Social Listening: Definition, Tools, and Strategies for Business Growth

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Explore how social listening helps businesses gauge public opinion about their brand and discover the steps for implementing your own social listening strategy.

[Featured image] Two social media marketers discuss social listening data.

What is social listening?

Social listening, also referred to as social media listening, is the process of analyzing online conversations about your brand and your industry at large to find out more about your audience. It includes monitoring your social media channels for instances when your audience mentions your brand or offers feedback. Think of social listening as actively listening to your customers at scale and conducting sentiment analysis to improve your marketing. 

Questions that might guide your social listening efforts include: 

  • How does your audience feel about your organization? 

  • How do they feel about your competitors? 

  • How do they feel about topics related to your products and services? 

  • What topics do they discuss or show interest in online?  

  • What are their top needs, desires, and goals?

  • What are the challenges that consumers in this group experience in common? 

  • What questions do they ask most frequently? 

  • What’s the best way to connect with your target audience?

What’s the difference between social listening and social monitoring?

In your research into social listening, you may come across the term social monitoring. The two concepts are similar in that they both involve paying attention to the voice of the customer across social media platforms. There are some significant differences to keep in mind, as explored below.

Social listeningSocial monitoring
Broad focus on a brand, as well as industries, product categories, audiences, etc.Narrow focus on a specific company, campaign, brand, or product.
Interpreting social media conversations continually to shift marketing approaches for the long term.Responding to individual brand mentions.

 

Benefits of social listening 

According to Hootsuite’s 2022 Social Media Trends survey, 65.6 percent of over 18,000 participating marketers said social listening has become valuable and important for their organization [1].  

In addition to understanding your customers and target audience better and making smarter marketing decisions, social listening offers your business several benefits, including: 

  • Gathering industry and competitor data, from the perspective of your existing audience and potential customers

  • Understanding the customer experience your products offer 

  • Being able to avoid or mitigate PR crises 

  • Creating opportunities to collaborate with other brands or influencers 

For more on the importance of social listening, watch this video from the Google Digital Marketing & Ecommerce Professional Certificate

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Learn what social listening is and why it's such an important component of your social media campaign.

Social listening examples 

If you’re wondering how you can use social listening to market more effectively, here are some examples: 

  • When you find out what topics your audiences post about on social media, you can create customer experiences or new content to align with those interests. 

  • When customers post their frustrations with your products, you can improve the products and create tutorials showing them how to use them. 

  • When customers post positive comments about your brand or products, you can validate products and identify long-tail keyword opportunities for SEO marketing

How can social media listening increase customer advocacy? Because social listening prioritizes customers' authentic expressions, sentiments, interests, and opinions, a robust social listening strategy can help businesses design and market products that truly satisfy customers’ needs and goals. 

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3 social listening tools 

Social listening tools collect data from social media channels to help you understand how customers perceive and experience your brand. The three marketing software systems below include social listening in the functionality. Explore the starting prices and features to get a feel for a few of the social media listening tools available to you.  

Social listening toolStarting priceFeatures
Sprout Social$89 / monthAudience analysis, customer feedback, sentiment research, trend identification, competitor comparison
Hubspot$800 / monthList segmentation, reporting dashboard, post to social from anywhere, custom reporting
Hootsuite$49 / monthCustomizable reports, social inbox, publishing calendar, recommended time to publish

How to build your social listening strategy

In this section, you’ll begin building your social listening strategy. Follow the steps below to streamline your process. 

1. Set specific social listening business goals and KPIs. 

An effective social listening strategy starts with clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). 

Examples of goals include: 

  • Learning more about competitors and industry trends to help differentiate your brand and its products 

  • Heading off PR crises or tackling negative public sentiments

  • Generating new content ideas based on what your audience deems important 

  • Discovering new niche markets that may be interested in your products 

Examples of KPIs—the metrics you are measuring—include: 

  • Sentiment: Do people feel positively or negatively about your brand?

  • Influencers: Which social media accounts are talking about your brand, and who are their audiences? 

  • Popularity: How frequently are your brand, products, and relevant keywords mentioned in social conversations? 

  • Engagement: Which content related to your brand gets the most likes, comments, and shares? 

2. Choose a social listening tool. 

There are several social listening tools available, and it’s important to choose one that aligns with your business goals. What features do you need? What is your budget for investing in social listening software? How easy is it to set up each social media monitoring tool?  

Refer to the table above as a model for researching and selecting a social listening tool. Signing up for free trials can be a great way to experience each tool before committing to one. 

3. Investigate your audience more deeply. 

Compile specific insights from existing audience and customer data for social listening. What questions do customers ask most frequently? What do customers most love about your brand and products? What issues do they most care about, and how do they express their ideas? 

4. Make a list of what to listen for.

A list of relevant keywords and phrases will ensure you gather the most meaningful insights. Generate a list from the categories below and apply them to your social listening software settings.

  • Your brand name 

  • Your social media handles

  • Words and hashtags associated with your brand 

  • Topics your target market is interested in 

  • Industry buzzwords

  • The names of your products 

  • Your product category 

  • Slogans you’ve used

  • Audience insights you’ve gathered 

5. Identify the channels for gathering data. 

Keep in mind that relevant conversations about your brand and products can happen anywhere on the internet. It’s a good idea to monitor as many social channels as possible, starting with channels that your current audience and customers most use and adding other channels to your strategy over time. 

Read more: What Is a Marketing Channel? 8 Types to Prioritize in 2022

6. Filter your data.

To narrow and organize the information you need the social listening tool to gather, choose your filters based on your keyword list, sentiments, types of interactions (shares, likes, or comments), and more. 

7. Measure results. 

Schedule time in your workflow to measure the results of your social listening strategy. Using your KPIs as guides, examine the sentiment around your brand, the trending topics, the number of mentions, etc. Then, determine the actions you’ll take, based on the results, and continually refine your strategy.  

Social listening best practices

Remember: Social listening can be a powerful tool for improving your marketing because it brings attention to the voices of your customers. As you begin implementing your social listening strategy, keep these best practices in mind: 

  • Observe your competition for opportunities to differentiate your products and messaging. 

  • Identify influencers who can promote your brand to their audiences with authentic content. 

  • Monitor industry news and trends along with what your audience posts about to devise the most proactive social listening approach. 

Improve your social media efforts with Coursera 

Taking online courses can be a great way to learn more about social listening as well as digital marketing as a whole. Check out the Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate and the Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate to build skills and even explore career options. 

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Article sources

  1. Hootsuite. “The 9 Most Important Social Media Trends for 2022, https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-trends/#8_You_wont_post_anything_without_a_social_listening_strategy.” Accessed September 2, 2022.

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