There’s been a lot of talk lately about social listening, which is another term for social media monitoring. At a technical level, social listening is an eloquent name for “search.” With billions of social conversations happening out there simultaneously, finding the ones that are relevant to your business effort can be like finding a needle in a haystack. I’m sure you’re totally awesome, but you’re not superhuman. So don’t try to be superhuman. Use a tool.
Every business needs to leverage social media if it wants to stay competitive and engage effectively with its audience. If you want to get the most out of your social media efforts, the importance of using a social media listening tool to track your results is widely known, however, if you really want to understand your micro and macro environment, it helps to go deeper and find creative ways to benefit from the insights found using social media monitoring or listening strategies. Let’s look at some of the ways this can help your business (and not just in the marketing or PR team!)
Many of your potential customers haven’t yet heard of you or they don’t realize you have a solution for one of their problems. Social listening is one of the best ways to identify such prospects so you can show them what you have to offer. When someone has a problem, they often begin their search for a solution by asking questions. They may do a simple Google search. They may ask a question on a site such as Quora. Or they may go to a discussion forum or Facebook group that deals with this type of issue.
Social listening tools can help you quickly identify relevant queries. It doesn’t matter if your business makes nutritious pet food, designs SEO software, sells real estate, or makes custom jewellery. When you find people who are seeking exactly the type of product or service you supply, you have a strong prospect. Social listening lets you find your customers as soon as they express a need. While ads are often seen as intrusive, when you contact people who are urgently seeking a solution, they’ll be glad to hear from you.
People do plenty of complaining on social media. Many of these complaints are directed against businesses. Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other reviews sites are full of negative comments about poor service, defective products, misleading advertising and other issues. Monitoring these conversations can help you “steal” or poach dissatisfied customers to your business. While this may seem like a sneaky tactic, it’s perfectly ethical. You aren’t badmouthing the competition. Their customers have already done so. You are simply offering them an alternative. Social listening software lets you monitor the competition as well as conversations about your type of business.
When you apply this strategy, you have to be sure you can actually supply a better alternative. Keep in mind, you’re dealing with customers who have already expressed a willingness to post complaints or bad reviews. However, if you’re confident that you can offer a superior product, better customer service, a lower price or another desirable alternative to the competition you have every reason to reach out. Social listening can help you find disgruntled customers and make them happy.
Your competitors can teach you a great deal about what your audience likes, as well as doesn’t like. You can find out which strategies are working well for them and which aren’t. You can observe who is responding to their posts and in what manner. A smaller company might learn valuable tips by “spying” on a much larger and more established business in the same niche or industry.
One of the easiest ways to track your competitors on social media is to simply follow them. This makes sense for many reasons. Following people on Twitter, for example, can help you gain more followers yourself. There are many other social media analytics software and services you can use to get detailed data about your competitors. Some of these tools let you perform searches for your competitors’ posts and replies. It’s also useful to keep track of which social media sites your competitors are using. This isn’t hard to find out, as businesses are eager to advertise their links. For example, if you notice that a competitor is active on Instagram and you don’t yet have an account there, it’s worthwhile to notice how successful they are. If they have lots of followers and engagement, that’s a clue to try marketing there yourself.
Social listening is a powerful tool for reputation management. You always want to be aware of what customers are saying about you whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or a review site. One mistake made by many brands, however, is to use reputation management mainly as damage control. While you do need to respond to criticism and negative reviews, it’s equally important to reward people who say nice things about you. When monitoring conversations, don’t filter out the positive comments and reviews. It can be very powerful to comment on complimentary posts. Even a simple “Thank you!” or “Glad you enjoyed your meal!” makes the customer feel rewarded. Everyone likes to be acknowledged. Even neutral mentions are worth commenting on. For example, someone might casually post “Had lunch with Bob and Mary at Mario’s Pizza today.” This isn’t a review and doesn’t say anything positive or negative about the business. However, if you’re the owner you could take the trouble to comment “Glad you stopped by and hope you had a great meal!” This type of outreach helps you bond with customers and makes it more likely they’ll think of you next time they’re in the neighborhood or seeking the type of product you sell.
Social listening helps you identify influencers in your industry who can help your brand grow. Search for discussions centred around popular keywords in your industry. Find out who people are following in these fields. You can then start subscribing to their newsletters, following them on social media and reaching out to them in other ways. It’s not always easy to connect with influencers who are world famous. You can start with micro-influencers who may not have millions of followers but who have a smaller but loyal audience.
Another benefit of social listening is to find your own most enthusiastic customers. These can become your brand ambassadors. Offer them encouragement by reaching out to them and offering them rewards for spreading the word about your business. While social listening helps you find influencers and brand ambassadors, it’s still up to you to build relationships with them. Remember that the more value you offer people, the more willing they’ll be to do something for you in return.
If you’re looking to grow your business, social listening can help you do this. When scaling up, you need to keep your customers’ needs first and foremost in your mind. You can and should question and survey your current customers about their needs and preferences. Social listening, however, lets you go broader and look at your target industry across social media and the internet. Identify products you don’t currently sell or services you don’t currently provide that people in your field might be seeking. For example, if you have a fitness center you may identify a type of exercise class that’s popular but you don’t yet offer. If you run a salon, look for products and treatments your customers would appreciate. This is another way that monitoring the competition can be fruitful. Find out what they’re offering that you aren’t. By listening to conversations you can determine how popular these offerings are and whether it’s worth it to add them to your own business.
Business development teams should be some of the most fervent and most frequent users of social search. To start, it helps to understand what has driven the most conversations about a prospective client over the past year, and see how a brand compares to its direct competitors. Beyond that, business development teams can work with strategists, planners, and others to better understand the category and market where the prospect operates. For a home improvement retailer, then it would be helpful to see the kind of language people use when buying a new home. For an auto manufacturer, one can research how much consumers care about certain attributes such as safety versus technology features. Pitches are often won by empathy – how much does the client feel you truly understand and care about their business? Social search is one reliable way to achieve that.
Now more than ever, it’s essential to stay at the leading edge of your field, niche or industry. That’s why it’s useful to monitor discussions about the latest trends or news. This is especially important if you’re in a fast-moving field such as technology, but it really applies to every industry. If you have a restaurant, you’ll want to keep up with the latest food trends. If people are suddenly raving about a new dish, beverage or dessert, you might want to put it on your own menu. If you’re in fashion, you surely want to know what people around the world are wearing. The same for any industry. As soon as people get interested in something, they start posting their thoughts and images about it on social media. Those who monitor this activity have an edge.
Brands can use social listening to set up alerts for posts threatening their supply chain. This protective alert feature can be used to protect the future of companies and their suppliers. For example, brands can set up keywords to provide details about potential product recalls or negative product experiences spreading socially, leaks of confidential corporate information, and security threats directed.
Data doesn’t exist in a vacuum and neither should teams! Insights found via social listening can also be used across your organization, therefore breaking silos down, for example, it can be used for:
For those of you just starting out with a social effort, there are free and freemium social listening tools out there. These tools are free because they parse a limited number of data sources for results, and they're a good way to dip your toe in the water of social monitoring. Once you’re running a serious social media marketing program with measurable business results, you’re best off with a social listening tool that delivers both data and insights associated with that data. Something as simple as a word cloud will give you quick insight into what’s going on in social chatter around your topics of interest.
If you’re wondering, “Why can’t all these tools be free?” the answer is simple. Beyond “Well, somebody has to build and maintain them,” the fact is data isn’t free. Meltwater, for example, gathers as much data as is technologically possible (for you more advanced tech folks, yes, we do get the entire Twitter firehose), and then delivers both the source results and the business insights around them.
If your presence is global, you may also want to monitor in multiple languages and translate the results to your native language. But no free tool will support that.
These are some of the top ways to get the most out of your social listening tools. If you’d like to discuss any of the points mentioned above, let us know, we’d be happy to chat!