Social Listening Tools and Strategies to Improve Your Brand

By Rhonda Bradley / 27 March 2018

Social listening is a crucial step for businesses that want to improve and grow their brand. By paying attention to what consumers are talking about across multiple online communities, businesses can gather data on the customer sentiment surrounding their brand and industry.

According to a 2017 survey on social listening, the majority of businesses that conduct social listening monitor more than just social media channels. Most companies also track discussion forums, blogs, and news sites for brand mentions and references that can offer valuable insights.

Graph of the top 5 sites companies monitor with social listening tools

In this article, we’ll show you how to use social listening to improve your brand’s success.

You’ll discover:

  • The difference between social listening and social monitoring
  • Why social listening is crucial to brand growth
  • Three listening strategies you can use to improve growth
  • Tools that can help you listen effectively

What’s the Difference Between Social Listening and Social Monitoring?

Social listening is the process of tracking long-term, big-picture brand mentions or industry trends, while social monitoring tracks short-term events such as customer feedback or questions.

Social listening offers a big-picture view of consumer reactions to your brand, products, and other relevant subjects. It monitors sentiment and emotion; then turns it into data that can be measured and analyzed.

This type of research actively seeks mentions and conversations across multiple online platforms.

Social monitoring tracks and attends to short-term issues like customer service, trends, viral content, and crisis management. 

For example, Topo Chico is a bottled bubbly mineral water that originated in Mexico and has become a cult favorite in Texas.

Twitter conversations surrounding the Topo Chico Brand offer insight into customer sentiment (social listening data).

Tweet showing love of Topo Chico

This tweet indicates that Topo Chico should be more transparent about where they sell their drink, for example.

Social monitoring data focuses on conversations that require attention.

When Amazon Fresh didn’t have Topo Chico in stock:

Twitter example of social monitoring

The above tweet might elicit a response from the company to reach out and perhaps even send the guy a case of Topo Chico. It begs an immediate reaction, and so it falls into the social monitoring category.

Some information, however, is useful for both social listening and monitoring.

When Coca-Cola bought out Topo Chico in 2017, consumers were afraid the giant corporation might try to change their beloved drink recipe. One fan couldn’t take the suspense.

Twitter example of both social monitoring and social listening

If Coca-Cola acted quickly, responding to the tweet reassuringly, it would be an example of social monitoring.

However, this example also could apply to social listening. For example, perhaps Coca-Cola's next campaign will focus on reassuring customers that Topo Chico will always be “The Real Thing."

Why Social Listening Is Crucial to Brand Growth

Social listening offers important insight into how customers perceive your brand and products.

Tracking and analyzing conversational social media data helps you understand the people that use your products so you can adjust your long-term strategies.

When the information is aggregated into graphs and charts that outline customer sentiment, it allows you to:

  • Tailor marketing campaigns to resonate with customer personalities
  • Learn what products consumers are more likely to spend money on
  • Avoid assumptions that can lead to the failure of your brand or products
  • Create content that inspires engagement and sharing

Listening offers more than a chance to learn about your own brand. It gives you a deeper understanding of your industry. You can gain valuable information by following conversations that mention:

  • Your competitors
  • Your content topics and keywords
  • Related industry news

Avoiding Social Listening Can Have Disastrous Results

Today’s social listening tools are sophisticated and offer companies the chance to base decisions on real input instead of guesswork and assumptions.

How did brands survive before social listening tools? Often with catastrophic results, even for the largest of corporations.

You may remember that in 2012, department store JCPenney decided to change their pricing structure and discontinue coupons and sales. Their assumption was that it was working for Apple, so it would work for them too. That guesswork led to a loss in sales and customers that the retailer has never fully recovered from.

News story regarding JCPenney discontinuing coupons

Another example of what happens when brands don't listen to customers brings us back to April 30, 1985. That’s the day that Coca-Cola announced a change to its 100-year-old classic recipe. They assumed that by sweetening its formula they could take over the Pepsi market.

The results? It didn't work well.

Fans weren't upset – they were angry. So passionate were Coke drinkers that they launched grassroots campaigns across the country to force Coca-Cola to bring back the original Coke.

Social listening is no longer an option for serious brands – it’s a requirement.

Basing decisions on guesswork is a risky game that can lead to campaign failures or sometimes, the complete collapse of a brand. 

Customer sentiment is a genuine human reaction that can make or break your brand’s future.

3 Social Listening Strategies for Business Growth

There are a number of different ways social listening can improve the results of your marketing efforts.

1. Use Social Listening to Inform Your Next Marketing Campaign

Every great piece of copywriting begins with one simple question: What’s the emotional benefit?

You know your product’s features, but if you haven’t studied your audience, you can’t know what specifically appeals to your customers. 

To dig beyond features and discover benefits, look to your customers' conversations and discover why they use your product.

Imagine you own a fitness club that offers the best equipment and trainers in town. Will you promote it by telling people that you’re the best? Probably not because an ad like “We’re the best!” won’t get much response.

Instead, you play up the benefits that people receive from your gym.

Drop in and listen to customer conversations. Find out what they love most about your place. Listen to the sentiment behind their reasoning.

2. Use Social Listening to Plan and Publish Your Content

What questions do your customers frequently ask?

Listening to your audience can provide valuable insight into the media they prefer and the topics they want to learn about.

What do your competitors’ audience love to read and share?

Listening in on your competitors' audience can spark ideas for future content.

Where is your audience spending time?

Focus your content-sharing efforts by learning which social media channels your customers use to discover content.

3. Use Social Listening to Keep an Eye on Your Reputation

Monitor brand sentiment over time to discover what qualifies as “normal.” Then, when you notice fluctuations in sentiment, you can identify red flags before they become crises.

These strategies don’t take a lot of time to plan or execute, but they can have a profound impact on the success of your campaigns, content, and reputation.

Take Advantage of Social Listening Tools

How will you track another set of data? According to a recent study, 17% of companies say that tracking results is their biggest social media challenge.

Effective social listening requires special software to gather, record, and present the information clearly. Then, you can make informed decisions based on facts.

The good news is that there are plenty of tools available that will listen in online:

  • Sprout Social helps small and large companies “access deep insights that drive your brand forward.”
  • Mention helps small and large businesses “get live updates about your brand from the web and social media.”
  • Keyhole helps enterprise-level businesses “get the data you need and amplify your brand’s message.”
  • Socialbakers is an AI-powered Social Media Marketing Suite for enterprise-level businesses.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment With Social Listening

Now that you understand what social listening is and why it’s important, you’re ready to get started.

Experiment with different tools. Most of them offer free trials, so you can find out what works best for you.

Once you’re familiar with the software, social listening doesn’t require a large time investment.

Create a strategy and work it into your social media plan. The insights you gain from social listening may offer your brand some great advantages.

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