Social has long been seen as a supplementary channel, an awareness play where businesses can connect with customers directly and build their brands. But in treating social as strictly fulfilling an awareness gap, marketers miss the data and insights social can provide to influence all aspects of their business.

Back when I led social analytics at Adobe, our team didn’t just help spread the love of roughly 20 million brand mentions a year. In mining through those mentions, we uncovered trends and insights that fueled company-wide initiatives and supplemented traditional research with a more raw, authentic understanding of our audience.

In other words, social does more than raise awareness and increase your share of voice. It also has a measurable impact on your company’s bottomline growth and provides clear insights to shape your business strategy while staying ahead of your competitors.

Take the guesswork out of strategy

So how can a Tweet help a company create a product roadmap from scratch or provide insights on a brand’s health?

Social listening is the key. Unlike monitoring, social listening requires a lot more data and looks at what people are saying about both your brand and your competitors. The insights gleaned from listening serve as an excellent proxy for a segment of your customer base, as well as supplement other market research that can come across as filtered or less authentic.

Think, speak and act like a local

During my time at Adobe, our social research team used social data to educate different departments across the globe about various cultural nuances. At a global company, you quickly find out how differently customers behave in various regions and countries. You can’t expect a message tailored for the U.S. to have the same impact on customers in the EMEA or APAC regions.

When we aggregated the social data by region, it revealed some interesting findings that helped lead to new messaging and positioning for future product launches. Pairing this data with other survey data provided the holistic view of a customer that we hoped to reach, regardless of where they were located in the world.

Why this matters: Relying on survey data alone can be risky, as people may hide how they really feel about your brand or respond with what they think you want to hear. With social media mentions, consumers are more candid and honest, giving you a fuller view of how your audience thinks and feels about your brand.

Get a better feel for consumer sentiment

In 2013, Adobe made the switch to subscription-based services, a path few others had taken and filled with uncertainty.. The goal was to even out revenue, provide customers with more real-time updates to our products and services and to remain competitive with the rest of the software industry.

In addition to speaking directly to our customers, we monitored our social networks during the transition to better understand how our customers felt about the switch and to ensure we were consistently providing value.

And unlike focus groups or surveys conducted after the fact, social data provided our teams a chance to course correct or double down on success in real time. In an industry where customer churn sits at 5% annually, the ability to implement customer feedback as soon as it’s received helps companies like Adobe stay one step ahead of its competitors.

Why this matters: Real-time social sentiment is a nice indicator of how your customer feels about announcements, but social media can also be a place where fires can quickly get out of hand. Whenever you announce a product update, outage, pricing change or more, be sure to keep an eye on your brand’s social mentions and relevant keywords. The insights gleaned from listening to those conversations can help your brand identify how you might adjust your approach for future releases.

Growth is about staying a step ahead

Equally important as understanding your audience is knowing where you stand among your competition. And in a market that’s expected to grow 17% in 2020, gaining and maintaining your competitive edge is no easy feat.

But with social analytics, marketers are able to capture the insights they need to go toe-to-toe with the Salesforces and the Adobes of the world. More specifically, social analytics can help marketers understand how they stack up against their closest competitors and where they stand to gain the most ground.

Level the playing field

While not everybody gets to play in the sandbox of 20 million brand mentions a year, smaller organizations can still find strategic value from social data. Consider widening your pool of data by pairing your company with similar businesses to get a big picture view of what’s happening in your industry at large. Or dig into platforms like Reddit, YouTube and blogging forums to find secondary conversations around your brand, your competitors or your industry.

You can also look at basic metrics on announcement days, like total volume, engagements and potential impressions. Even if your sample is on the smaller side, this information can empower your marketing teams to pivot when necessary or double down on strategies that contribute to your goals.

During my time at CloudApp, social listening has been a valuable tool for inserting ourselves into timely and relevant conversations. For example, a large portion of our customers work remotely. They use CloudApp to help communicate asynchronously through the creation and sharing of screenshots, GIFs, and screen recorded videos. Thanks to listening, we were able to jump into the conversations with tool suggestions, blog posts, customer testimonials and demonstrate why our brand was best suited for their needs.

Why this matters: A lack of resources can stifle smaller organizations that don’t have the same funds as enterprises. With social analytics, however, even the newest startups can discover insights about their customers, competitors and industry to inform product direction or marketing strategy.

Keep an eye on the competition

By analyzing your competitors’ posts and brand mentions, you gain a clear picture of how they’re positioning themselves in the market which can help inform the direction of your own marketing strategy.

This is especially useful when trying to find new ways to enter an already saturated market. Rather than reiterating the same talking points as your competitors, social listening can help you uncover lesser known—but still relevant—topics that are important to your audience.

With social analytics, you might uncover subtopics that are rarely tackled by competitors’ blogs but still draw a highly engaged audience. By looking at which ones are trending up over the last few years, you can identify where to insert your brand and opinions to drive your content strategy.

Why this matters: Monitoring conversations on topics your company cares about can be a great way to build awareness among the customers you’re targeting. With listening, you’re able to both find and solve consumer pain points and even attract customers away from competitors when you can provide them with the tailored content they’re looking for.

More than an awareness play

When used to its full extent, social does more than raise awareness and fuel your content strategy. Listening provides your team with valuable audience insights and competitive intelligence that can help inform every aspect of your business including, but not limited to new product development, marketing strategy and brand positioning.