Is your brand keeping an ear to the ground through Instagram listening?

Because Instagram isn’t just a place to post snapshots anymore. In fact, the platform is a prime place to connect with your target audience.

Shout-outs and call-outs. Tags and mentions. Breaking industry news.

All of the above should be on your radar. This speaks to the importance of social listening to make smarter business decisions.

The good news? The answers to all of the above are out there if you’re listening for them.

Not sure how to hone in on key customer conversation and cut through the noise? We’ve put together this crash course to answer all of your Instagram listening questions.

What is Instagram listening?

Instagram listening is the process of tracking conversations related to your brand. This includes industry keywords, competitors, trends and hashtags.  

These conversations are invaluable to your social media content and engagement strategies.

Not sure what to post? What are your followers buzzing about? Instead of second-guessing what people want, Instagram listening provides firsthand, actual answers. Consider how listening insights can empower you to:

  • Determine your overall brand health and sentiment
  • Monitor the activity of your competitors
  • Identify potential customers, partnerships and influencers
  • Assist customers on the path to purchase
  • Uncover the latest industry trends

Why Instagram listening matters

Brands shouldn’t live in a bubble when it comes to their Instagram activity. Listening puts your mentions, interactions and comments into context. This helps you engage people and grow your account.

Below are some specific ways that Instagram empowers you to connect with customers.

Learning what your audience wants on a personal level

Consumers crave connections with brands and expect businesses to communicate their values. The Sprout Social Index™ highlights how values and trust translate to customer loyalty.

sprout social index data 2022

Are your communicating your values clearly? Do your brand initiatives align with your audience?

Taking a stand on issues and getting personal is key to making meaningful connections. Through social listening, you can double-check that your messaging resonates with your audience.

positive customer sentiment on instagram

Providing more impactful Instagram customer service

According to our 2022 Index data, 35% of consumers (and 60% of brands) use Instagram for customer service. This makes Instagram the second largest social service channel, putting the platform just behind Facebook.

“Good” service goes hand in hand with having a pulse on customer questions, comments and concerns. Through social listening, you never miss an @mention or branded keywords beyond your direct call-outs.


customer question example

Consider that 47% of consumers have a favorable view of social brands that respond to customers swiftly. Tracking conversations as they happen makes it easier to meet response time expectations.

Discovering meaningful customer content to promote your brand

Your customers are your best marketers. Listening can clue you in on valuable content and social proof you can promote yourself. This might include:

good dye young positive customer sentiment example on instagram

Rather than dig for these opportunities, listening ensures that they all come to you.

Instagram social listening vs. Social media monitoring

Quick side note! Let’s take a moment to break down what Instagram listening isn’t.

Listening is about more than @mentions, comments and #hashtags

Terms like “monitoring” and “listening” often get used interchangeably among marketers. They aren’t the same though.

  • Social media monitoring is the act of tracking @mentions, comments and hashtags. Monitoring is a crucial aspect of listening but it’s only part of the process.
  • Instagram listening involves translating conversations and customer talking points into action.

Interactions matter but so does context. Think about it. Someone tagging a fashion brand in their OOTD post versus calling out that brand’s products is apples and oranges. Also, not every mention of your business on Instagram involves a direct call-out or tag.

The takeaway? If you’re only looking for mentions of your brand name or campaign key terms, you’re missing out on key conversations.

You’re also missing opportunities to intervene and take action to engage customers. That’s why it pays to be proactive via listening.

How does Instagram listening work, though?

Good question! Instagram is a strange beast as far as listening to customer interactions goes.

For starters, you’re juggling a lot of different queries. Tags, mentions and branded keywords are just the beginning.

And although IG search has improved, finding and consolidating conversations often requires some digging.

Instagram social listening involves the following three-step process:

  1. Creating queries based on your business, hashtags and terms relevant to your industry
  2. Monitoring mentions, tags, comments and interactions
  3. Assessing all of the above to take action

Features such as Instagram’s keyword search, trending topics and hashtags can help (see below). Coupled with your notifications, you have a decent idea of what’s being said about your business.

Instagram sneaker search
Instagram sneakers tags

This is obviously a lot to sift through by hand. Again, Instagram doesn’t make listening particularly easy by default.

The good news is that there are tools out there to help. For example, Sprout’s social media listening features do the legwork of aggregating Instagram conversations. Brands can create their own listening queries for Instagram via boolean syntax and rules logic.

sprout social listening home

Non-technical translation? You can uncover important customer conversations without having to search manually. Having all of this consolidated in one place with your messages is a nice added bonus.

How to build an effective Instagram listening strategy

Of course, understanding Instagram listening and how it works is only half the battle.

How do you turn all of these metrics and observations into action?

Your social listening strategy ultimately boils down to your goals. Below is how brands use can Instagram listening to level up their marketing efforts.

Conduct competitive analysis to find ways to stand out

Perhaps one of the best uses of social listening is competitive analysis.

Consider ultra-competitive markets such as the beauty industry.  New products are constantly popping up from brand to brand means more listening. Tracking tags and popular posts from other brands in your space can help you better position yourself in the face of stiff competition.

Designer consignment

Meanwhile, direct mentions and hashtags highlight what makes your brand different.

Sweetchef Instagram

Uncover opportunities to improve your products

If you want to know how to improve your own products and services, who better to ask than your own customers? Prompted or not, followers can clue you in on new ideas.

instagram social listening for customer feedback example

Of course, not all feedback from your followers is going to be direct.

Some critics might see “likes,” comments and shares as mere vanity metrics. Still, they can be a valuable currency for determining your customers’ favorite products. Look at an influx or “Likes” or interactions on product posts as a potential signal.

Make valuable customer touchpoints on the path to purchase

44% of Instagram users use the platform to shop and browse products weekly. Serving as a sort of social media concierge can help you earn more sales.

Instagram comments are a goldmine for finding folks interested in your products. This rings true for people who don’t know about you yet or might be looking for a new spot in your space.

Listening makes it easier to maintain relationships with satisfied customers, too. This includes check-ins and opportunities to earn more UGC.

social listening for ugc on instagram

Discover industry and content trends relevant to your followers

Social listening is invaluable for tracking industry trends. For starters, you should know the tags your audience follows. But do you know how they’re responding to such trends to influence? How can you apply them to your own campaigns?

On a related note, Instagram listening can keep you from copycatting your competition.

For example, brands need to differentiate their tone, content calendar and captions if they want to stand out on Instagram. Effective listening can help you uncover tags and trends that your competitors might be missing out on and how you can fill the void.

Monitor your customer sentiment and keep people happy

Let’s say you’ve launched a new product or campaign.

You obviously want to know how your audience feels about it, right? Is it building buzz?

Again, you may not always get those answers from direct mentions. Chances are there are users out there who can provide a concrete answer, though.

Social listening likewise goes hand in hand with sentiment analysis. In other words, how are folks reacting to your brand on Instagram? Whether it’s “yay,” “nay” or “meh,” sentiment analysis can inform you to better serve customers and score more love from your Instagram followers.

positive customer sentiment example

What Instagram listening tools are available to brands?

Let’s say you want to go all-in on Instagram listening.

Basic brand listening is possible through native searches on Instagram. Still, to say that manual listening is tedious is a major understatement.

After all, brands need to track multiple tags and competitors. That’s not even considering your own mentions and branded keywords. Given the sheer amount of content posted to Instagram daily, sifting through it all is no small feat.

With the help of an actual Instagram listening tool, digging into industry conversations doesn’t have to be a time-sink.

Again, Sprout’s robust suite of social listening features is a game-changer for brands looking to step up their Instagram presence. Businesses can track dozens of queries beyond simple hashtags with the help of our query builder. Doing so ensures that you have a holistic understanding of your brand and industry.

sprout social query builder for instagram listening

Reporting and analytics provide a quantitative look at your listening so you can make data-driven decisions. Second-guessing a campaign or your next move on Instagram? Look no further than your numbers for peace of mind.

sprout social listening analytics dashboard

Is your brand on board with Instagram social listening?

Social listening is key to connecting with customers that expect brands to, well, listen to them.

And given the current rocket strapped to Instagram, the platform should be a top priority as far as listening goes.

Don’t let those critical conversations and moments with your audience fall by the wayside. Smarter Instagram listening informs everything from campaigns to your social strategy at large.

If you haven’t already, give Sprout’s social listening features a test drive to see how better listening translates to doing better business.