losing customers. But you don’t know why.

You may need to respond. You can only respond if you’re listening.

Did their prices just go up, sending shock waves through their customer base? You may be able to convince their disgruntled customer base to switch.

Did they just launch a new product? You may need to reiterate why you’re still the best. Cellular companies do this all the time.

Social media is where your competitors put it all out on the table. As a savvy business leader, it’s important that you’re making note of the cards they play on these platforms.

9. Develop Cross Departmental Focus Groups

Bring leaders from each area into a room. Look at the data you’re collecting. Brainstorm and build cross-departmental initiatives around this data to grow your brand.

What happens when customer service, marketing, sales and product development are all on the same page? Awesomeness.

This happens when you have clear data that everyone can see and analyze. You’ll build more interconnected and effective strategies across the company.

10. Focus on Trends, Then Dig Deeper

Yes, you can avoid falling down those rabbit holes. You do it by making strategic decisions based on trends rather than each individual conversation. But there are definitely times when the trend is a “canary in a coal mine”.

It’s your first sign that you need to look closer at a specific trend. When it’s time to dig deeper, it’s easy to hone in on a something specific. On any given platform, posts are organized by the hashtags and terms you’re already listening for.

Do a simple search and start reading specific posts to learn more about what’s happening.

11. Show You Listen

Listening may seem passive. But it is most certainly an action. People know when your business is listening. A listening business is better able to connect with customers.

A listening business addresses product concerns promptly and is always improving.

Explore new ways show customers that you’re connected with them, their values and their world.

That’s how to generate loyal customers who want to share your brand with others.

12. Build More Relevant Content

Many small businesses really struggle with what to write about on their blog. They’re lost about what videos to create for social media. They may create very random email newsletter content.

It’s hard to realize the benefits of blogging, email marketing, or social media without knowing what kind of content people want to see.

They often think in very narrow terms like “product features”, “how to hire an X…”, “X benefits of” . These topics have their place. But it’s important that your content reach people at every stage of the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision-Making (buying)
  • Reviewing & sharing your brand with others

When listening socially, it’s so much easier to know what topics your target audience is actually looking for. You stop creating content that only talks about your products and services.

You start exploring content that positions you as a thought leader in your industry.

Use your data to plan out your next 3 months of content creation. Develop more cohesive content strategies.

Be clear on what people want. See engagement rates soar. And as you continue to build that brand around highly relevant content, you’ll note increased revenues.

You’re listening before you jump into creating content. You win because of it. That leads us to the next point.

13. Build Better Ad Campaigns Right of the Gate

Much of marketing is create, analyze, then improve. And repeat.

You can’t avoid it. But ads get expensive when you create them without a clear understanding of what will entice your target to click and check out your website.

Use the data you collect to create better ad campaigns from the start. Save money initially. Save more over time.

At the same time, you’ve just built a more effective ad campaign people will love. Get better results, faster to grow your business.

14. Send Better Emails

Email marketing is the best way to convert leads into loyal customers and increase customer value over time. But to do this, email must be very relevant. Otherwise, it won’t even be opened.

Learn more about the language, interests, challenges and values of your target customers. Address these directly in your emails to:

  • Increase your open rate
  • Improve the click-through-rate
  • Make more sales

15. Track Overall Brand Health

What are people saying about your business? You may not have time to read every post. But social listening helps you track the general sentiment around your brand over time.

How many people are talking about your brand? How much buzz have you been able to create around a new product?

Brand awareness and brand affinity may seem intangible. But when you listen socially, you can convert the seemingly unmeasurable into real solid data.

Has the competition launched a smear campaign? Are long-time customers very upset by a recent business move you made? You’ll now faster and be able to respond to keep your brand healthy and customers happy.

16. Solve Competitor Problems to “Steal” Customers

What do your competitors’ customers dislike about them? Where are they not listening? Use this invaluable data to convince their customers that you’re the better brand.

Track {Competitor Name} plus words like:

  • Can’t
  • Won’t
  • Doesn’t

Identify those grievances. Then solve their customers’ problems.

17. Build a Better Product

Surveys and reviews are an important part of business. They help you understand the customer experience with your brand. But there’s a big problem.

Only a fraction of people respond to surveys and leave reviews. The ones who do are often at extremes of the satisfaction spectrum. They’re either very happy with you. Or they’re very upset about something.

This leads to very inconsistent and skewed data. You may get several reviews or survey responses that say your product needs X feature added. You go back to the drawing board to improve your product.

Then you offer new and improved product and no one seems to notice.

It turns out that you just went down the proverbial rabbit hole and lost money in product development in the process.

But when you use social listening instead to drive new product development, you can quantify the unmeasurable. How many people are actually talking about the desire for certain features or improvements? How do they feel about it?

Prioritize and time product changes to make the best design decisions for your business.

Listening Socially Drives Brand Success

Listening is the efficient and effective way to really hear your customers. It helps you make better and more timely business decisions. It allows you to connect with customers in a way you can’t if you’re not listening.

You can quantify something that’s hard to measure and have real data to build better marketing and business strategies.

Are you really listening to your customers? Or are you finding yourself chasing rabbits and wasting money? We can help you find out what the customers are really saying and develop effective strategies to connect and grow your business.

To learn more about how we can help your business become a better listener, contact us today.

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