Social listening: how to turn social data into actionable insight


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At the end of 2022, nearly two-thirds of marketers agreed that social listening had increased in value over the past year, according to Hootsuite. But what is it, and why is it so important?

Social listening involves extracting and analysing publicly available information from social media channels, allowing a brand marketer to get closer to their customers by building powerful insights that inform their marketing. Social listening can take place across social networking sites, blogs, news sites, video and photo sharing websites, forums and message boards, as well as user generated content.

Data is collected in real time from multiple social platforms by tracking hashtags and identifying followers, and can be used to find out what they are talking about, what they are thinking, how they feel, and what they need from your business.

Social listening vs social media monitoring

It’s important to understand the distinction between social media monitoring and social listening. Social listening helps businesses to understand conversations and trends around their brand and the industry to make better, more informed marketing decisions. This is different to social media monitoring, which enables brands to service customers by monitoring for messages directly related to their brand and responding to those messages appropriately. Ideally, brands should monitor for their brand and product name and common misspellings; mentions of their main competitors; and people searching products in the area they serve.

Think of social media monitoring as the ‘what’ (what are people saying), and social listening as the ‘why’ (why are people saying this). Social listening helps brand marketers to understand their audience and improve campaign strategy by accessing the full conversation around their brand, industry, and related topics. Listening will enable marketers to understand the why, who and how: uncovering trends, and picking up on triggers and key touch points.

Image of phone with social media accounts showig

Planning a social journey

When planning a social listening journey there are several considerations to keep in mind. The first is audience. Do you want to listen to existing customers, followers of your brands, competitors, or product or keywords? Secondly, what is the listening topic? Is it brand sentiment, activity prior to a transaction, what they talk about in general, or are there specific subjects you want to monitor for?

Next, you will need to think about actions. Do you want to encourage them to act upon sentiment, identify triggers, detect where to promote a product, or stimulate lead generation? Finally, you’ll be able to use social listening to understand what your customer looks like, including their age, gender, demographic; discover their interests; understand who they follow; and find out their preferred contact channel.

An example of this when looking for marketing insight might be to listen to existing customers about specific subjects in order to understand what sentiments they act upon and identify where to promote your product. You’ll also be able to gather information on age, gender, demographic, interests and who they follow.

For example, a leading retailer for home and garden appliances approached us because they wanted to create a campaign that would drive new product sales for a new and improved hedge trimmer. Because previous campaigns had seen generally low response rates, they wanted to use a new channel to identify the best prospective customers for the product. Social listening was used to look out for phrases such as “cut the hedge last night” and “front garden looking great, but the hedge still needs some work”. We then combined this with property data to find households with hedges on site. The campaign saw an instant increase in response rates (174% above the response target) and a huge uplift in sales from the newly targeted campaign, resulting in a three-to-one ROI.

Why social listening matters

Integrating social listening data from across multiple social platforms as part of an ongoing marketing strategy is important for a number of reasons. It provides customer insight, enabling you to understand how your customers talk and feel about your brand, uncover their affinities and interests, know what they are talking about, and who they are following.

Spotify is a good example of this. Its @SpotifyCares Twitter account listens and responds to users’ questions or concerns, and provides tips, tricks and feature updates to its followers. This enables them to provide excellent customer service, build loyalty and improve their product (read more about that on Hootsuite here).

It also provides competitor insight, enabling you to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, understand who is following them and the sentiment across competitor brands. Back in 2014, Samsung used social listening to find out what iPhone users didn’t like about their devices, honing in on specific issues, such as screen size and battery life, where Samsung phones had the edge on Apple. They then ran campaigns that heavily promoted the advantages of these key features (read more about that here).

Social listening can also work as a lead generator, gathering insights on keywords and brands to create a prospect list and uncovering niche audiences. Finally, it can be used to trigger marketing activity, targeting consumers based on behaviour in a timely manner and identifying potential triggers that lead up to an action.

Combining geo-demographic data along with social listening provides a deeper understanding of a customer’s needs, and means that marketing messages can be optimised based on brand affinities, interests and mindsets. Social listening can help uncover an individual’s mindset – such as nurturing a healthy body and mind – with their affinities or interests – like hiking, nature, sports, fitness and nutrients. This then enables you to connect them to retail brands, TV shows and influencers they might like for more nuanced marketing campaigns.

A fundamental pillar of any good marketing campaign is to use the data available to deliver the right content to the right customers via the right channel at the right time. Now more than ever, social listening should be an integral part of brand marketing: elevating any consumer record, it’s a proven method to get results.

This article has been written with the assistance of Vicky Groombridge, Director of Products at leading data solutions provider Sagacity Solutions.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash.

Scott Logie
Scott Logie is Chief Commercial Officer at leading data solutions provider Sagacity Solutions, and Chair of the Customer Engagement Committee of the DMA (Data & Marketing. Scott has worked in the Direct Marketing industry for over 20 years, both on the agency and client side but always with the same outlook: to put customer data first in any marketing decision. He is an engaging, innovative and creative thinker. A highly experienced data-based marketer, Scott has worked with insurers, charities, automotive, FMCG, government and retail brands including some of the biggest in the country.


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