What Is Social Listening?
Social listening is the act of tracking online conversations around phrases or words—such as your company’s name or your industry’s buzzwords. Social listening is crucial for brands because it:
- Sets priorities
- Gets a dialogue going
- Builds up on-topic content
Few small businesses of today dare to operate without at least a couple of social media channels. More than 65 million businesses have Facebook local business pages, and Twitter and Instagram are some of the must-use platforms of the day as well.
But it might not be enough to simply have these pages anymore. You need to go deeper.
One of the increasingly popular trends in social media marketing is “social listening.” Social listening is the act of tracking online conversations around phrases or words—such as your company’s name or your industry’s buzzwords—so that you can then leverage these conversations into better opportunities. Maybe that means interacting with fans who didn’t properly tag you or use your hashtag, or seeing what the latest buzz is and then creating blog content around it that can deepen your company’s connection with the topic.
Think about it like this: If you walk into a crowded party, there’s no way you can hear every conversation at once and add your own insightful comment—a sure way to make yourself known. The internet is one gigantic party, and if you are actually listening to what people are talking about (especially if they’re talking about you), then you know who to engage with, and how to do so most effectively.
What Is Social Listening?
When customers and potential customers alike talk about your product or service, or your competitors, or trends in your industry, they might not always “@” you, as the kids say. Actually, 30% of tweets mentioning company names don’t include their Twitter handle, which means if you’re not looking for those tweets, you’ll probably miss them. That’s where social listening comes in. As a reminder, social listening is when a brand actively combs through all online conversations in which they’re mentioned—even if they’re not formally tagged.
Manual social listening might seem like an impossibly huge list, but social listening tools allow your business to see those once-lost conversations. If you use a third-party social listening tool to comb your social media feeds and forums for posts that mention your company name, you’ll get a more complete picture of what’s being said on the web, more quickly.
Social listening will help your company become more responsive and attentive to the needs of your customers, even the less tech-savvy ones, or the ones who didn’t expect to hear from you in the first place.
“It’s about being good to your customers,” says David Sanderson, CEO of Reelgood, a platform that combines all of your streaming channels into a single interface. “We’ve found that some customers are not always great at putting the exact hashtag they need, but they are reaching out to us—or complaining about the company, or saying something positive—and we want to reach out to those people. When you’re a small business, you really want to foster and show those early users a lot of love. And by listening, you can find those people.”
A number of tools are out there, both free and paid, that can help you listen to your social media and greater web mentions.
Using Social Listening Tools
At first, Reelgood tried using Google Alerts, a “content change detection and notification service” from the search giant that lets you know when you’ve been mentioned on the internet. But, believe it or not, this Google service didn’t measure up.
“We tried Google Alerts and found it to be terrible. The rare time we got a report, it’d be the wrong information,” says Sanderson.
So, they switched to Mention, one of many social listening services on the market that does media monitoring (social media, brand, and web) and offers several levels of services. Reelgood utilized the free service until they found out how useful more mentions and alerts could be.
“Mention is good—it gets news and pieces written about us, but we can also see if there’s conversations on Reddit or other forums,” says Sanderson. “Without Mention, we would have no idea that [people are talking about us]. Seeing those conversations are a good way to see the negative or positive things people are saying.”
Once you have a better sense of what people are saying, you can start turning these insights into actions that can improve whatever service or product you’re selling.
How to Use Social Listening
You might be reluctant to dive into even more comments, complaints, or questions about your company than those you already see on your timelines. There’s already enough to worry about between actually running your business and maintaining a web presence—do you really want more on your plate?
Creating a relative deluge of internet feedback might seem daunting, but there are some serious benefits to gaining deeper insights into your audience.
1. Use Social Listening to Set Priorities
One benefit is to take those negative and positive things you’re hearing from customers and use them to reorganize your priorities, as Reelgood did.
“As we’re building this product, we’re figuring out what features to prioritize. And a lot of people in these forums are saying, ‘I use [Reelgood], but I really wish there was an app.’ And now we have an iOS app launching tomorrow. We bumped building an app much higher on our priority list because we saw that demand for it,” says Sanderson.
You can also use it to get wind of what your competitors are doing, and how to best maneuver around them. Through Mention, Reelgood heard rumors that Apple was set to release an app similar to one they had developed—and so instead of going head-to-head with one of the world’s biggest companies, they focused their energies on improving their website.
This is a bit more advanced—Sanderson admits that Reelgood used to track competitors, but “you really quickly burn through the mentions in your account” when you do that, and it can get expensive to try to listen to a multitude of different conversations around the web at once.
2. Use Social Listening to Get a Dialogue Going
Another benefit is the ability to start constructive dialogues with users and customers who might otherwise have felt unheard.
“DirecTV was another good example,” says Sanderson. “We saw through Mention people on different sites saying, ‘I love it, but I wish it had DirectTV. So then we actually engaged with those people and asked, ‘What do you mean?’
“We didn’t know much about DirecTV’s offerings. We asked, ‘What are you envisioning? What would you want DirecTV on Reelgood to look like?’ They helped us understand it, we signed up for accounts, and now we’re in the middle of adding it.”
Often, when customers leave comments and concerns on sites like Yelp, or on help forums, they don’t expect the business itself to connect with them and clarify what they meant. This dialogue not only helped Reelgood expand their offerings but created a positive customer service experience for users who now know the service is listening—and willing to do something with the feedback they’re offering.
3. Use Social Listening to Build Content
Other benefits include being able to turn the questions, complaints, and compliments you’re hearing about your company into blog content, and in turn strengthening your site’s SEO ranking. The more quality content you create—content that actually speaks to trends in your industry, and includes important keywords and phrases that people are using and searching with—the better your site and related blog look to search engines.
Is Social Listening for Everyone?
Using a service like Mention seems like a no-brainer for tech companies and other businesses with a heavy digital footprint, but is it right for every kind of business?
When asked that question, Sanderson brought up an interesting example: “I think of my mom, who has a bed and breakfast. Social listening would be really helpful for her: She’s in Vancouver, and if there are events around tourism in Vancouver, she could decide to target certain people with her marketing. That’s how you’re potentially going to find out about this stuff before your competitors—get the information before the press release comes out.”
It all depends on how much you want to lean on the web to elevate your position. Your business may not have a digital focus, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an event, occasion, or trend that isn’t mentioned online that you can turn to your advantage. And if you want to use it to connect with all of your customers—not just the ones who @ you directly, all the better.
Social Listening: Some Final Thoughts
Running a business in 2020 means needing to attend the party that is the internet, whether you like it or not. Any good business must have a website and social media channels in this day and age. But if you’re not listening, your business might end being a bit of a wallflower, standing against the wall, feeling pretty cool but having nothing to say.
Hopefully, you’re the type that likes to get to know people at parties. If you are, you’ll have a good understanding of why listening to them, and responding with something fun, or useful, or interesting, is the key to success. Before you know it, everyone will want your number—and by that, we mean your business.