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The Ultimate Social Listening Guide - Never Miss a Social Mention

Philippa Dods

Mar 15, 2023

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Every day billions of conversations take place on social media: tweets, posts, comments, blogs, reviews, podcasts, and much more. 

Whatever business you’re in, it’s almost certain that many of those discussions will be relevant to you. People talking about your brand, competitors, the industry you work in, the problems you could help them with, and many other topics that could provide valuable insights for your organization.

But how do you find and make sense of those insights, when they’re buried under a rapidly growing mountain of social media data? 

This is what social listening tools and social media monitoring tools are for. They search social media for you and sift through those huge volumes of social data to extract just the pieces that are relevant to you, by searching for specific words and phrases, such as your brand name.

This produces a smaller, more manageable dataset made up only of the social media content that is specifically relevant to you, which can then be analyzed to provide useful insights.

And this isn't only relevant for social media marketing. Any company can benefit from a social listening strategy, as it will help you to better understand your potential customers and create data-driven marketing campaigns that will align with your business goals.

Table of Contents

Making Sense of Social Media Data

What happens in a day on social media? How many social posts are being published on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and co? How many social mentions are you missing out on?

In a typical day on social media 1.4 billion people log on to Facebook, 500 million Tweets are sent, and 95 million photos are shared on Instagram.

Social media listening platforms give people the power to easily explore all of this data to find meaningful information that can help them make better-informed business decisions.

Social media listening tools enable companies to identify hidden trends and patterns (via trend detection, trend forecasting, and trendspotting) amongst those billions of online conversations, spotting risks and opportunities that might otherwise pass them by.

This article will cover the basics of social listening and how you can use it to benefit your business and brand.

What is Social Listening?

Social listening is also known as social media listening or social media monitoring. It refers to the activity of discovering and analyzing content published on social media platforms, usually by focusing on a specific search term such as a brand name.

Current social listening platforms aggregate data from a wide range of sources, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest, blogs, discussion forums, and consumer reviews sites. With AI voice recognition technology, they can even scan the content of podcasts.

If you're looking for some podcasts to inspire you, take a look at the best financial podcasts, the best PR podcasts, the best retail podcasts, the best social media podcasts, the best SEO podcasts, the best Shopify podcasts, the best eCommerce podcasts, the top branding podcasts, and the best tech podcasts out there.

Tip: With social listening, you can easily find out about important social media statistics and make use of specific social media analytics like...

With social listening data, you can also dig down regionally. You can for example find social media statistics for Australia, social media statistics for the Philippines, social media statistics for Hong Kong, social media statistics for Singapore, social media statistics for Indonesia, social media statistics for Malaysia, UK social media statistics, social media statistics for Sweden, South African social media statistics or UAE social media statistics.

Social media can be broadly defined as any kind of media that makes it easy for members of the public to create and share content online, without specialist skills or equipment. A Social listening tool like Meltwater, therefore, is always seeking to add data sources from new platforms as they grow in popularity.

Businesses typically use social media to gain a deeper understanding of how consumers feel about their brands and products. But they can also learn a lot of other things, like what people think about their competitors, what gaps there might be in the market for new products, and what rising social media trends could change their industry.

Want to find out how the Meltwater Social Media Listening Platform can help you be more successful with your marketing efforts?

With the Right Social Media Listening Tool, Companies Can: 

Thanks to increased computational horsepower, it’s now possible for social listening platforms to ingest data in near real-time. That means when something is posted on Twitter, that content is available for analysis within the listening platform almost immediately afterward.

The results of users’ search queries are presented to them in a number of different ways, depending on their requirements: 

A white desk with an iMac on it. The iMac shows the Meltwater social media listening platform with social media analytics and a dashboard.

Why Use Social Media Listening Tools?

A lot of companies already use common ways of keeping an eye on their reputation — be it in the form of print monitoring, broadcast monitoring, measuring media coverage, or in the form of creating media analysis reports. So why not use tools for social listening in the same sense?

Social media use continues to grow year over year, even among the more mature platforms. In fact, since the pandemic of 2020, research found that people began spending even more time on social media, an unsurprising consequence of being in lockdown with limited opportunities to socialize in person. COVID-19 has also changed the future of marketing in that sense.

Social media is never static, it’s constantly growing and evolving. But one thing that doesn’t change is that when people use these platforms to create, share, and consume content, they leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs. That record of their online behavior is what we call social data.

--> Here you can read more about why Social Listening is important at all levels of business. Also, take a look at the best social listening tools and the best social media monitoring tools on the market.

Social Listening Case Study – Pride in London

Pride in London use Meltwater’s social media listening tool to make sense of conversations taking place online. Stephen Ward, Deputy Chair and Communications Director at Pride in London discusses the value of social listening.

Social listening helps us better understand whether key messages are resonating or becoming lost in the noise. We measure messages using volume and sentiment metrics. Looking at the tonality of conversations is particularly helpful in ensuring we continue to be objective with regard to the success of our campaigns.

Pride also use Meltwater to track their community growth and ROI. Their tremendous growth, both online and offline, is clearly reflected in the numbers.

In 2013-2014 Pride grew by 135%, from 2014-2015 growth peaked to 215% and indications suggest 2016’s community growth will follow the same trend. I attribute such positive growth to authentic engagement- reflecting community views in our messaging and bringing them to a wider audience through fully integrated and interactive campaigns. Says Stephen Ward, Deputy Chair and Communications Director at Pride in London.

Social data includes the actual content of people’s posts and comments, and also their likes, shares, and other engagements. Almost everything that happens in social media creates social data, which can all be analyzed in a social listening platform like Meltwater's.

Social Insights and Social Media Analytics

When people talk about social listening, they use the word “insights” a lot, but what does it actually mean? It’s quite an ambiguous term, but in the context of social media analytics, it typically refers to valuable information discovered through analyzing social data. Generally speaking, this is information that has hitherto gone unnoticed, and probably would not have been easily identified through any other means. 

Insights from social analytics could be discovered as a result of a deliberate and methodical analysis with the purpose of solving a specific problem, or they can simply be found by luck when examining the data. 

Some examples of social insights could be:

  • Comments expressing positive sentiment about your brand or product correlating strongly with a particular demographic.
  • Negative sentiment being strongly linked to comments around a specific feature or attribute of your product.
  • An increase in people talking about your brand, correlated to a particular time of the month, or coinciding with a regular event.

Tip: Learn more about how sentiment analysis works.

These are basic examples. Somebody who is skilled in the use of social media listening platforms would be able to perform a more sophisticated analysis of the data, to find deeper, less obvious insights.

Social insights are based on observation and analysis of social conversations around a brand or problem and, as we will see, can lead to strategic decision making.

What are the Benefits of Social Media Listening?

In many respects, social listening has replaced focus groups as a source of market research for brands seeking to understand consumer’s opinions. There are a number of reasons for this: 

  • Social listening makes it possible to listen to a much wider and more diverse audience – it enables you to tap into the ideas and opinions of billions of people all around the world.
  • It mitigates the problem of response bias commonly found in surveys and interviews because the data comes from people expressing themselves freely on social media. 
  • It’s a much quicker and easier option. Focus groups take time and resources to organize, whereas social media listening can be done very quickly, as often as required. 
  • Social listening is real-time – it gives you up-to-the-minute data on what people are saying about a topic right now. 
  • The process requires less budget, less time, and fewer human resources – only a computer and a social media listening tool are necessary.

Social listening can’t entirely replace market research, but it certainly makes it easier for marketers to get faster answers to a lot of questions. Professional market researchers are highly skilled in constructing research and surveys and analyzing responses, but this expertise comes with a cost overhead. 

This means that businesses now tend to use market research tools and consultancies for specific, large-budget projects where a high degree of certainty is required. Social listening is able to complement such projects and serve as a more accessible everyday source of market intelligence.

Want to see our social listening platform in action? Simply fill out the and get a free consultation.

A photo of a pair of headphones on a table. This image is the visualization of social listening

What Types of Data Can Be Measured through Social Listening?

Simply put, quantitative data gets you the numbers to prove the broad general points of your research. Qualitative data, on the other hand, brings you the details and the depth to understand their full implications. The two are complementary and, in order to fully understand data, both are usually needed.

1. Quantitative Data

  • The number of social mentions: the number of times a specific keyword (a product, brand, expression, or hashtag) is mentioned on social media
  • The scope of the social mentions: the number of Internet users potentially exposed to a message, calculated according to the audience of the people that have shared the message
  • The number of engagements: the number of interactions between users and content

Tip: Check out the most trending hashtags in Australia and the most trending hashtags in South Africa.

Quantitative data can be divided into two categories:

  1. Descriptive data: Gives you a trend or key figures, such as the number of new subscribers, engagements, impressions, or clicks.
  2. Actionable data: Contextualises this information by deepening the analysis. Answers questions such as; Where do my new subscribers come from? What type of content receives the most engagement? At what time should I post to get the most amount of impressions?

2. Qualitative Data

Qualitative data helps companies to better understand numbers. This is achieved by listening to online exchanges and conversations by consumers, which are undoubtedly full of useful information. If the quantitative data tells us what’s going on, the qualitative data helps us understand why this is happening.

There are two primary, or most useful, examples of qualitative data: sentiment analysis and trend analysis.

Sentiment analysis

The development of semantic analysis technologies has made sentiment analysis possible. This lets us know if a keyword, phrase, or name is mostly negative, positive or neutral, and is an extremely useful indicator for assessing the perception of a product, update, company, campaign, or CEO. By identifying peaks and dips in sentiment, we have a much better chance of understanding how audiences feel about a particular topic. It’s also useful in determining high positives – which may be due to an influencer having posted about you – or extreme negatives – which is often the tell-tale sign of a crisis.

Diagram of a senitment analysis based on data from social media listening

Trend analysis

No one has the ability to read through the millions of posts shared every day, but it is possible to automatically analyze correlations between exchanges and extract conversational tendencies. This is perfect for companies wanting to understand the context in which your brand or product is being talked about, and with which themes it is associated.

Example of a Word Cloud for Coca Cola based on social listening

How is social data recovered?

  • On social media networks: Most of the main social media networks have their own range of statistics and analysis tools, accessible through the users' business profiles. The data they provide can be great to use to understand the performance of your profiles and single posts.
  • With social media engagement management tools: Many social media management tools provide more advanced automated analysis for a more in-depth understanding of the data on social media. For example, Meltwater Engage enables companies to manage all social accounts from one platform and schedule posts to targeted audiences – saving social media managers time and effort – as well as benchmarking against competitors and measuring the impact of media strategies.
  • With social media listening tools and social media monitoring tools: For the most exhaustive analysis possible, it’s best to focus on not only your current community but those interested in your competitors and the wider industry.

Did you know? Salesforce Social Studio will soon be closed down. Learn how to prepare for the Salesforce Social Studio Sunset sunset.

The Different Ways of Using Social Listening

  • Reputation: Keep track of all social mentions of your brand and products to understand how your company is being perceived and what topics are surrounding it.
  • Crisis Watch/prevention: Anticipate crises and limit the chances of them going full scale by tracking your brand’s sentiment and potentially negative keywords. This allows companies to react as quickly as possible if something comes up.
  • Crisis Damage: Measure the scale of crisis damage and the impact of your recovery by benchmarking your brand sentiment in the months before and after a crisis.
  • Competitive Intelligence: Analyze the communication, news, and reputation of your competitors. Social media listening can enable you to predict trends, remain up-to-date with industry innovation, and stay ahead of competitors.
  • Trend Report: Identify key topics that drive conversations in your market. By understanding the relevant themes your target audience is talking about, you can discover technologies or trends that your company could be pioneers in.
  • Lead Generation: Discover exciting new business opportunities by listening for any aspect of your product or business along with “How To” or “Which Tool Do I Choose,” and engage with these consumers and their community.

Using Social Media Reporting Effectively

All of this social data isn't going to be very helpful unless it can be presented to people in a way that's useful to them, and that's what social media reporting is for.

Social media monitoring tools generally enable you to build reports that feature all of the key metrics and KPIs that are important to you and then have them automatically generated and distributed as often as required, whether that's weekly, monthly, or quarterly reports.

Once this functionality is properly configured and running on auto-pilot, it means that all of your stakeholders can receive their regular social media report that contains insights from you social listening efforts, without you needing to waste a lot of time manually pulling the data together and putting it into a presentation-ready format. The social media reporting tool should do all of the heavy lifting for you.

What kind of information should a social media report include?

  • Keyword mention trends: This most fundamental metric shows how frequently your brand (and other important keywords) are being discussed in social media, and whether that's trending up or down over time.
  • Sentiment analysis trends: Are positive or negative discussions of your brand increasing or decreasing? This is another key metric that's a great indicator of brand health and can give you an early warning sign of a crisis or opportunity that requires a fast response.
  • Related themes: Tools like word clouds provide an easy-to-understand way of showing the most commonly used words and phrases in discussions relating to your brand in a social media report. They add context to the keyword and sentiment trends, by social reporting the topics that are driving those trends.
  • Locations: Social listening tools can help you understand where in the world people are talking about your brand. So if your social media report shows that there's a sudden unexpected spike of brand mentions in, say, New Zealand, you'll know that there's something interesting happening that needs to be investigated.
  • Influencers: A key element of social media marketing is understanding who are the most influential voices in your market. Social media listening software can identify the people who have the most clout in relevant conversations and include them in your regular social reporting.
  • Social Media Channels:  It's important to use brand tracking (aka brand monitoring) via brand tracking software/brand monitoring tools to know where people are talking about your brand the most. Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Discussion forums? You can't engage with people if you don't know where they are, so your social media reports should include this information. For more details check out our blog about Facebook monitoring. We also support the unique case of Korean social media and have a list of the top Asian News Channels & Websites to follow.

How to Start Your Social Listening Project

Follow our step-by-step process to get your company's social listening strategy off the ground!

1. Define your goals

  • What do you want to get out of the tool?
  • Do you want to know your consumer better?
  • Stay ahead of your competition?
  • Protect your reputation from a crisis?

2. Determine channels to monitor

Think about your goals and whether they are achievable on the social media channels where your audience hangs out. Any good social listening tool will be able to showcase which channels your audience is communicating on. If, for example, your goal is to drive people to your website, Instagram isn’t the best platform for this as you’re pretty restrictive when it comes to where you can post a link.

3. Choose the right tools

We’ve provided a few tips to help with your search for the perfect social listening tool below:

  • Consider the search mode: Searches can become quite complex, so it’s imperative that you filter your searches to only what is most relevant (especially if you are a company with a generic name like Apple). Get to grips with how the Boolean searches work to really amplify the impact that social media listening can have on your brand.
  • Filter in customer service: Some social media listening tools, like Meltwater’s, come with dedicated Account Managers, enabling you to get the most out of the tool – not to mention the fact that Account Managers are especially helpful in times of a crisis, which you never know might hit!
Photo of a plant, a pen, a notebook and a smartphone on a white table

4. Set up alerts

To really stay on top of your game, set up alerts so that you never miss an important social mention of your brand, competitor, or industry. You can choose whether you want to be alerted on all mentions or as soon as a crisis or major trend emerges.

5. Analyze and compare your social media metrics

In a couple of very simple steps, you can create a visually appealing page of insights that can be understood with ease. We call these dashboards. Social media dashboards enable you to see all your most important social media metrics at first glance.

Dashboards are custom-made, so you can be as high-level or granular as you want. This typically depends on the person using the dashboard to make sense of the conversation. For example, your social media manager will be interested in starting a conversation with influencers compared to your CEO who may be interested in seeing social media share of voice. The dashboard can analyze a whole range of metrics including trending themes, media exposure, sentiment analysis, or share of voice.

Screenshot of the widgets to choose from within the Meltwater social media listening platform.

6. Share your results

Meltwater also offers a branded reporting service which is part of the social analytics you get, using the insights found through social media listening. Similar to the dashboards, the reports are compiled specifically for you and include whichever stats and insights you choose. You can then share your hard work and the results with colleagues, clients, or whichever department the results concern using our Newsletter feature.

Create an action plan: Social media listening is not just about social monitoring, but also about taking action. Some tools provide such thorough analysis and actionable insights that creating a plan of action is quick and easy. In the fast-paced, digitized world we live in, being able to make these kinds of plans and decisions quickly is crucial.

Get Started with the Meltwater Social Listening Suite Today

Want to learn more about social listening, reporting, and engaging with Meltwater? Fill out the form below and contact us today!