A Quick Start Guide to Social Listening

These days, it’s no longer enough for companies to focus on creating products, software, or services and selling them.

Modern consumers expect brands to be living, breathing entities with a strong social media presence where they share their opinions, respond to criticism/feedback, know what their customers truly want, and contribute to wider discussions about the industry at large.

In order to stay on top of what customers really think, and to provide what they really want, brands need to be strong listeners — just like in any other interpersonal relationship. So let’s take a deep-dive into the principles of social listening and how your brand can effectively implement its own social listening strategy.

What is social listening?

Social listening can be a fairly wide-ranging practice. It encompasses:

  • Direct customer feedback: someone messaging you or tagging your company in a post.
  • Indirect mentions of your brand: someone talking about your products or services (this might be from competitors, prospects, customers, fans, detractors, influencers, the media, etc.).
  • Competitor noise: feedback and chatter about how your competitors are performing and what they’re up to (product releases, changes of personnel, partnerships, etc.).
  • Industry noise: industry-relevant discussions, events, themes, movements, and so on.
  • Taking action: using what you’ve learned to improve your company.

It’s worth highlighting that social listening and social monitoring are two different things. Social monitoring is only the first step: keeping your ear to the ground to monitor all industry-related noise.

Social listening, on the other hand, is taking the next steps to engage in conversations or to respond to what's happening. The only way to let people know that you’re listening is by jumping in as an active participant. When people see that you are listening, and responding with positivity and care, it greatly helps boost their perception of your brand.

Let’s distill this into 3 easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Social media monitoring: Watching social media for any useful information relating to your brand, your industry, and your target audience. This is always the first step to implementing a social listening strategy.
  2. Social media engagement: Engaging with customers, prospects, or industry big-hitters. There is a wide range of reasons your brand should engage on social media: to respond to unhappy customers, to contribute to discussions about relevant topics, or even to foster relationships with influencers for influencer marketing.
  3. Further action: Lastly, you need to take further action and implement whatever you’ve learned. Responding to individual comments or discussions is one thing — but you really want your social listening strategy to guide wider long-term business decisions.

For example, you might decide to run a new marketing campaign based on your prospects’ newfound pain point, you might rebrand after hearing negative comments about your brand’s image, or perhaps you decide to bring out a new product line.

An effective social listening strategy encompasses all three of these steps. While one on its own may carry some value, the real benefits come when they all work together in unison.

What are the benefits of social listening?

  • Discover new opportunities
  • Sales enablement
  • Increase customer retention

In a fast-moving world, those who don’t keep their eyes and ears open will be left behind — nobody wants to be the next Blockbuster.

To plan for the future, you need to listen to what consumers are saying in the present.

This is an ongoing challenge. Whether it’s due to technological innovation, changing societal attitudes, or increasing consumer expectations, companies are always wrestling with ever-changing industries and ever-changing customer pain points.

For instance, let’s look at the lingerie industry. New York-based Adore Me was looking for a way to transform their fortunes, so it implemented an in-depth social listening strategy (with a particular emphasis on wider industry-related chatter).

A couple of unknown pain points soon came to light. When listening to Victoria’s Secret followers, for example, the company heard many women express the following sentiments:

  1. This is awesome — but wouldn’t it be amazing if I could model for these companies too?
  2. To be honest, I don’t relate to these overly skinny supermodels...

Just like that, they had their next marketing campaign.

Adore Me began a social media contest called #selflovenote where women would lip-sync to their favorite love song for the chance to be the next Adore Me model. They wouldn’t pick an established, professional model for their next ads — instead, they’d pick one of the entrants, fly them to New York City all expenses paid, and the winner would get to realize their modeling dreams.

The response was nothing short of meteoric: hundreds of submissions, a 3,377% uplift in click-through-rates on their Facebook page, and a 460% increase in Facebook engagement. Most importantly, however, they began a dialog surrounding body positivity — women all over the world were joining in, expressing how much they loved their bodies, and sharing the love with fellow entrants.

By listening to what their prospects were actually saying, Adore Me ditched the glamorous supermodels in favor of a real movement fueled by positivity and love.

Improving your sales figures

Your sales team might be great at what they do, but they still need all the help they can get.

An effective social listening strategy can arm your sales team with all the information that they need to connect with prospects and existing customers alike. Look at what your prospects are sharing, what they engage with, who they follow, and you’ll begin to get a fairly well-rounded picture of them as people — and as professionals.

Social listening can even bring in new, previously unknown prospects. When a customer is so unhappy with a competitor they’ve put their opinion up on social media, they’re in an ideal position to be poached.

If you’ve had a shocking experience with a car rental service and angrily vent on Twitter, what better than receiving a personal message from one of their competitors sympathizing with your experience and welcoming you to their company (ideally with a new customer discount)?

Social media marketing and selling, if done well, can be an incredibly powerful tool in any company’s sales armory. In fact, according to Bambu, “Customers acquired via social selling by employees are seven times more likely to convert”.

Your sales team can also use social listening to work out the most effective sales channels. Let’s imagine that you’re a B2B software company. You’ve doubled down on your cold calling strategy in recent months, but you’re not seeing results.

In a spare moment, you flick through LinkedIn and read a couple of posts. The first one is a fairly generic status from an industry big-hitter that reads: “Is anyone else tired of constantly being cold-called? You’d think that people would get the message by now.” It’s received plenty of engagement and many people comment that they feel exactly the same way.

The second post is from a rival company — they’ve just shared lots of photos with their sales team happily chatting away to prospects at an event. Below, you see plenty of comments along the lines of “Great to meet you guys today, can’t wait to catch up soon!”

A simple 5-minute scroll through LinkedIn has shown you that your entire sales approach is wrong. As simplistic an example as this is, too many companies simply try more of what they’re currently doing hoping to get better results, instead of trying something different.

The first key to unlocking all this untapped sales potential? Having an active social media presence founded on the principles of social listening.

Increasing customer retention

The key to improving retention is to provide a seamless customer experience: all the way from when they initially browse your website, right through until they’re a fully paid-up customer.

As great as your company is, there are always areas where you can get even better — that’s where feedback comes in.

Many companies focus too much on what they do well, rather than what they do poorly. While this is useful, don’t let users with bad experiences fall through the cracks: not only do they have great insights into what you could do better, but by reaching out and asking for their opinion, they might be more tempted to give your company another try in the future.

When customers have a bad experience with your brand (whether they’ve directly spoken to you on social media or not), you can reach out to offer them a refund, an improved/undamaged product, a discount for their next deal, fix a bug for them, or improve their onboarding experience.

Not only is this the right thing to do, but it can also win consumers over:

  • Listening to your audience is the most crucial factor in providing a great customer experience (Hubspot)
  • 83% of consumers like when a brand responds to questions and 68% like when brands join conversations (Sprout Social)
  • Companies that don’t respond to messages on social media suffer from up to a 15% decrease in customer retention. (Gartner)

So how do you use social listening to keep customers? It’s simple, so long as you remember: customers want to feel heard, they like when brands reply to them on social media, and they’re willing to spend more on brands that are responsive.

It’s crucial that you work out an organization-wide strategy for responding to negative customer reviews. If you do this well, you can transform what was initially a negative experience with your brand into a positive one — potentially even converting them into lifelong customers in the process.

It’s time to get listening; it’s time to start learning.

Top social listening tools

Not all social listening tools have the same functionality or price tag — that’s a given. However, below are some of the best that we’ve identified currently out there on the market.

Hubspot

Hubspot doesn’t just offer social listening help, it also offers an all-round social media marketing product that helps you build marketing campaigns, automatically share content, trigger alerts when prospects mention your brand, compare cross-channel performance, and more.

The Hubspot CRM itself is free — but this social media product is an add-on available only with their Professional and Enterprise Plans (which start at $800 per month).

Sprout Social

Sprout Social’s ‘Sprout Platform’ gives you a variety of in-depth analytics to guide your social media strategy going forward. Their social media monitoring dashboard reports and analyzes any brand mentions, tracks brand-specific keywords, keeps tabs on relevant conversations, and identifies upcoming influencers.

Sprout Social ranges from $99 - $249 per month.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite offers an all-in-one social media marketing and management dashboard where you can view messages, comments, and brand mentions across multiple different channels. You can keep tabs on influencers, and compare what people are saying about both you and your competitors.

Hootsuite offers three different plans, with the most basic (Professional) starting at just $29 per month. If you want a customized plan then you’ll have to contact them for specific pricing details.

BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo scours the market for mentions of your brand, gives you an in-depth analysis of trending topics/conversations, and gives you prescriptive content recommendations that’ll pique your prospects’ interest.

The price ranges from $99 per month (for their Pro plan) to $499 per month (for their Enterprise plan).

How to implement a social listening strategy

It’s time to take action and put everything into practice. Here’s your foolproof four-step process to implementing a killer social listening strategy.

1. Define your goals

Social listening is a fairly broad process, so it helps to first identify what exactly it is that you’re aiming to achieve. Some common goals include…

  • Transforming your customer service
  • Improving retention rates
  • Increasing sales
  • Increasing social media engagement/follower count
  • Defining next quarter’s marketing strategy
  • Working out which product to release next
  • Figuring out common faults/bugs

You may have multiple goals — that’s absolutely fine. However, make sure that you’re specific on what success looks like and outline the metrics that you’ll use to keep tabs on your progress.

For example, if you’re trying to increase your brand awareness, you might use your social media followers count. If on the other hand you want to improve your customer service, then you should probably look at a variety of metrics: using feedback questionnaires to assess your service and even looking at overall retention rates.

2. Brainstorm the terms you want to monitor

This is pretty self-explanatory. Simply put, you want to listen for terms relating to your company, your industry, your competitors, or anything else that could be relevant to your specific goals. Every sector has its own key terms and buzzwords — so this shouldn’t exactly be a difficult task.

That being said, different companies might adopt different approaches depending on their goals. If you’re looking to do a bit of everything — to transform your customer service, to engage in industry-wide discussions, to increase your brand awareness, and to transform your brand’s reputation — then you should listen out for a broad range of terms.

However, if you’re looking to achieve a specific outcome then you might want to narrow down your terms. Imagine you’re a software company that’s just released a new version of its product and you want to see if customers are running into any issues.

Instead of setting up your social listening to monitor everything about the industry, you should focus solely on tracking keywords relating to your company or your new update.

3. Test and refine your search

It’s always worth conducting some preliminary searches for your key terms just so you make sure you’re avoiding unnecessary noise/chatter. Imagine you’re an apple juice manufacturer — while “apple” might seem like a relevant keyword, you’ll probably end up trawling through thousands of tech-related posts, discussions, and more before you find anything useful to your company.

This is an ongoing process. If you ever find that your social listening strategy is becoming less and less effective, consider reviewing your search parameters. There are a few different methods of doing this. First, you can remove specific terms — instead of searching for “software installation issues” you can just search for “software issues”, or you might change a competitor-focused search like “releases new product” to “releases” or even to “launch”.

While this might seem fairly simplistic, you’d be surprised at how many more posts this will end up revealing — simply by removing/altering a specific term.

Second, you can even go a step further by expanding the search to include anything related to your industry. Once you trawl through all relevant posts, you’ll likely find a few that are precisely what you’re looking for. Analyze these and work backwards: what keywords or terms do they include, where were they shared, who engaged with them, etc. Then, incorporate these new learnings into your strategy going forward.

Remember that the key to effective social listening is to approach it from the consumer’s point of view — what does your target audience care about? What do they like and what don’t they like? What are they interested to learn more about?

With this in mind, gather as much customer feedback as possible and maintain a close relationship with your sales team. They speak to your company’s prospects day in, day out — so they’ve usually got some great insights that you can leverage in your social listening strategy.

Social listening 101

When done well, social listening can have a transformative effect on your organization: fostering deeper relationships with your customers, providing the impetus for new products, bolstering sales, and improving your brand’s image.

It’s worth noting that social listening is a fairly advanced marketing strategy. If you’re a small company that’s just setting up its operations then it shouldn’t be your top priority. Sure, you could perhaps use it to guide new products that you’re going to develop, but be cautious of spending time, effort, and money working out what other people are saying before you’ve even mastered what you’re doing.

However, if your company has been running for a while and wants to get to the next level, social listening can provide invaluable insights to give you that much-needed leg-up.