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The ROI of Listening on Social Media

Listen, Then Act

The key to any great relationship is listening before you communicate your own needs. It’s the root of human connection and the core value of social media listening, too: understand who your target audience is, what they care about, and how they behave before you put together that brilliant campaign plan.

Social listening offers social marketers the opportunity to ground creativity in data, contribute—and prove—bigger business impact, and become an expert in monitoring brand health.

But before you invest in anything, from a new employee to a new marketing tool, you need to know what exactly you’re getting in return. Not just the vision, but the reality. Will your investment improve your life and make you look good across your organization, or turn into another ignored line item in the budget, eventual cancellation, and wasted cost?

As social marketers get more sophisticated, we’re not concerned with “How will this solve my specific problem?” but “How will this transform my business?”

In this Social Media Listening ROI Guide, we’ll walk you through the five ways listening drives change in organizations we work with and in the social marketing industry at large:

  • Stronger audience understanding and connection
  • More impactful content strategy
  • Expanded influencer and partner marketing opportunities
  • Competitive research and market knowledge
  • Event ROI: Client Expansions, ticket sales, and actionable insights

After you’ve given our guide a read, copy, paste, and share it with anyone else on your team wondering about social media listening: what it is, why it matters, and what it can do.

Stronger Audience Understanding and Connection

quote roi guide

How do you know which stories will resonate with your audience on social media, driving your audience to convert? By listening to what your audience wants, and delivering content that meets these needs and fits smoothly into these conversations.

Brand Chart

This means the conversations around your brand, but also the conversations around your industry, competitors, major trends and events, and even your specific brand offerings. Let’s say your brand is Best Yoga Pants in the World Inc. You want to know what people are saying about your brand, not just when they tag you on social, but when they mention you in any capacity.

But you also want to see how people are talking about “yoga pants” in general.

sample tweet indirectly mentioning a brand

And you want to see what they’re saying about your competitor, Worst Yoga Pants in the World Inc.

sample tweet indirectly mentioning a brand

And you want to see what they’re saying about the big yoga conference coming up.

sample tweet mentioning an event related to a company

And the latest yoga scandal.

sample tweet indirectly mentioning a brand

And your latest brand offering.

It’s not necessarily about the specific comments relevant to your brand (although this can be a well of inspiration for UGC and a nice introduction for direct engagement), but about emerging trends and leveraging those for more effective campaigns.

he possibilities for what you can listen to are endless, and once you start you’ll likely be hooked. We know more than one CMO (not counting ours) who checks listening daily for business-driving insights.

What do these conversations look like today? How will they evolve over time as you begin to add to or disrupt your industry?

Let’s take Innisfree Hotels, whose portfolio includes Hampton Inn & Suites, Hilton Garden Inns, and Holiday Inn Resorts across the US, as an example. With Sprout, Alyssa Townsend, Director of Social Media, discovers new opportunities to proactively engage guests. Sprout’s Brand Keywords feature enables organizations to monitor social for words and phrases directly associated with their brands, such as product or service names and geographic locations.

“We recently opened The Mercantile Hotel, an all-suites boutique hotel in New Orleans, and it was a new challenge for us,” Townsend said. “We used social to find folks tweeting ‘New Orleans’ or ‘New Orleans hotel’ or sharing posts in the area and were able to authentically jump into relevant conversations as a resource. ’Looking for a place to stay? We know a spot. Best po-boys? This is our staff’s favorite. #UnlockNOLA with us,’ and so on and so forth. We used social and Sprout to search for those conversations, help guests and demonstrate our value.”

Companies can find emerging trends and proactively capitalize on them, learning which audience segments talk most about their brands to gain better insight into activity among different age groups, genders, and geographic locations.

Matt Brum, Director of Digital Strategy and Social Media at Big Machine Label Group, sees a lot of value from listening for this use case, as well.

Katrina Mentor of REI uses listening to understand REI’s acquisition markets, Chicago and Atlanta: “We are using listening as an initial testing ground to see what people in Atlanta are saying about us. Some of them might be talking about us. Many people aren’t.” Atlanta has a very different outlook on the outdoors from Seattle, so Katrina’s team uses listening to find out:

  • What is the Atlanta population talking about generally?
  • What are people saying about the outdoor space in an urban area like Chicago?
  • What activities can REI build an editorial strategy around?
  • Who is talking about the outdoors in Chicago and Atlanta?
  • Is there a possibility for an event in the area?

Armed with this information on an ongoing basis, Katrina can track growth in these markets and hone in on possible blog articles and topics with which to target these specific areas.

Brooks also sees ROI from listening in this way, diving into real-time conversations to see who’s talking and what they’re saying, as well as detailing the relevant keywords and hashtags being used alongside mentions of their brand. But that’s not the only ROI Brooks gets from listening. More on that later.

More Effective Campaigns and Content Strategy

The insights you glean from listening enable you to pivot current campaigns, personalize messages for different audiences, and inform future campaigns. This includes:

  • Making the best decisions for non-paid and paid social content creation, boosting, and audience targeting.  You’ll get key signals as to how you should be spending your dollars: with which influencers, brands partnerships, campaign themes and product features.
  • Having better brainstorming sessions…and campaigns. Let’s take Brooks Running: “In the case of Global Running Day, we took the insights from listening last year and pulled all that together into a recap as we start to brainstorm for 2018,” Melissa Stump, Content Strategy Manager, said. “We also definitely try to use listening to connect the print and digital world, connecting the things that people are seeing in retail locations or getting in their mailbox to what we’re putting out on social. We want to understand the customer journey throughout the entire cycle and listening is helping us do that.”
  • Easy, quick data drilldown Time is money. With date filtering, you can choose your reporting period, with channel filtering you can remove a social channel or focus on a particular social channel, and with post search you can find posts containing a word, phrase, hashtag, author or specific URL.
  • Competitive intelligence. Erica Laxson of Microsoft Research uses competitive listening as a key component for benchmarking: “We do a lot of listening between competitors, and a lot of benchmarking based on competitors. We look at what kind of content other brands are putting out. Should we copy anything? Are they failing? Is there anything that we should avoid? Are we missing anything? Were there events that we didn’t know about? Okay, let’s put that in the editorial calendar next year.”
  • Speak their language. Microsoft Research also uses social listening to see hashtag trends, and what moves conversation. This listening data even feeds into the verbiage for the copy Microsoft Research uses on social to promote events. Erica says, “We want our audience to feel like we know exactly who they are. We speak just like them. We are your friend and you should come hang out with us!”

But what about influencer marketing? What about partner marketing opportunities? How can social media listening increase your ROI from these subsets of social marketing? That’s next.

Section 3

Expanded Influencer and Partner Marketing Opportunities

With social media listening, you can identify the most influential people around specific topics and population segments, opening the door for influencer marketing partnerships. You can:

  • Identify new influencer, partnership, and market opportunities based on who is talking about your brand and/or industry topics. Which non-competing brands are sharing the conversation? Which influencers are sharing the conversation?  What can these partners offer you? Broader reach? More engaged audience? Content swapping?
sprout listening topic summary
  • Understand the demographics and psychographics of an influencer or partner brand’s audience to develop content that resonates best. Make the most of your influencer and brand partnerships.

  • Expand current partnerships. Know how your partners and specific partner campaigns are stacking up against one another based on the metrics which matter to your brand. Understand which topics are growing most rapidly generally around your brand/industry, so you can ask partners and influencers to double down on these conversation themes.
Sprout listening engagement report

Align efforts (and resources) to the partners bringing the most to the table. Scrap the partnerships that aren’t bearing fruit.

Here are some use case examples:

  • An agency wants to find influencers who are talking about getting sick during cold/flu season
  • A brand is looking for non-competitive co-marketing partners for the release of a new travel product
  • A brand is looking to develop long-term relationships with B2B bloggers who are active on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and will drive sales within the legal executive space

Next up: how does conducting competitive research with social listening benefit your brand?

Section 4

Competitive Research, At Half the Cost

Social media offers brands an unprecedented level of access to information about competitive strategy and campaign performance.

Social media listening enables you to mine this data at a fraction of the cost of traditional competitive research, uncovering what your target audience truly cares about and helping you gather competitive intel on how your competitors are approaching that target audience, as well as how these approaches are performing. Listening helps you:

  • Identify competitive share of voice. How are you performing vs. competitors, specifically around key topics in your industry? You can’t move the needle if you don’t have a clear (and ongoing) status update.   
  • Understand audience conversations around you and your competitors. How does your target persona talk differently about you vs. competitors?
  • Explore audience sentiment regarding your brand and competitors. Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of competitors’ social media strategies, and uncover opportunities for brand refinement and differentiation across social

Listening’s competitive capabilities = your secret weapon.

Event ROI: Client Expansions, Ticket Sales, and Actionable Insights

Social media listening generates massive results in client expansions for agencies, ticket sales for event hosts, and actionable insights you can use to deliver more value at your next event.

Let’s start with client expansion, and use the example of HangarFour, the creative arm of New York City-based public relations firm, DKC. With satellite offices in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami, the firm boasts dozens of enterprise clients across multiple verticals, including Airbnb, Delta Airlines, Forbes, HBO, New Balance, and Netflix. The DKC team has been providing creative and innovative PR and marketing services for over 25 years.

HangarFour is constantly looking for ways to expand their client partnerships. Expanded partnerships lead to more revenue and retention, but when you are already well-established with a client, it can be challenging to find new ways to scalably present incremental value.

We were working on the marketing and PR for a series of major events (BeautyCon) for one of our largest clients. As I watched people pass by the client’s booth at BeautyCon in New York, it hit me—nobody was capturing the social conversation of the passersby.”

— Dixie Roberts, VP of Digital at HangarFour

Dixie had identified an opportunity to present a new and valuable service to the client, but as is always the case at agencies, time and resources were in short supply. “I knew a listening tool would do the job, but capturing and presenting the social conversation would take time,” said Dixie. “This was just an idea, not something we could bill the client for (yet), so I knew I’d need a tool that could we could set up and learn quickly and easily. We needed to wow them without having to learn a fancy query language or wait for a vendor to build queries for us.”

Dixie’s deliverable to the client was comprised of total volume trends during the event, a list of emerging micro-influencers who were most active, and the content being shared most, especially by the micro-influencers. She also included a word cloud showing the top words, hashtags, and emoticons from the event. Lastly, she added a screenshot of the listening dashboard to give the client a taste of the additional data she had access to, should they choose to add the social conversation insights service in future projects.

Thanks to Dixie’s presentation, the client decided to add the social conversation insights service to their agreement for future projects, strengthening and expanding the client relationship. With Sprout Listening, Dixie and her team are now equipped to efficiently set up queries, extract insights, and present them to the client in a meaningful way.

But what about ticket sales?

quote from jason keath of social fresh
Finally, social media listening reveals the entire conversation around your event or target trend, so you can create more effective events and event campaigns next time around.

But Wait, There’s More…

There are many other use cases for listening—product research, product launch intel, you name it—but we’ve outlined the major ones that brands and agencies are seeing consistent value from above. Ready to have a conversation about social media and social media listening’s ROI for your own brand? Get in touch for a personalized demo.