Social media is now part of just about every company’s marketing strategy. Some use it well, others, not so well. But one key element that should be part of any successful social marketing strategy is social listening.
Often misunderstood, people frequently think social listening means simply understanding how people are talking about your brand on social media, or examining your engagement numbers. Then, they assume you adjust your social content accordingly. While that isn’t entirely wrong, there is so much more to it and so much more you can get out of it.
Proper social listening can help you build better and more effective all-around marketing strategies. Through active social listening you can:
- Understand the health of your brand
- Understand your competitors
- Learn about your industry and markets
Since most companies—and more importantly their customers—are using social media, the knowledge and understanding that can be obtained from social listening can be the foundation of a better marketing strategy. Billions of people use social media every day. The conversations are happening. You just have to listen to them.
1. Understand Your Brand’s Health
You may think you know if people like your brand or product, but how are you coming to that conclusion? Surveys and focus groups are great for getting opinions at that moment. But how do you find out what those opinions were one month, six months, or even a year ago? By listening and analyzing the social conversations around your brand or product, you can gauge your brand’s current health, as well as how it has changed over time.
- Are people talking about you? If so, great! Has that volume of conversation increased or decreased over time? Social media is a fairly permanent record of discussions. It is possible to go back in time and look at historical dialog. You can identify where the peaks and valleys in the volume come. Are they around product launches or major announcements only, or is it a consistent topic of conversation? A constantly growing or stable high volume of conversation would generally indicate that your brand is healthy. If people are not talking about you, your brand and/or its social presence may need some work.
- How are people talking about your brand? There will always be people who are angry, but are people generally talking favorably or negatively about you? Social listening can help to identify the sentiment and the general emotion around the conversations about your brand. If your brand volume is growing over time, but it’s mostly negative, then your brand may not be as healthy as you thought. Public relations crises or product problems and issues can be spotted and addressed quickly before they become too big to overcome and severely hurt your overall band health. If positive conversation is increasing over time, you likely have a good, healthy brand. Social listening can show you in real time how healthy your brand is and whether or not that status is new, changing, or consistent.
2. Get to Know Your Competitors and their Audiences
As is the case for your own brand, social listening allows you to understand the conversation around your competitors, and this is a crucial aspect for any company’s marketing strategy. But your listening should go beyond identifying the type of content your competitors share on social media and what kind of engagement they receive. You should also be listening to your competitors' audiences and uncovering how they are talking about these brands:
- Is the conversation positive or negative?
- Is the brand actively engaging with their audience to have conversations, or do they only speak at their audience?
- What kind of information are your competitors' audiences sharing about them? Is it related to brand or products? Is it customer service-oriented? Are they discussing how much they like the brand?
- Does one competitor get more attention on social media than another?
- Is one competitor doing a better job on social than another?
Understanding this kind of information can help you to identify what is really important to these audiences and identify needs that may not be met by your competitors. In addition, you can uncover what the demographic and psychographic make up is of your competitors’ audience. Similar to how you want to know as much as you can about your competition, social listening can help you uncover what their social audience is saying about them and guide your own marketing strategy.
3. Understand Your Industry and Markets
Social listening is not limited to just listening to brand discussions. You can also use it to gain valuable knowledge about your industry and markets to inform or adjust your marketing strategy. For example, if you want to understand the social conversation around running shoes, you can isolate specific industry- and product-related keywords to listen for, such “running shoes,” or even brand names such as Nike or Asics, to see what kinds of topics people discuss in these areas.
- What is important to runners in regard to their shoes?
- Do they discuss how shoes fit?
- Do they discuss price?
- Are they looking for places to get the best deals on running shoes?
- Are people discussing their shoes with other runners to get opinions and feedback?
- Who are the major brands and retailers your market is talking about?
- Are these conversations that your running shoe brand might want to get involved in?
The list of questions goes on. But through social listening, you can uncover these conversations from actual users who tell you what their needs are and indicate important industry trends you may want to take advantage of. Also, as with your competitors’ audience, you can learn more about your industry's audience, which can help direct your marketing strategy to be more in touch with prospects and customers, understand what they feel is important and how to speak with them.
Understanding your brand’s health, knowing your competitors and their audiences, and knowing your industry and markets are the foundations of any business and are essential to building a strong marketing strategy. Social media provides a wealth of actionable insight into these areas—all you have to do is listen.
You might also find value in these social intelligence case studies:
- How Social Listening Drives Customer Experience for Electronics Brand
- Technology Giant Increases New Buyers by 289% with Social Intelligence
About the Author
Nick works in Social Media Intelligence at Harte Hanks and is responsible for providing social media listening and analytics, identifying and tracking emerging trends and threats, crafting recommendations to further business goals based on social data, and more.More Content by Nick LaBran