What Is Social Listening? (With Tips and Tools)

Christy Walters


December 29, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

The girl listens attentively with her palm to her ear close-up on pink background to show how to do social listening

Have you ever wanted to know more about what your clients think, feel, and expect from your brand and industry? You’re not alone. Engaging in social listening makes your team more aware of consumer context, or what people really think about your company, even if they don’t come right out and say it. Today, we’re looking at what social listening is and how to choose the right strategies and tools to incorporate this process into your marketing plan:

What Is Social Listening?

Social listening is a process companies use to gather and analyze customer data from around the internet. You can track information from social media, online review platforms, ratings, and other user-generated content. Doing this allows your team to understand how, where, and why conversations happen. Two of the main purposes of social listening include collecting data and improving marketing.

You do social listening in real-time, rather than waiting to gather all the information at the end of a campaign. It’s easier to understand the context of audience reviews or comments as they’re happening rather than three months later. Factors that may influence your audience’s reaction to your brand include location, political climate, or trending topics. The social listening two-step process includes watching social channels to find people talking about your company and then taking all that data and analyzing it for insights on how you can take what you’ve learned and put it into practice to improve your business.

Social Listening vs. Social Monitoring

While sometimes used interchangeably, social monitoring and social listening are two distinct concepts. Social monitoring tells you what information you’re looking at and social listening tells you why you’re seeing that data. Most brands use social monitoring as part of social listening, especially in the first step of collecting data. The process includes reviewing elements such as brand mentions, hashtags, and industry trends and monitoring them with metrics. For example, social monitoring could help you decide which version of content works best during an A/B testing campaign.

Social listening goes beyond the numbers to understand the context of the words and data. It helps you understand the social sentiment of audience mentions. Sentiment tells you how people feel about your brand rather than statistics you can quantify with numbers. While numerical metrics matter, they don’t always tell the full story. For example, your competitors may get a lot of website traffic. But if people don’t like their products or services, is all that traffic helping their business?

Why Is Social Listening Important?

Social listening helps you discover what your audience views as the “perfect customer experience.” It not only lets you look at your own sites, profiles, content, products, and services to see how they resonate with the audience, but it allows you to put that same focus on your competitors. Social listening also helps you find influential individuals or companies within your industry or niche.

Social listening can tell you what questions customers or leads have about your brand or products. This information lets you brainstorm additional questions they may have and provide answers to all of them through content creation. Doing social listening can improve the customer experience through messaging, pricing, or improvement to services. It can also help you gauge your audience’s perception of your brand and monitor their responses to specific campaigns and events.

How Can Social Listening Affect a Business?

The information you learn from social listening helps your brand show it cares about its customers and what they have to say by actually paying attention to them and making changes based on their feedback. Specific ways social listening helps your business include:

Engaging With Your Audience

Any marketer has two options when conducting social listening: collect information and move on, or engage with the audience. Choosing the second option lets you continue the conversation with your target audience. Whether it’s through direct mentions or your own searching, responding and replying to posts and reviews helps you build bonds with your leads. Thank responders for their praise, ask how you can help anyone who’s unsatisfied, or simply make on-brand comments to react to the information you find.

Revealing Competitor Intelligence

Paying attention to what people say about your competitors tells you where they fit into the industry or market. Doing this helps you discover where your brand fits, too. Social listening also tells you in real time what your competitors are doing. Are they launching new products? Interacting with their audience? Taking part in a viral trend? Monitoring this information shows you opportunities you have to capitalize on pieces of content or strategies that they haven’t.

To get even more in-depth with your social listening and competitor monitoring, request your free content analysis report from CopyPress. This report shows how your content compares to that of your competitors in search engine positioning and audience interest. It also reveals your content gaps of topics your competitors cover but your brand doesn’t. Request your report today by filling out the form below.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

Discovering Product Insights

Monitoring reviews, questions, and other data related to your products tells you how they perform in the real world for consumers. It also tells you what people want to know about a product or service before purchasing it. This information helps your customer service department answer inquiries, product developers create better items, and marketers produce more effective messaging.

Solving PR Crises

Because social listening takes place in real-time, you can get alerts the second your brand receives bad press. Think of social listening like the alerts you get on your phone from the National Weather Service. Those tell you when the tornado is coming before it arrives so you can get to safety.

Social listening does something similar for a public relations (PR) crisis. It alerts you that something bad is about to happen, so you have time to handle it before it damages your brand or reputation. Social listening also helps you find the source of the sentiment change so you can understand exactly how the issue developed.

Leading Customers to Your Funnel

Social listening helps your team discover what customers need so you can lead them to your products or services and into your sales funnel. Consider how you engage with your leads online when trying to get them there. For people who don’t even know your brand exists yet, a hard sell is too pushy. But building a rapport through casual comments or by sharing factual content pulls leads into the top of your sales funnel. From there, you can nurture the leads to guide them further down the funnel.

Looking for Collaborations

One benefit of social listening is finding out who the best influencers are for your industry. Influencers can directly affect how leads and customers view your brand. They can also affect things like your follower count or sales. Finding and connecting with the right people can set you up for future collaborations and open you up to larger audiences. Working with influencers lets your brand find relevance in online communities through more organic methods. When done right, influencer partnerships feel less like ads and more like genuine valuable content.

Does Industry Affect Social Listening?

Any company of any size in any industry can engage in social listening. What might change based on your industry is the demographics and locations of the audience you’re analyzing. The exact information may change, too. Consider the focuses for some of the following industries:

  • Consumer goods: Social listeners look at changes in the industry to determine the right time to introduce a new product, and understand how distribution and supply chains affect consumers.
  • Hospitality and travel: This industry looks at seasonal demand, popular geographic locations, and customer interest in travel.
  • Retail: Listening in this industry shows purchasing habits, product trends, and the ability and willingness of consumers to spend in certain markets.

Related: The Emotions of Industries

What Topics Should You Focus On for Social Listening?

There are a few common areas where marketers and researchers focus when doing social listening. They include:

Brand Health

Understanding how the public perceives your brand is a key goal of social listening. When you focus on listening for brand health, you can learn about people’s positive and negative opinions about your company and what values or factors make them feel that way. When conducting social listening for brand health, try to find information to answer questions like:

  • How do customers feel about the company, product, or brand?
  • Does the audience sentiment match my conversion numbers? If not, why?
  • What kind of brand content do users share?
  • Do my audience segments align across channels, such as the website, eCommerce store, social media, and blog?

With the answers to these questions, you can make strategic changes to provide content that solves your customers’ most pressing issues. The information also helps you build campaigns around brand elements your audience already loves.

Industry Information

Social listening tells you more about current and upcoming industry trends. Analyzing hashtags, buzzwords, and trending topics tells you where the market stands and where it’s heading. Doing this research helps you reposition your brand to the forefront of the newest movements and establish your company as a leader in the industry. To do this, you can follow some tactics that include:

  • Looking for disruptions in the industry that could affect your brand
  • Reviewing current social and political issues to determine if they apply to your brand
  • Finding gaps in the industry where you could introduce a new product or solution
  • Identifying influencers to encourage them to partner with or advocate for your brand

Competitive Analysis

Reviewing data about your competitors tells you what you’re up against when working on winning over your audience. With a social listening focus in this area, you can discover how your competitors work to attract audience members on all their channels. You can also understand areas where your competitor’s customers are unsatisfied and looking for a better experience. The more information you collect about your competitors the more you can learn about how to better serve your audience so they choose your solutions over another company.

Campaign Analyses

Social listening tells you if your campaigns are performing well through both numerical data and sentiment. Social listening, with a side of social monitoring, lets you track engagements and impressions for your campaigns but also understand the sentiments your audience has about them. When you understand the audience demographics that respond positively and negatively to the campaign you can determine what key themes they want to see from your content. You can further segment these insights by demographics, network, or content type to get a better picture of how each campaign performs.

Event Monitoring

Use social media to track how a specific event performs and gains a following online. Marketers may create a specific hashtag for the event, but visitors and attendees may not use it. You can search for terms like speaker or session names, key themes, or other words associated with your event. This investigation helps you learn more about people who attended or identify potential leads for future events. Tracking the event discussion online tells you what message the audience received and understood. It also shows you where to improve for your next event to make it more valuable to attendees.

How To Conduct Social Listening

Use these steps to conduct social listening for your brand:

1. Choose a Social Listening Tool

There are plenty of tools that help make your data collection and analysis easier. Some brands use specific platforms, while others combine programs from a variety of sources. Understanding which tools are compatible with your channels and the data you’re trying to source helps you choose from the available options. Need help finding a tool? Check out the list at the bottom of this article.

2. Set Your Goals

Why are you doing social listening? Knowing this information helps you decide how to conduct the process. Running a content audit may give you some insights into why your brand can benefit from social listening. Some examples of goals could include:

  • Monitoring your industry to watch for trends
  • Reviewing competitors’ products and marketing tactics
  • Discovering  what content excites and engages your target audience

3. Pick Your Strategies

How are you going to reach your goals? What are the capabilities of your tools to help you do it? Creating a strategy helps you narrow the process for conducting your social listening. This plan guides your actions and data collection to keep you on track toward reaching your social listening goals.

4. Choose Data Sources

Where are you going to collect data? Your tools may limit what sources you can access and how can record data. A good place to start your social listening is social media platforms or areas of the internet where you have a business presence. Starting with a few sources and expanding to more as your listening grows helps keep you and your team from becoming overwhelmed by too much data in the beginning. This approach makes it easier to segment data into further subsections.

5. Uncover Topics and Keywords

What are people saying about your company, brand, or products? You won’t find out unless you create a list of topics and themes to search for online that relate to your organization. Consider first exploring your direct mentions. What are people saying about your brand and then tagging your company so you see it? You can also look at related hashtags and keywords for your industry to expand your search criteria.

6. Record and Analyze Data

Many of your tools make it easy to record data and keep it in one place for review. But keeping a repository alone isn’t enough to give you insights into your audience, competition, or industry. Many tools also have features that compare pieces of data from different sources, audience members, or demographics. This information helps you get a better idea of the sentiment of the mentions and conversations. Doing this analysis provides a larger picture of how people view your brand.

7. Repeat the Process

Social listening isn’t a one-time activity. Ongoing research helps you make sure you’re always aware of industry changes and sentiment shifts. As you do this process continuously, you may update and change your goals, topics, and keywords as you gain more data and information.

Tips for Conducting Social Listening

Use these tips to make your social listening activities easier and more beneficial for your brand:

Choose the Right Words and Topics

To do social listening the right way, you need to know what to look for online. The topics and keywords are different for each company and industry. They can also change over time as your brand grows. To start, look at the keywords you use for content creation and see what results they bring. Other topics to consider include:

  • Your brand name and social media handles
  • Product names
  • Competitors’ brand names, social media handles, and product names
  • Industry keywords or buzzwords
  • Company slogans
  • Names of key management and employees for your company and competitors
  • Campaign keywords or names
  • Branded and unbranded hashtags

Consider looking for common misspellings and abbreviations of your key terms, too.

Pick Your Listening Locations

To understand what people are saying about your company or your competition, find the places where they’re doing that talking. Initially, you might have a wide search area, from social media to blogs, and beyond. The conversations may have distinct tones, depending on their locations. You might find that people don’t even talk about your industry at all on certain platforms. Knowing where people talk about your company influences your advertising and marketing strategies for those locations in the future.

Filter the Results

Once you know the right topics and locations for your social listening, get more advanced with your searches. Narrow mentions by geographic location or demographic to get more specific details about segments of your audience or target market. Doing this helps you market to target niches within your larger audience in the places where they talk about their purchases or service needs.

Related: How To Develop Audience Segmentation in the New Year

Involve Different Departments

Your marketing, social media, or content creation teams aren’t the only ones who can learn from information collected during social listening. Teams throughout your organization benefit from learning more about how customers perceive the brand. Share feedback with other departments like sales, product development, and higher-level management. You can also seek responses from those teams when deciding how to answer questions or engage with your audience online. They may have insights about products or processes to make the responses more valuable.

6 Social Listening Tools

Browse these tools to help you find a program to aid your social listening efforts:

1. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is an extensive social media management platform that includes tools for social listening. With its stream features, you can monitor keywords, mentions, conversions, and hashtags that matter to you. It also lets you respond to members of your audience, build relationships with influencers, and watch your competition from one dashboard.

2. Adview

Adview conducts social listening specifically for Facebook and Instagram ads. Created by Synaptive, it’s an app to use within Hootsuite to take the tools provided and enhance them. You can monitor up to three Facebook Ad accounts across unlimited pages. Adview also includes the same benefits as Hootsuite alone, allowing you to reply to ad comments and handle information from both profiles under one dashboard.

3. Talkwalker

Talkwalker is another Hootsuite app that enhances the features of the original service. This one looks across the internet, not just at social media, to review blogs, online forums, news sites, review programs. It provides more information about where your company, or your competitors, receives mentions online. Talkwalker allows you to analyze, engage, and review the sentiment behind each posting or mention.

4. SproutSocial

SproutSocial is a social media and content management system with tools to help you do everything from creating campaigns to tracking analytics. Some of its social listening capabilities include:

  • Smart Inbox: This feature lets you keep track of conversations about your brand and respond to inquires from one dashboard.
  • Brand keywords: This feature lets you create custom searches around certain keywords and display the results in Smart Inbox to find important messages and opportunities.
  • Trend reports: This feature curates the most popular topics and hashtags about your brand or industry.

5. HubSpot

HubSpot’s social media product can help you connect with the right people and track your social interactions. It lets you build social campaigns, share content, and even do social listening. Keyword streams, email alerts, and performance metrics help you conduct listening to reach your goals.

6. Lately

Lately is a social media marketing tool that runs on artificial intelligence (AI). It can help you write posts, schedule them, and publish content out to all your channels. Because it keeps a record of your past posts, Lately can help you figure out what content is most engaging to your audience and why.

Without a social listening strategy, you could miss out on some of the most valuable data that can help you build a powerful brand. Using this process lets you understand exactly what customers think about your company or industry and makes their experiences even more favorable.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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