By now businesses know social media isn’t just a broadcast platform. A successful strategy is built around reaching the right people at the best time with the most insightful content. In order to achieve this, you need to sharpen your social listening abilities in addition to your verbal communication skills.
You might think that you’ve already mastered this, but social listening is more than watching your mentions and replying when prompted. It requires you to go beyond your notifications and find people who aren’t tagging you in their updates and discussions.
What Is Social Listening?
Social listening is the process of tracking conversations around specific phrases, words or brands, and then leveraging them 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.
So how does social listening differ from social monitoring? Dan Neely, CEO of Networked Insights, described it perfectly:
“Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.”
Monitoring collects every social mention and action, while listening requires analysis and reflection. With the latter, you can watch for patterns, track sentiment and draw conclusions based on where and when conversations happen.
@Meg_IsDaBest Listen to your taste buds Meg
— Jimmy John's (@jimmyjohns) May 10, 2016
The key difference is with monitoring, you’re just compiling a list of social media engagement instances, while listening identifies and analyzes the most meaningful parts.
Why Is Social Listening Important?
Let’s take a look at Twitter. On average this social network has more than 500 million Tweets going out per day. A whopping 30% of Tweets mentioning your company don’t include your Twitter handle. In fact, only 9% of Tweets are actually directed at your brand. This means more conversations are happening about you than with you.
Now this doesn’t mean consumers are intentionally leaving you out of the conversation. In some cases, they might not be aware that you’re on Twitter or may have been a little lazy in tracking down your username. Whatever the reason may be for omissions, consumers still expect a response. Your audience wants to make sure their voice is heard.
Even when customers include brand usernames in their posts, in some cases, companies still miss the mark. According to the 2015 Sprout Social Index, 7 in 8 messages to brands go unanswered within 72 hours. That statistic is surprising when you consider 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they’re treated.
By actively “listening” for mentions or discussions, you can avoid missing out on the opportunity to delight customers or collect valuable feedback. To achieve this, make sure you’re tracking all variations of your brand name, with and without the @symbol. You might also want to track the usernames of your competitors—their lack of social listening could mean a new customer for you.
Social Proof: @NightCapApp
Recently, we were looking for suggestions for mobile camera apps with manual settings for photographing the moon. We were engaged in a conversation with a couple of people on Twitter when someone recommended the NightCap app.
— Olivia D'Souza (@Olivia_Dsouza) October 28, 2015
In just a few hours, @NightCapApp joined the conversation. But it wasn’t a canned “thank you for the recommendation” response. Instead the company looked through our conversation and added value by sharing a helpful tutorial related to my request.
— NightCap Pro (@NightCapApp) October 28, 2015
That was followed up with another Tweet mentioning an additional tutorial and a few favorites. The company had no problem answering my follow-up questions either. Before this discussion, we never heard of @NightCapApp. Now, we’ve not only purchased the app, but the conversation has turned into one of our primary social listening examples on Twitter in this article.
Setting up Your Social Listening Strategy
Before you start monitoring conversations, you need to figure out your goals. Like with most social endeavors, having a specific objective in place will help guide your strategy and influence. What do you want to get out of social listening?
- Wanting to identify influencers?
- Looking for customer service opportunities?
- Watching a specific hashtag or phrase?
We’ll take a closer look at how social listening impacts each objective below.
1. Customer Service
Before the Internet, it was very challenging to track customer complaints. Not only that, but there wasn’t much you could do about an issue that wasn’t specifically addressed to you. However, people now turn to social networks for venting, questions and feedback, giving businesses a huge opportunity to be more involved in the customer experience.
A survey by Oracle found 43% of users interact with brands on social media for a direct response to a problem or question. Additionally, 31% interact with brands to gain direct access to customer service representatives or product experts.
Adding social listening to your strategy will help ensure that you don’t miss out on the opportunity to help existing customers or gain new ones. Using a social media monitoring tool like Sprout Social helps you track mentions of your brand as well as your competitors. Sprout gives you a sense of what your target audience likes and dislikes.
When it comes to monitoring, we recommend tracking variations of your brand name, with and without the @symbol, and including any common misspellings. This will ensure that all your bases are covered so you never miss an opportunity to engage.
@SelfEmployDKing yes, exactly! Just finished the Zappos book (Sara recommended for work) & loved how it ended with a chapter on happiness!
— AnnaNickolatosDarden (@NapaCruiseDir) April 7, 2015
Here’s a great example. In the conversation above, at no time was Zappos @mentioned by the people discussing the brand’s book. However, that didn’t prevent Zappos from chiming in the conversation. Obviously it was monitoring Twitter closely for any mention of the brand name.
— Zappos (@zappos) April 7, 2015
2. Identify Influencers
Influencers are important to your social media strategy. Why? Here are two key reasons:
- 74% of consumers rely on social media to inform their purchasing decisions.
- 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, while only 33% trust ads.
With that much value placed on the opinion of another individual, it’s in your best interest to have influencers and tastemakers in your corner. Engagement is the key to strengthen those relationships. Never let a Tweet by a brand partner go unacknowledged with Sprout’s new VIP list, which lets you build a custom list of Twitter handles to monitor right from the Smart Inbox.
3. Track Hashtags & Phrases
Working on a specific campaign? Don’t let those mentions go unheard. Sprout provides a set of social media monitoring tools that make it easy for you to monitor what’s being said. You can set up brand keywords the platform will track for you and send to your inbox when mentioned.
This can even be used to stay up to date on potential issues your customers might encounter. For example, you can track the phrase “Product XYZ isn’t working” and be notified any time one of your customers has a complaint. This is your chance to show your customers that you’ve got their back no matter what. Spend less time searching for mentions and more time resolving issues and building loyalty.
Additionally, our Trends Report will highlight other helpful insights such as:
- Terms you’re often mentioned with
- Hashtags you’re often mentioned with
- People frequently talking with you
- Other accounts often mentioned with you
Perfect Your Strategy With Social Listening
Listening to what people are saying about your brand on social media will benefit your business as a whole. Not only will customer service be able to provide quick problem-solving, but your R&D team can easily access feedback on what your target audience thinks about your products as well as those of competitors.
Once you’ve established yourself as an active participant in social media discussions, your community will start watching out for you. For instance, more people will start tagging you in their recommendations or conversations instead of just simply mentioning you.
And once you start building social listening into your strategy, be sure to employ a social media management tool like Sprout Social to make the process as efficient as possible.
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.