Skip to main content

How social listening powers real connection with your customers


In an episode of “The Office,” Pam tries to teach her colleague Dwight how to actively listen to help him sell better to prospective female clients. But Dwight thinks he already knows what his client wants, so he talks over his coworkers during the exercise and sticks with his cookie-cutter sales pitch.

The result of the training exercise? Instead of trying to understand what his “client” actually needs and adjusting his pitch accordingly, Dwight ends up forcing a sale that was doomed from the start. In the end, the women of Dunder Mifflin label Dwight hopeless, concluding he’ll blow the pitch because he just won’t listen.

If your organization operates on assumptions about your customers and cookie-cutter pitches, you might struggle to connect with and understand your target audience. And that’s a big growth blocker for any brand. Seventy-nine percent of customers said they want brands to demonstrate they understand and care about the consumer before they would even consider buying from that brand.

The good news is your organization doesn’t have to be like Dwight. You can meet your customers’ current expectations, anticipate what they want next and stay one step ahead of the competition. You can even get a feel for how your customers think and behave, deepening your understanding of the consumer journey and the motivations behind a purchasing decision. To get there, you need to empathize with your customers and take the time to hear what they’re saying. It all starts with listening.

Defining social listening

Every brand should monitor their mentions and respond to direct messages as needed, but they should also analyze the content and context of those social conversations. With listening, marketers get a glimpse of the candid thoughts and feelings of real people. These insights extend beyond social and can influence both marketing and broader business decisions.

Because listening requires taking a close look at social conversations and data, it’s often confused with monitoring. Both are key components of a successful strategy, but it’s important to understand the differences between them, including the value each approach brings to your brand. To distinguish between the two, think of it this way:

  • Monitoring treats the symptoms of the problem.
  • Listening identifies the root cause of the problem.

Monitoring allows organizations to keep tabs on, and respond to, people interacting with their brand. Listening is a more proactive approach, requiring marketers to analyze and extract key insights from broader conversations around specific topics, keywords, brands and industries. With listening, brands can figure out what their customers care about most, what drives sentiment and how to speak the same language as their target audience to foster genuine connections.

For any major moment for us, we really want to focus on what insights in our community might be bubbling up. We want to understand the customer journey throughout the entire cycle and listening is helping us do that.
Melissa Stump
Social Media Lead at Brooks Running

It pays to listen

In today’s marketplace, brands need to leverage listening if they want long-term relationships and not just one-off interactions with customers.

A strong presence on social goes a long way in fostering those relationships. Our latest Brands Get Real report reveals reveals 64% of consumers feel more connected to brands that maintain a robust social media presence. With listening, brands of all sizes can better relate to their customers so marketers can treat their audience like people, not just sales. Eighty-four percent of customers say being treated like a person is important when choosing which brands to buy from.

Additionally, when brands understand customers and their wants, our data shows 51% of people feel more connected to that brand. Connection breeds customer loyalty and protects organizations from potential boycotts when someone has a bad experience. Our research reveals that when customers feel connected to a brand, 76% are more likely to buy from that brand over a competitor, while more than half (57%) will increase their spending with that business.

Beyond connections, the ability to understand and fulfill a customer need only strengthens a brand’s relationship with customers. For example, Fenty Beauty launched its 40-shade range foundation product after listening to Black women voice concerns about the lack of makeup options that matched their skin tone. Customers praised Rihanna’s cosmetic brand all over social for addressing a real issue in the makeup industry and, within the first month of launching, Fenty Beauty brought in $72 million.

Section 1

What brands can learn from social listening

When brands intimately understand their audience, they can tailor their strategies to meet the expectations of their customers. Instead of waiting for people to mention them directly, brands should actively seek out customers’ honest thoughts, feelings and opinions on social. With listening, brands gain access to actionable data revealing things like what fuels the buyer journey, how to speak to their target audience and the health of industries at large.

What drives consumer behaviors

Uncovering what motivates customers to purchase from one organization over another can help marketers adjust the way they approach consumers during the awareness and consideration stages. Armed with this information, brands can further differentiate themselves from their competitors and consistently exceed customer expectations.

Marketers can perform audience research on what drives buying habits by examining the thought process of customers as they move through the buying journey. Listening empowers marketers to understand the why behind consumer decisions and what factors motivate someone to buy from one brand over another. For example, to attract more users to their platform, one mobile payment service provider used listening to track consumer sentiment around user experience features. Based on their findings, the payment provider adjusted its features accordingly and, as a result, increased its customer base and grew revenue by 15% year over year.

It helps to think about the big picture. If people prefer a competitor’s brand to yours, are they saying anything on social media to indicate why? What drives a particular conversation, how do certain times of the year influence purchases and which terms or hashtags elicit emotional responses from customers? With listening, brands gain access to audience likes and dislikes, as well as what factors that influence both customer satisfaction and frustration.

Which topics resonate best with customers

Nothing turns consumers off more than receiving information they don’t want. Forty-two percent of customers say the most frustrating part of branded content is when the content isn’t pertinent to them, and one quarter say old or stale content is annoying.

Our own data also reveals that 44% of consumers feel more connected to brands when they create, participate in and host relevant conversations online. And 91% of customers are more likely to shop with and remember brands that offer them relevant offers and recommendations. To stay on top of trending topics, marketers can use social listening to:

  • Discover industry-specific issues customers are discussing.
  • Identify long-tail keywords related to their brand and their competitors.
  • Analyze the volume of messages containing specific hashtags.

Innisfree Hotels, for example, leverages listening to tap into conversations that aren’t always directed towards the hotel but still relevant to their target audience. “We try to find as many engagement opportunities as possible, because we want to interact with new people,” says Jillian Glenn, the hotel’s director of marketing. “We follow certain hashtags and locations for each property, and respond three times a day to comments.”

How a brand or industry is performing overall

Sustaining connection between a brand and customer means marketers need to constantly think about the health of their industry. Beyond watching brand-specific conversations, marketers should keep tabs on how the industry at large is performing.

If there are sudden shifts in public perception around your brand, what issues might have led to the change in sentiment? Did your competitor release a new product recently? Is there a customer experience issue you might have overlooked? If your brand’s industry was recently in the news for something negative, how has that public perception impacted your organization’s health?

GrubHub, for example, uses listening to monitor the brand health of their partner restaurants. If GrubHub notices a spike in customers complaining about the quality of food from a particular burger joint, the delivery service can pause their relationship with that restaurant until the quality improves. Likewise, if people are talking about ordering pizza for football watch parties, GrubHub can adjust their marketing strategy to promote local pizzerias on game day. For Super Bowl LII, the food delivery service offered football fans a 10% discount on all orders and even created a preorder option so fans wouldn’t be distracted during the game.

Section 2

Dive right into the conversation

Talk never sleeps on Twitter. Trying to listen to the roughly 500 million tweets sent every day is a Herculean task made infinitely easier with listening.

To distill those hundreds of millions of conversations into something usable, it helps to think of a specific question you want to answer with listening data. For example, if you’re a sportswear brand, maybe you want to create more engaging content for your customers. Some questions you might want to answer include:

  • What’s the overall sentiment around my existing content, and are people sharing it?
  • What types of content do sports enthusiasts like to read the most?
  • What are people saying about my brand in general on Twitter?
  • What do they like and dislike about the information we post?

With listening, you might discover customers don’t care about how you source your materials and want blog posts on the best ways to fuel up for a long run. More specifically, you might learn your target audience in the Midwest is taking to Twitter to ask where they can find a guide on how to dress for cold weather runs. Armed with this data, you can adjust your blog to reflect what customers actually want and invest more time developing how-to guides and best practices.

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.
Diana Helander
Head of Marketing for Data and Enterprise Solutions at Twitter

Brooks Running, for example, used listening insights captured from Global Running Day to brainstorm ideas for future campaigns and which keywords or hashtags they should include in their messaging. In 2018, Brooks Running created the #RunItForward campaign to encourage its customers to pledge their miles towards community, environment or love, uniting runners around what they love doing the most.

Even if people aren’t talking about your brand specifically, there’s plenty to learn from eavesdropping on conversations about your competitors and the industry as whole. Listening can reveal information like:

  • What topics are trending with customers on social?
  • Which channels are more effective for engaging with your audience?
  • What trends are emerging in your industry and how do customers feel about it?
  • Which hashtags are most commonly associated with your industry?
  • What language should you use when talking about your industry to customers?

Looking outside of your own brand also allows you to identify key opportunities you should take advantage of, like who you should target and what content performs best during certain times of the year. Is there something other brands do well that can inspire your next creative campaign? What mistakes have competitors made that your own brand should avoid?

The answer to these questions can help marketers pivot their current strategies, fill in missing gaps and even determine where they should spend their dollars to strengthen customer relationships.

Section 3

Expand coverage for even deeper insights

While listening on Twitter gives brands a chance to learn more about their customers, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s even more to discover when brands expand their listening to other social networks too.

Every social network has its own unique audience with its own language. Your customers who frequently talk about you on Reddit might not be the same people posting about your product on Instagram or Facebook. Similarly, how people talk about your brand will differ from network to network, and having this data can help marketers create content to resonate with those users.

Gymshark, for example, employed listening to determine what their tone of voice should be on the various channels they use and how to deliver the right message to each audience. Thanks to listening, Gymshark created a distinct voice for each platform and tailored posts in a way that those channel-specific fans would want to see it or read it. On Pinterest, for example, Gymshark grew its following from 400 to 14,000 users after adjusting its messaging strategy based on listening insights.

We might see fans react differently to a campaign on Twitter than to the same campaign on Instagram. We can see what our tone of voice needs to be on each channel and make sure we’re delivering the right message—wording it in a way that those fans want to see it or read it.
Liz Bate
Digital Community Manager at Gymshark

With even more channels to listen to, brands can uncover deeper insights like which platform they should invest in, what trends to jump on and even how to improve lead generation.

For example, marketers can employ listening across multiple platforms to find the right influencers to boost their brand’s awareness among certain demographics. Hiring a celebrity might generate short-term buzz, but is it actually worth paying hundreds of thousands of dollars? Training Mask USA, for example, used listening to identify athletes with highly engaged followers and were already using Training Mask’s products to reach new audiences.

With listening, brands can think beyond the Kardashians of the Instagram world. Listening enables brands to:

  • Identify who their customers follow and consider to be an influencer.
  • Measure which influencers have the strongest engagements per post.
  • See which influencers get positive or negative reactions from customers.
  • Understand the demographics of an influencer to create content that resonates best with their audience.
  • Determine which influencers have the highest potential reach on which platforms.

And listening data isn’t just reserved for powering digital connections with customers. Many of the insights gleaned from social conversations can help brands improve their investment in offline events as well.

Consider how a popular American video game developer could leverage listening insights to determine which gaming conferences they should attend. By tracking consumer sentiment, uncovering global trends and conducting performance research, the gaming company might discover they should spend the majority of their time at conferences in North America. Other listening insights could turn up things like:

  • How much time fans want to spend testing new games onsite.
  • Which features fans are most looking forward to.
  • Who fans want to hear from during conference panels and game reveals.
  • What platforms, like Twitch or Twitter, fans like streaming games on best.
  • Why fans liked or disliked a particular event and what they want to see at the next conference.

As marketers prioritize connecting with customers, listening will play a big role in helping them understand how to strengthen those relationships. With listening, brands gain access to customer, industry and competitor insights that can influence all parts of an organization. Marketers can brainstorm content that resonates with their audience, sales teams can figure out what drives leads and product teams can access competitor research and customer feedback.

For any brand, much of the information they need to build connections with customers and grow their bottom line is already publicly available—they just need to listen.

Section 4

More social listening resources

Interested in learning more about the benefits of social listening? Start here:

Get started with listening to uncover new business opportunities and get to the heart of what your customers really want. Contact your Sprout representative or request a listening demo today.