With an estimated 2.65 billion active users, social media is a goldmine of valuable consumer data. And social listening is a valuable consumer research process which all businesses should be implementing as part of their digital marketing strategy to stay in touch with consumer sentiment surrounding their brand and generate positive engagement.
Here’s why your business needs a social listening strategy and how you can start taking advantage of this powerful technique.
What is social listening?
Social listening is a discipline of two halves.
The first step is social monitoring, which is simply noticing a trend or pattern in customers’ behavior on social media and reacting to it.
Social listening, however, takes things to the next level, digging deeper into the root causes behind a certain behavior or signal, to gain a richer understanding of why this pattern is occurring and using this data to shape your social marketing strategy.
Here’s a real life scenario in which the restaurant chain, Wagamama, demonstrated both social monitoring and social listening skills.
In July this year, the first ever Fortnite World Cup took place in New York. On his way to the tournament, runner-up, Jaden Ashdown, tweeted about not being able to find a Wagamama restaurant at Heathrow Airport.
In response to this, Wagamama demonstrated both social monitoring and social listening skills.
Firstly, let’s look at their example of social monitoring, responding directly to the ‘symptom’ at hand:
Issue: Jaden was unable to find the Wagamama outlet at Heathrow Airport.
Solution: Wagamama confirmed that there is a restaurant located in Terminal 5.
Then, Wagamama took things further and analyzed the full conversation thread to determine the root cause of Jaden’s disappointment - that he wasn’t able to enjoy the katsu curry on the restaurant’s menu.
Wagamama took this key information and responded with the following offer:
By digging deeper into the conversation, Wagamama discovered the reason why Jaden was disappointed to find no restaurant and were able to address the ‘root cause’ of the issue with a tailored solution.
Of course, it’s not possible to satisfy the individual needs of each and every customer, however, by practicing social listening, you’ll be able to identify the communities that exist amongst your target audience, the values they share, and what incentivizes them, enabling you to segment your market more accurately.
How social listening can benefit your business
Whilst not an exhaustive list, here are a few of the advantages social listening can bring to your business.
1. Two-way conversation with your audience
People appreciate it when brands respond. According to research conducted by Sprout Social, 83% of respondents like it when brands respond to questions, and over two thirds (68%) like it when brands join in with online conversations.
Monitoring customers’ social interactions will provide useful insights, enabling you to craft well-measured responses and add valuable contributions to conversations to elicit genuine brand loyalty from consumers and garner interest from potential new customers.
For a truly effective social listening strategy, it’s important to be proactive in your approach. Reacting to alerts to posts containing your brand name or company hashtags is easy; in addition to this, seek out interactions that don’t directly mention your brand but which can still be linked back to you in some way, for example:
- An image or a video of one of your products/services
- This is also important when it comes to protecting your brand, for instance, if a user is doing something inappropriate or immoral and is seen wearing or endorsing your brand, this could reflect badly on your name
- Misspelt versions of your company name or hashtag
2. Understand your audience
By listening to your audience and their conversations, you’ll gain a richer understanding of customers’ interests, such as:
- The type of language they use
- Relevant keywords and regularly used hashtags
- The issues they feel passionately about
- The celebrities/influencers they admire
- Competitors they engage with
This intelligence will enable you to produce highly-targeted content and develop social media outreach strategies that will generate greater results.
3. Better customer service
Not only do we use social media to browse and purchase goods and services, according to Social Media Today, around two thirds (67%) of consumers now use social media networks to resolve customer complaints.
The average customer is more likely to forgive and forget a blunder if the vendor at fault deals with the situation professionally. In fact, the service recovery paradox theory suggests that if a company deals with a problem efficiently, that customer is likely to hold them in even higher regard than before the issue occurred. Actively listening to customers on social media will ensure you are able to respond as quickly as possible to any queries and issues that need addressing, and therefore maintain a strong customer satisfaction rate.
4. PR & crisis management
Social media can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to PR; announce important company updates quickly and efficiently through your social media channels, promote product launches, or instigate discussions amongst your followers with your brand. Yet on the other hand, social media can also provide disgruntled customers with an instant platform on which to voice their brand experience and potentially damage your reputation.
A good example of this is when Canadian music artist, Dave Carroll and his bandmates were travelling on a United Airline flight only to look out of the window and find baggage handlers negligently tossing their equipment around. As a result, several instruments were broken, and after a poor response from United Airlines, Carroll wrote a song about his experience called ‘United break guitars’ complete with a home-made music video. Since being uploaded to YouTube in 2009, the music video has received over 19 million views, and saw United Airline stock prices plunge by 10% in a matter of days, costing shareholders $180 million.
Whilst this incident could well have been avoided had United Airlines dealt with the situation more successfully, it paints a powerful picture of how quickly bad news can travel via social media. Resolving a customer issue before it reaches a social platform is preferable, however, in the mobile-first world, this is often not possible. As a result, brands should utilize social media in the event of a PR crisis, to provide their customers with real-time updates on the situation, mitigating any negative repercussions and putting customers’ minds at ease.
Monitoring your social media platforms and references to your company, such as the use of your Twitter handle or company name, is essential as it will help you gauge the extent to which negative PR has spread, as well as giving you the opportunity to respond to individuals and put minds at ease.
5. News updates
Newsjacking is the art of using a breaking news story as a vessel for your marketing message, and when executed well, can generate significant social media engagement.
Oreo accomplished a newsjacking triumph during the 2013 Super Bowl, when a power outage stopped play and plunged half the stadium into darkness for over half an hour. Having a creative team actively listening to social media during the event meant that Oreo was able to react rapidly and take full advantage of a great PR opportunity.
Minutes after the blackout, Oreo posted a Tweet with the tagline “You can still dunk in the dark”
And it certainly paid off, the Tweet received over 15,000 retweets in just 12 hours.
6. Product development
Generally speaking, users are far more inclined to share their opinions online, especially on social media where several others may be of the same view. For example, you may discover that customers are less than impressed with a recent software update, or that a popular dish has been discontinued from their favorite restaurant menu.
This is valuable feedback for your product development team who can use these insights to ensure your brand is staying ahead of the game and satisfying customer demand.
7. Competitor research
Social listening can be instrumental in gaining valuable information about competitor brands and the way in which customers engage with them on social. Learn which campaigns have worked particularly well for your rivals, and just as importantly, which ones haven’t, so you can avoid making the same mistakes in your own strategy.
Listening in on conversations containing competitor names and hashtags can also enable you to identify customer pain points with your competitors, enabling you to use this as leverage in your own marketing messaging. For example, if customers are taking to social media to vent about a rival restaurant’s expensive wine list, running promotional campaigns such as ‘a second bottle for half price’ or ‘free glass of wine with a two course meal’ could be enough to test their loyalty.
8. Link building
Link building has always been one of the fundamental components of SEO, and social listening can be a useful way of finding new link building opportunities.
Use social listening to find content related to your field of expertise and contact the author to offer a quote or a valuable source to link to in the article.
9. Influencer marketing
Depending on your social marketing budget, you may not have considered influencer marketing as a viable venture, yet micro influencers can be a valuable resource to tap into.
Micro influencers tend to be more relatable and trustworthy than A-list celebrities. A smaller following means they have a more intimate relationship with customers who genuinely trust their judgement, and therefore, in the products and services they promote.
Keep an eye on people your customers frequently engage with, who they’re connected with and who your competitors are using to promote their products or services and compile a list. You can then actively follow these influencers to see how they interact with their followers, what content performs well, and whether there is potential for you to work together on a future social media campaign.
How to do social listening
There are a number of tools available which can streamline the initial data collection process, or social monitoring stage, of your social listening strategy so you can focus on how your organization will utilize this knowledge. Here are a few user-friendly and affordable options to consider:
Hootsuite is a powerful social listening platform which allows you to monitor several social media channels on one dashboard. Each channel is displayed in a separate column, giving you a clear, complete summary of all your brand’s social interactions. Search for keywords, phrases, usernames, or hashtags, or track lists of influencers or competitors.
Awario is another flexible and user-friendly tool. Set up ‘alerts’ to hashtags, keywords, or brand names that you’d like to monitor to keep track of important discussions and interactions. You can also set up alerts to monitor new URL links, for example, to discover backlinks to your company website.
Buzzsumo is particularly useful for finding out what content resonates best with your target audience, what garners the best engagement rate, and therefore what content you should be creating. Search for exact keywords and terms or basic topics relating to your industry, and Buzzsumo will list content that has had the most shares across Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and Pinterest.
It’s important to review all business processes regularly to ensure they’re still relevant and effective, however, this is particularly crucial for your social media strategy. Social media is constantly evolving at pace; new terminology, hashtags, and trends can appear overnight, personalities can fall out of favor rapidly, and if you don’t remain relevant, your engagement and brand image can suffer, unravelling all that hard work.