How To Do Social Listening (With Tips and Tools)


Published: December 29, 2021 (Updated: March 17, 2022)

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Social listening allows you to discover and understand what your customers and clients think, feel, and expect from your brand and industry. Engaging in this process can make you more aware of consumer context, or what people are saying about your company, even if they’re not clear about it. Learning strategies for social listening and choosing the right tools to help can increase your knowledge and make you an expert in this marketing niche.

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 to understand how, where, and why conversations about your brand, industry, or competition happen. Two of the main purposes of social listening include collecting data and improving marketing.

You do social listening in real time, so it’s easier to understand the context of the situation in which your audience makes its observations. Influencing factors may include geographic 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. Social monitoring can be part of social listening, especially in the first step of collecting data. It lets you look at elements such as brand mentions, hashtags, and industry trends and monitor 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 climate and context of the words and data. It can help you understand the social sentiment of a consumer’s mentions. Sentiment can tell you how people feel about your brand rather than things like who gets the most traffic. While the numbers are important, they don’t always tell the complete story. For example, your competitors may get a lot of traffic, but if people don’t like their products, is it helping their business? Being aware of sentiment shifts lets you respond to changes quickly to preserve or improve brand favorability.

Why Is Social Listening Important?

Social listening can help you discover and decide 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 can also help you find influencers in your industry, whether they’re individuals or the most influential companies or organizations with a large market share.

It can tell you what questions customers or leads have about your brand or products. This lets you anticipate 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, among other changes you could make with more information about your target audience. It can also help you gauge the health and perception of your brand and monitor the response to specific campaigns and events.

How Can Social Listening Affect a Business?

Social listening is another way to show you care about your customers and what they have to say by actually paying attention to them. Specific ways it may help your business include:

Engaging With Your Audience

When you’re out on the internet looking for mentions of your brand, you can handle it one of two ways: collect information and move on or engage. If you choose the second option, you’re continuing 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 engage with consumers. Thank them 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 can tell you where they fit into the industry or market. That can help you discover where you fit, too. It 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 can show you opportunities you have to capitalize on pieces of content or strategies that they haven’t.

Discovering Product Insights

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

Solving PR Crises

Because social listening takes place in real time, you can get alerts the second your brand receives bad press or when there is unfavorable news circulating about your company. 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 can do something similar for a public relation (PR) crisis, alerting you that something could brew before it happens, so you have time to handle it before it damages your brand or reputation. Social listening can also help you find the source of the sentiment change so you can understand exactly how the issue developed.

Leading Customers to Your Funnel

Social listening can help you discover what customers need so you can lead them to your products and into your sales funnel. It’s important to consider how you engage with your leads online when trying to get them there. A hard sell, or jumping into a conversation and pushing your products, may not come across well online. But building a rapport, such as making a casual comment or sharing factual information, may entice people to look into your products or services on their own.

Looking for Collaborations

One benefit of social listening is finding who the best influencers are for your industry on social media. Influencers can directly affect how leads and customers view your brand and impact things like your followers or sales. Finding and connecting with these people can set you up for future collaborations and open you up to larger audiences. Working with influencers lets you become relevant in online communities through more organic methods that appear less like a sales tactic to the public.

Does the 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 people and things to which you’re listening. The exact information may change, too. Consider the focuses for some of the following industries:

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

Related: The Emotions of Industries

What Strategies Can You Use for Social Listening?

There are five common areas where marketers and researchers focus when doing social listening. You can use them to help guide your strategies:

1. Brand Health

Understanding how the public perceives your brand is a key goal of social listening. Through this strategy, you can learn about people’s positive and negative opinions about your brand and what features make them feel that way. Through the process, try to answer questions like:

  • How do customers feel about my company, product, or brand?
  • Does the sentiment around opinions match my conversion numbers?
  • What kind of content do users share about my brand or company?
  • Does my social media audience align with the audience on other channels, such as my website, store, or blog?

With the answers to these questions, you can make strategic changes, such as:

  • Finding and answering your most frequently asked questions
  • Providing content that solves customers’ most common issues
  • Building campaigns around points customers already love
  • Discovering your most engaged audience for each platform

2. Industry Information

Social listening can tell you more about current and upcoming industry trends. Analyzing hashtags, buzzwords, and trending topics can tell you where the market stands and where it’s heading. Doing this can help 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

3. Competitive Analysis

Reviewing data about your competitors can tell you exactly what you’re up against when working on winning over your audience. With a social listening strategy in this area, you can:

  • Discover the competitor’s share of the social media audience
  • Understand areas where the competitor’s customers are unsatisfied or looking for a better experience
  • Find a competitor’s content that outperforms your own
  • Identify new services, products, or other solutions your competitor offers to the market

4. Campaign Analyses

Social listening can tell 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 campaign posts
  • Gather the sentiments about specific campaigns
  • Identify influencers engaging with your campaigns
  • Understand the audience demographics that respond positively and negatively to the campaign
  • Determine key themes in the campaign and discover if they were the ones you originally intended to be primary


You can further segment these insights by demographics, network, or content type to get a better picture of how each campaign performs.

5. Event Monitoring

You can 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 the event. This can help you learn more about people who attended or identify potential leads for future events. Tracking the discussion online can tell you what message the audience received and understood and 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 Tool

There are plenty of tools that can help make your data collection and analysis easier. Some work with specific platforms, while others cover a variety of sources. Understanding which one is compatible with your channels and the data you’re trying to source can help you choose from the available options. Need help to find 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 can help you decide how to conduct the process. Running a brand audit may give you some insights into why you can or should take part in 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 can help you narrow the process for conducting your social listening. This plan can guide your actions and data collection to keep you on track towards reaching your goals.

4. Choose Data Sources

Where are you going to collect data? Your tools may limit what sources you can access and for which you can record data. A good place to start your social listening may be social media platforms or areas of the internet where you have a business presence. Starting with just a few sources and expanding to more as your listening grows may be beneficial so that you’re not overwhelmed by too much data in the beginning. This may also make it easier to segment data into further subsections.

5. Uncover Topics and Keywords

What are people saying about your company, brand, or products? You might not find out unless you create a list of topics and themes to search for online. Consider first exploring your direct mentions, for which you get notifications anytime someone tags you. You can also look at related hashtags and keywords for your industry.

6. Record and Analyze Data

Many of your tools may make it easy to record data and keep it in one place so you can review it and compare it to additional data you collect in real time. But keeping a repository alone isn’t enough to give you insights into your audience, competition, or industry. Many tools also can compare pieces of data from different sources, audience members, or demographics to get a better idea of the sentiment of the mentions and conversations. Doing this can provide a larger picture of how people view your brand.

7. Repeat the Process

Social listening isn’t a one-time activity. You can conduct it in an ongoing fashion to make sure you’re always aware of industry changes and sentiment shifts. As you do this continuously, you may update and change your goals, topics, and keywords as you gain more data and information.

4 Tips for Conducting Social Listening

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

1. Choose the Right Words and Topics

To do social listening the right way, you need to know exactly for what you should be listening. The topics and keywords are different for each company and industry. They can also change over time with your business. 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.

2. 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 can influence your advertising and marketing strategies for those locations in the future.

3. Filter the Results

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

4. 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 can 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

Image via

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

Image via Hootsuite App Directory

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

Image via Hootsuite App Directory

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

Image via PCMag

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

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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

Image via Social Marketing Technology

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.


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