Listen before you speak.
It’s something you were told growing up.
It’s a phrase you’ve thought to yourself after saying something well intentioned that came out a bit…awkward.
But while individuals have been trained to understand the importance of active listening and thoughtful communication, brands haven’t always had the strategies or tools to do so at scale.
You need to listen to your audience. What issues do they care about? How can you help solve their problems?Heather Malac
Senior Manager of Content and Social Media at Spanning Cloud Apps
If we don’t listen to what our audience wants, we won’t be able to connect with them. We won’t be able to help or influence them. This rings true in our personal lives as well as in how we approach our audience on social and beyond.
All too often, we’re guessing, not listening. We’re making tactical moves, not strategic ones.
So who is your audience? How do they feel about not just your organization, but topics related to what you do? Which topics and trends are they passionate enough about to discuss online? What do they truly want, and how can you connect with them more effectively? If these are questions you’ve asked before, then social media listening is for you.
The value of listening
Imagine you work as a writer or creative director for Netflix.
You might have access to data on content viewership rates, most popular genres, most watched actors/actresses and so much more that can significantly help you choose what to create next.
That’s part of how Netflix creates some of the most innovative content there is.
But what if you don’t have scores of user data at your fingertips?
That’s when you can turn to social media listening to find all of that data and more.
- Audience and trend analysis: Discover audience preferences for different demographics and emerging trends around your topics to inform content strategy.
- Product and content research: Gather insights from your industry, competitors and target market to generate new product, service and content ideas.
- Influencer recognition: Identify social influencers and industry thought leaders based on following or post impact to cultivate brand advocates.
- Competitor comparison: Identify gaps, track share of voice and examine consumer attitudes toward competitors.
- Sentiment research: Explore customer feelings and opinions regarding specific topics, products, competitors and more.
- Tactical differentiation: Detect opportunities to differentiate products and services from competitors.
- Brand health: Track conversation around your brand to illuminate consumer attitudes and sentiment drivers.
- Customer experience: Uncover issues and gain visibility into common customer wants and needs around your products or services.
- Campaign analysis: Capture audience reactions to marketing campaigns in real time and create succinct reports to show of success.
An example from a franchise restaurant chain
Imagine you run the marketing for a franchise restaurant and really need to get a better sense of the food your customers love. You can create a social listening topic that monitors social channels for your brand name and then dig through the themes.
This data came from Sprout Social Listening, and these are just some of the insights you can glean from it.
- Burritos are the most mentioned item, and that includes a portion of negative mentions. It would be a good idea to listen to burritos specifically to see what folks like and don’t like.
- Not only are quesadillas the most infrequently discussed, but they also have the highest percentage of negative mentions. Should the organization consider re-thinking the recipe or cutting them from the menu entirely?
- Nachos aren’t discussed as frequently as other items, but have the highest percent of positive mentions compared to all mentions. It makes sense to launch a marketing campaign to get more awareness for nachos.
This is just one example from one report. Our next section shows you the true value of social listening with real strategies and examples.
Listening for small business
Several examples within this article come from larger organizations, but that doesn’t mean small businesses can’t benefit from social listening.
On the contrary, smaller organizations should think of social listening as a way to directly compete with larger organizations.
Every strategy we’ve mentioned can and should be considered by smaller businesses, but below we’ve highlighted a few specific ways small businesses can use listening to grow.
Growing your following
Sprout helps more than 10,000 small and growing businesses manage their social media marketing. One of the questions we get most frequently from this audience is:
How do I get more followers?
While increasing your following is a good goal, it’s important to remember to do so thoughtfully. Social networks can detect which users attempt to game the system to grow their audience.
Social listening can help
- Find the most relevant and popular hashtags to leverage in your posts to increase reach.
- Find new trends to write about when they first come to light, solidifying you as a thought leader.
- Identify your key social audiences by network to ensure your messages resonate with top audiences.
- Identify the top influencers in your industry and try and coordinate partnerships for additional boost.
- Pinpoint your biggest audience opportunities geographically and increase reach with paid spend in those regions.
These are just a few tactics to help grow your audience. But remember that there is much more to social marketing than amassing a giant following, like creating real connections with your audience and providing amazing customer service.
Finding product-market fit
Product-market fit refers to proving that an audience exists for your product. It legitimizes your organization.
Whether you’re a local retailer planning an expansion, or a software company striving to become the next unicorn, finding your product-market fit is critical, and social media listening can help.
While you can build extremely advanced listening queries to parse out the data, one simple example is to just look at your organizations’ social sentiment. Do people regard what you’re doing positively or negatively?
Keeping your product nimble
It’s critical to keep your business nimble. This is something that can get more difficult as your business scales and you need additional inputs or permissions.
Whether you have yet to find product-market fit, or would just like to consistently update your product to meet the needs of your growing audience, social media channels are a great focus group for coming up with new product ideas.
Say you have a restaurant and want to know the dishes that customers love as well as those they don’t.
Looking through general items and comparing how frequently they get mentioned, as well as the sentiment of those mentions, can help.
Defining your ideal customer profile
If you’re just starting out as a business, or if you’re a business that never identified your ideal customer, social listening can help you tackle this at scale.
Pulling key audience demographic data around your brand, your industry or your competitors will help you paint a picture of your target audience.
Think through questions like:
- What is the average age of my audience?
- What does my biggest audience identify their gender as?
- Does my audience typically use mobile or web applications?
- If they’re on the web, do they use Android or iOS?
- What countries, states or cities are popular with my audience?
This can help you build better social content to suit your audience, but it can also help you across every other marketing or product channel. Share this information internally and you may be surprised how many benefit from the insights.
Deciding where and when to grow
The above chart shows how effective social listening is when deciding in which direction to scale your business.
For instance, a brick-and-mortar store may use social listening to build a list of possible locations for their next store.
A software company or e-commerce business may use the above data to decide where to focus their paid marketing budget.
Beating the big brands
In general, social media listening gives small businesses the tools they need to directly compete and beat out big brands on social media.
- Find and create content that resonates with a fraction of the budget.
- Quickly make changes to your offering to please your audience which may take larger organizations months of decisions and approvals.
- Craft and hone a brand voice that your audience enjoys.
- Track when competitors stumble and quickly jump on new opportunities.
- Directly find potential customers to start forging relationships with.
How to get started
1. Choose a social listening tool
One core benefit of social listening is that it takes and makes sense of millions of social messages. Synthesizing all that data requires good tools.
So the first question you need to answer is: build or buy?
Do you want to build and maintain your own internal social media listening tool, or should you purchase a subscription from a third-party provider?
2. Determine your initial goals
What interests you about social media listening? Did a specific strategy in this guide that make the connection for you?
What’s your goal?
- Run a deep analysis on your brand to understand what customers and prospects think.
- Monitor your industry or niche to keep a pulse on what’s new and what would make good content.
- Keep an eye on your competitors’ products, audiences and marketing tactics.
- Figure out what kind of content to share based on trends and data.
- Identify your key social media audiences to better inform your targeting strategy.
- All of these and more.
3. Infuse your plans with strategies
Think of your goals as the destination and your strategy as the route to get there. Would you take off on that route without a map or GPS?
Social listening poses limitless potential, so it’s possible to get lost or caught up in the raw possibilities as you search to hit your goals. That’s why we at Sprout have started offering consultative services for those who purchase social listening.
No matter what tool you go with, it’s incredibly beneficial to have someone in your corner to talk out all of the strategies and the tactical steps you need to take to find data.
4. Choose your data sources
One important decision to make when building your social listening strategy is which networks to pull data from.
While it may seem like a good idea to pull data from every possible source, that could overwhelm you with data you don’t necessarily need.
However, regardless of whether your business has a presence on Twitter or not, we recommend you pull data from the network. Remember that it traffics in frequent social media messages—with millions of users sharing their feedback, there are bound to be conversations surrounding your organization.
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.Diana Helander
Head of Marketing, Data and Enterprise Solutions at Twitter
5. Build your topics and themes
Now for the fun part: the actual building of your listening topics. You need to build specific queries to start finding and pulling relevant data, including the things you do and do not want to listen for.
What to query:
- Keywords or phrases
- Mentions of user
- Mentions from user
- Mentions to user
Once you enter your first set of keywords, phrases, hashtags or handles, you can continue to refine the logic of the search by adding additional and/or parameters.
For example, say you want to track sentiment around Chicago-style pizza. Your query may end up looking more like below.
Now all sorts of variations will register:
- chicago pizza
- chi-town pizza
- chicago deep dish
- chi-town deep dish
- chicago pie
You may think to yourself, “well, Chicago pie could mean pizza, but it could also mean baked goods,.” That’s when you would start to build out your exclusions.
You may start to add in some pie flavors to make sure the scope of your search is limited to pizza.
Now your keywords won’t show any data around peach or apple pies.
6. Optimize your topics and themes
As you can imagine from the previous step, you’ll often discover variations of your keywords or hashtags that you didn’t anticipate. For instance, as you run your Chicago-style pizza query, cherry pie shows up.
You can quickly add that to the list of exclusionary terms, and you might also consider whether or not “pie” is too ambiguous.
There are a number of other filters that you can layer in as well. Maybe you just want posts that are close to Chicago to get the best answers?
You could also check “Show only Tweets from Verified Users” in order to turn these social insights into a new blog post called “What Celebrities Think of Chicago Style Pizza, Backed by Data.”
7. Gather data to inform your strategies
After refining your topics, you can start collecting data to inform your strategies. To continue with the Chicago-style pizza example, here’s a word cloud of the frequently mentioned keywords based on the query.
You can click into each keyword to get a better sense of what the messages mean. In this manner, you might notice that a lot of the messages mention the recent “Polar Vortex” in Chicago, where temperatures dropped well below zero. What can you do with this information?
- Create social posts about whether or not you’re open during these cold times.
- Write an interesting article about how pizza sales increase/decrease based on temperatures.
- Come up with a special “Polar Vortex” coupon encouraging delivery orders to offset a lack of foot traffic.
- Think altruistically! See if there are any Chicago shelters that would benefit from extra pizzas.
8. Measure results relative to goals
After you have spent time building topics, collecting data and leveraging all of that information to inform strategies, you can start to look at success. This is when you want to pair your social media listening data with social media analytics information.
Your metrics of interest will depend on the goals of your campaign, but here are a few to get started:
- New followers
- Profile visits
- Engagement rates
- Engagement speed
9. Cut, continue and expand
After you have spent time listening, incorporating that data into your strategy and running your analytics, you should have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t.
Remember that if one particular strategy doesn’t work out the way you wanted, it’s not a failure or waste of time. If you’re not taking risks and testing ideas, you will never grow.
Just make sure that you nix the strategies that don’t work and build on those that do.
The only limit to the insights you can discover through social media listening is your own imagination.
If you’d like to learn more about how Sprout can help you tackle all of this and more, get in touch with our team of experts today.
If you’re interested in more resources, check out all the other content we have on social media listening.
- The complete guide to Twitter listening
- The complete guide to Facebook listening
- The complete guide to Instagram listening
- Social media monitoring vs. social media listening
- How to do competitive research with social media listening
- Social media listening for healthcare organizations
- Why marketing shouldn’t rule your social listening strategy
- How to use social media listening to identify likely buyers
- The ROI of listening on social media
- How to use social listening to find qualified sales leads