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Reading between the lines: A Q&A with Twitter’s Diana Helander on social listening

By Jamie Gilpin / December 19, 2018

Social media: For the average consumer, it’s the go-to platform for opinions, the occasional rant and off-the-cuff observations about the world today. For businesses, it’s a powerful medium to dig deeper into what makes their audience tick and how to keep their brands top of mind for future customers.

Most brands are already monitoring the conversation on social platforms. A retailer, for example, might use monitoring to immediately respond to customer inquiries or to like and share positive user-generated content. The ability to track direct mentions is great for any business’ engagement strategy—but there’s more opportunity to tap into on social than meets the eye.

Where companies stand to benefit the most is when they learn to listen to the conversations on social media at scale. Unlike monitoring, social listening incorporates a lot more data—it’s not only analyzing what people are saying about your brand, but also exploring what they say about your competitors and your industry at large. It’s being able to take a look at the big picture trends that shape conversations and extracting insights to apply to your social strategy and beyond.

To learn more about the applications of social listening and why businesses can’t afford to ignore insights drawn from social data, we talked to Twitter’s Head of Marketing for Data and Enterprise Solutions, Diana Helander.

Why do businesses today need listening to compete?

DH: In this day and age, with more consumers using social media than ever, social listening is no longer a competitive differentiator—it’s a must-have. Consumers are more empowered than ever before and have higher expectations of positive experiences with brands. Through listening, brands can uncover insights about their products, business, employees, competitors, industry—and more importantly, they can use social listening to learn from and connect with their customers. Ignoring social listening is, in turn, ignoring your customers.

People often think the advantages of social listening are limited to fine-tuning your social strategy. How can these insights help businesses grow beyond social?

DH: While listening is often associated with informing social strategies, the applications of listening insights don’t end there. Social listening offers something other business data does not: real-time, unsolicited customer or audience feedback. This information drives innovation and allows businesses to learn more about their audience as well as their competitors.

Why should leaders care about listening? Do you have any tips for team members looking to secure buy-in from leadership?

DH: Today’s executives need to be plugged into the fastest moving news cycle we’ve ever seen—and Twitter is the only way to do that. Whether it’s brand reputation, customer experience, competitive advantage or crisis management, Twitter is what’s happening around the world and is the best way to get a pulse of what’s happening with your customers. Leaders of customer-focused businesses need to empower their teams with social listening tools and strategies if they want to be at the forefront of their industries and make truly data-driven decisions.

What are the most influential uses for social listening you’re seeing brands implement today? Are there any brands doing particularly exciting things with listening insights?

DH: Because social listening is a way to capture unsolicited customer feedback or audience engagement, its value is broadly applicable. We see brand leaders using listening to not only uncover deep market insights and identify trends, but also perform real-time campaign optimization, make critical decisions regarding product development and new product introductions, as well as identify influencers. Leading companies who invest in social listening can do so much more than simply respond to customer issues.

Brooks Running, for example, leveraged social listening to uncover what its target audience (runners) wanted from the shoe manufacturer and if any problems arose with a Brooks product. With listening, Brooks Running was able to dive headfirst into any conversation customers were having online and could capture runners’ sentiment about new shoe releases.

For brands that don’t regularly use Twitter, there’s a misconception that Twitter listening insights won’t be relevant for their brand. What would you say is the missed opportunity in these instances?

DH: There are a couple of reasons why Twitter audiences are so valuable. Twitter reaches hundreds of millions of users around the world and contains insights on specific people, businesses, industries, trends and more. People are on Twitter to discover what’s new, and over two-thirds of Twitter users influence the purchasing decisions of their friends and family.

While skeptics might think social applies only to B2C businesses, social data is increasingly being used by B2B companies, particularly when it comes to financial investments. Bloomberg, for example, leverages Twitter social data to help its subscribers identify meaningful and relevant news so they can make better informed investment decisions.

What are some examples of interesting or surprising insights we can glean from Twitter listening data?

DH: While many companies monitor Twitter conversations to identify a problem (like an airline responding to customer complaints about a delayed flight), innovative companies are identifying trends and insights that drive new product development. A packaged goods company, for example, can use Twitter data to reveal changing consumer tastes for new flavors, informing the development and marketing of new beverage offerings.

Listening is also about communicating. Companies should be thinking not only about how they’re listening to the conversation but also how they can engage with those conversations on Twitter and through which content formats. A Kantar/Millward Brown study found the Twitter environment was shown to be a strong platform for video retention; a higher proportion of consumers watch video straight through to the end on Twitter than on Facebook or Instagram.

What is the biggest mistake you see social and digital teams making when it comes to incorporating listening into their strategies?

DH: There are two big pitfalls we’ve seen far too often. The first is keeping social data siloed, or limiting its application and the opportunity to use that data to support a more holistic view of audiences and customers. A recent Forrester report on social media maturity points to the need for marketers to leverage this data beyond just outbound marketing and consider how it can be used across other parts of their organizations.

The second is listening for the sake of listening instead of listening to support existing business goals. Many brands we talk to know they have to ‘listen to social media’ but they fail to set goals beyond just ‘listen’. Successful listening starts with existing business initiatives, like improving customer feedback or managing a PR crisis, and incorporating social insights to support those goals and processes.


Listening today pays dividends tomorrow

Helander said it best when describing the significance of listening: “Ignoring social listening is, in turn, ignoring your customers.” Without social listening, it’s difficult (and pretty expensive) for businesses to know how people truly feel about their brand and in turn, they miss out on valuable customer insights that can serve as a competitive advantage.

When brands begin to listen—and not just for the sake of listening—they have an opportunity to analyze honest customer feedback and get a real-time pulse on the state of industry. With the right tools and a little bit of patience, businesses can turn social chit chat into powerful insights to fuel long-term strategies.

Jamie Gilpin

Jamie Gilpin

Jamie Gilpin is the CMO at Sprout Social. She is an experienced marketing leader with demonstrated success in growing brands in the technology space through strategic positioning.
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