Social Media Listening: Ears On!

It seems like every day there’s a new fad in social media—a rising-star platform, a trending hashtag, a new social media term. Everything changes so quickly it’s becoming necessary to keep up with it in real time. And that’s where social media listening (sometimes known as “social listening”) comes in. 

Wait, you’re thinking, you already know about this and you’re already doing it—right? You’re tracking your analytics, responding to comments, messages, and mentions, and engaging with your audience. Those are all good things—but they aren’t what’s considered social listening.

Social Media Monitoring Differs from Social Media Listening

These two things are actually quite distinct from each other; they’re not synonyms and shouldn’t be used as such. 

Monitoring is the process by which you gather and analyze your social media data. And with monitoring, you can take immediate action. For example, if someone comments on your Facebook post that they are unhappy with your product, you can immediately respond by replying to the comment or sending them a private message. It’s also looking at past data to see what happened—what worked, what didn’t work. 

But once you start looking at that data to determine your future actions—not with just social media campaigns but with your business as a whole—you’ve stepped into the realm of social listening. When you listen to what others have to say about your business, brand, or product, you start to understand how they feel about your business as a whole. And that’s an important thing because the more you understand, the easier it is to repair any negative perceptions or to capitalize on positive reviews. 

What Social Media Listening Is

Just because social media monitoring and social media listening aren’t synonyms, it doesn’t mean they can’t get along—in fact, they work better together and should be used as side-by-side partners. Social monitoring comes first, whereas social listening is the next step toward seeing your online presence as a whole—a bird’s-eye view, so to speak. It’s about extracting key insights from social conversations, insights you can apply to your overall strategy.

Social listening is where you, well, listen to what’s being said about your company and your brand—even when you’re not mentioned—and even what’s being discussed about your competitors and in your industry. Social listening is keeping your ears (and eyes) open for online conversations your current or potential customers are having that have to do with your business by tracking topics, themes, keywords, and hashtags relevant to your industry.

It’s also important to note that many of these conversations may not be happening on your posts, tweets, or time lines. Much of the time they are being held away from your immediate platforms—that’s why learning which hashtags, keywords, and topics your audience is discussing is important so you can find those conversations.

Why Should You Listen?

Great American writer Ernest Hemingway once said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.” And that’s exactly what you’re doing with social listening—the purpose is to learn “a great deal” about your business, your customers, your leads, and your social presence and industry environment. By paying close attention to what people are saying, you’ll gain valuable insight into what your audience wants, and you can then use that insight to tailor marketing your strategy, refine product offerings, and provide even better customer service. When people are having conversations about you—whether good or bad—you’re going to have an idea of what exactly they think about your business and product, and even what they expect from you. 

For example, let’s say you’re in the wedding-planning business and you want your weddings to be unique. It would be wise to listen (via hashtags, keywords, comments, etc.) to see what ‘ being overdone, what’s considered “last year,” and what, especially, brides and grooms are looking for in the upcoming wedding season. Social listening helps you discover these conversations, giving you the opportunity to find these customers—those looking for you, those with problems, those who need your help but might not know it yet—and provide customer service before they’ve even asked you directly. 

And one more thing: when you listen to the conversations around you (“you” being your business and industry), you also learn what people are saying about your competitors, which can help you determine how you’ll respond to them, whether through a competing product or service.  

How to Listen Effectively

So now that you understand what social media listening is and why it’s important, it’s time to put that knowledge to use. Here are a few tips on how to listen:

  • Get out into the social media feeds and find out which hashtags, topics, themes, and keywords people are using when speaking about your brand, business, or industry. 
  • Use that data to inform your social media strategies, blog and website content creation and curation, and even your products and services design and production.
  • Listen for shifts in attitude or approach to your business or to a specific product or service. 
    • Did the shift occur at a certain time or correlate with a new product release? 
    • Have you had website trouble recently, or has your response time to contacts decreased due to lack of (or—yikes—inefficient) staff? 
    • Did it happen after a particular piece of content was published (if so, you may need to pull the content and try again!)?
  • Utilize a social media listening tool such as those provided by Hootsuite, which offers a variety of apps that can help with listening, such as Mentionlytics, Brandwatch, Audiense, Sprout Social, Agorapulse, and Sendible.

Social media listening may feel overwhelming and confusing at first, but once you open your ears (and eyes and minds!), you’ll see it’s just another way to analyze how your business is performing in this fast-paced world of online marketing. What part of social media listening do you find most helpful? What types of data do you gather, and what tools do you recommend? We’d love for you to share your thoughts with our audience in the comments below.

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About Lindsay Flanagan

Lindsay Flanagan is a senior editor and project and social media manager at Eschler Editing. She earned her Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and spent over a decade working in higher education before joining the Eschler team. She and her husband are the proud parents of two brilliant daughters and make their home in Heber, Utah.