Social listening is on the rise. As more businesses realize the power and advantages that come from social listening, they’re beginning to incorporate it into their org-wide strategies. This is opening up a new world of possibilities for not only marketers but also for sales teams, product teams, research and development, and so much more.

While your brand’s social media team will most likely drive your organization’s listening efforts in a tool like Sprout Social, building a listening strategy that works org-wide requires collaboration.

It’s time to look beyond your marketing department and begin working with other departments, identifying their listening goals and figuring out how to tie it all back to the bottom line. 

Follow these six steps and this cheatsheet to build a listening strategy that positions you as a competitive, in-touch, holistic and data-driven business. 

If we want to create more raving fans, we should know exactly who we’re talking to, what their motivations are and how we can make an impact on their everyday lives.
Olivia Jepson
Sprout Social Media Strategist

Step 1: Get started 

As a social media manager, you have a unique understanding of social listening that positions you as the subject matter expert. People in other departments might not be familiar with the value of listening, so as you approach conversations with new stakeholders, put your teaching hat on. 

Get to the heart of what listening is all about: your audience and customer. As Sprout’s Social Media Specialist Olivia Jepson puts it, “Listening gives us a look into what [our customers] do every day, how they feel and what their challenges are. If we want to create more raving fans, we should know exactly who we’re talking to, what their motivations are and how we can make an impact on their everyday lives.” 

Leading with a bit of education about listening will remove roadblocks when it comes time to brainstorm goals.

Step 2: Identify the business goals that listening can support

Now you’ve (hopefully) gotten some new cross-departmental listening advocates behind you, continue working with them to set departmental listening goals. Some common overarching business priorities listening can support are:

  • Market research
  • Lead generation
  • Product research
  • Competitive analysis
  • Customer service
  • Reputation management
  • Event monitoring

While these big picture objectives are important to keep in mind, you’ll need to dig a little deeper. When Sprout’s own social team began expanding their listening strategy, Social Media Manager Rachael Samuels set up interviews with key partners like the corporate sales and customer success directors and product marketing managers. 

“We identified interviewees who have direct reports who bring up common challenges to them, as well as people across the organization who deal with customer feedback loops often. This made the answers to the questions we asked about their challenges much richer,” said Samuels. 

As you confer with each department and hone in on their challenges, you’ll be able to form more concrete, focused goals. Here are some examples: 

Sales

  • Find new leads or redirect leads from our competitors
  • Build your ideal customer persona
  • Approach a new demographic
  • Tune in to how customers search for new products 

Product and R&D

  • Improve products
  • Collect product feedback and surface VoC insights
  • Find inspiration for new products

Customer service and support 

  • Improve sentiment around customer service
  • Personalize customer service experiences
  • Uncover issues quickly to mitigate fallout

Public relations

  • Find influencers to partner with
  • Expose emerging crises
  • Understand the impact of a crisis

Recruitment and HR

  • Find top talent
  • Observe how people search for jobs in the industry
  • Improve the employee experience

With a better understanding of what it is you’re listening for, your social team can push past being reactive, and be more strategic and agile day-to-day.

Step 3: Set up your listening tool and topics

Once you understand why you’re listening, turn your focus to how you’ll be listening and what specific insights you are trying to surface to support your goals.

You can’t listen and aggregate this much data “by hand,” so it’s important to choose a listening tool that reaches the deepest corners of social, brings forth actionable data, measures sentiment, and integrates effortlessly into your business strategy. There are plenty of tools to choose from but Sprout achieves all of the above in one user-friendly platform. 

Topic queries are the bread and butter of listening, and creating strong ones depends on the platforms, hashtags, keywords and phrases you include or exclude. Here are a few things to consider while building your queries: 

  • Not all social platforms are created equal. Pick your priority networks based on your varying business goals and where your audience is most active. For instance, Twitter might be your go-to channel for customer complaints, whereas your people team might prefer Facebook for recruitment insights. 
  • Don’t overlook “secondary” social conversations. Listening can crawl data from Youtube, Reddit, blogs and forums too! Tailor-made communities like GitHub for software developers might be where you find top talent or get inspiration for your next product.
  • Broad topics get noisy. Be specific and intentional with your keywords to generate focused results. 
  • There is a bit of guess-work involved in creating queries so refinement is key. Preview your query results, edit, exclude users who spam or common phrases that muddy the waters. 

Sprout users with Advanced Listening can use Topic Templates as a jumping-off point.

Topic Templates contain help materials, quick tips and viewable sample queries specific to the use case that you’ve selected. With a streamlined tool that provides clear paths on how to apply listening for specific business goals, you can get your queries up and running with ease. 

Within Sprout, insights are boiled down to three main categories: Performance, Conversation and Demographics.


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Performance

Here, you’ll find message statistics and more traditional KPIs like volume, potential impressions and total engagements. You can also find a high-level overview of sentiment, calculated by the percentage of positive, negative or unrated messages in your Topic. 

Conversation

This section covers, you guessed it, the conversations, keywords and hashtags that are frequently mentioned with your Topic. If numbers aren’t your jam, the word cloud feature is a great way to visualize which keywords are the “loudest.”  

Demographics

Get a better understanding of who is participating in conversations about your Topic. Profile names, user devices, geographic location and more are all collected here.

This is where the art of social strategy and where the art of data analysis come together.
Rachael Samuels
Sprout Social Media Manager

Step 4: Make a reporting plan

Listening success boils down to three letters: ROI. Your social team should regularly check your listening topics to make the most of timely trends and data, but you’ll also need to implement a regular reporting cadence so you can continuously prove the value of your efforts to other departments and stakeholders. 

As Samuels says, “This is where the art of social strategy and where the art of data analysis come together.” It’s not enough to just throw numbers at someone. When you’re reporting, look for markers of social proof and ways to assign value to insights. Examples of these markers could be repetition, influencer conversations, high engagement, etc. Look for spikes in your data. Did the same sentiment come up often? Who said it? Did a lot of people engage with certain messages? 

“Not only do those value points give us more confidence, it makes the people with whom you share your data confident that your insights are rooted in value,” said Samuels. To further validate the insights they deliver to stakeholders, Sprout’s social team shows two to three social posts that back them up. 

It’s important to also consider how you’ll package your data for presentation. With Sprout, users can easily export visually appealing graphs and listening data.  

Step 5: Present your strategy to your core listening team and stakeholders 

The last piece is presenting your strategy to stakeholders and getting executive buy-in. If you’ve struggled to get executive buy-in for listening, Samuels suggests doing some “quick and dirty listening runs” for your social strategy first. 

“Create a query that’s centered and focused on answering one question,” she said. “Answer that question with insights and if those results are good, share the process in your pitch.” 

This approach can help build more belief and trust in listening as a center of influence for your strategy. 

Step 6: Stay nimble

Listening is part art, part science. Once you activate your listening strategy, you may find that you need to reevaluate your original goals, examine additional social networks or add new or additional keywords to your queries. Stay nimble, continue to collaborate with your greater “listening team,” and continue to refine your approach for optimal listening success.

You’ve read all the steps and you understand the value of listening. Now it’s time for action. Use this cheat sheet to build your winning listening strategy.