Social (Media) Listening: Definition & Tools for Practical Implementation

In this article, you will receive a comprehensive definition of Social Listening, specific examples of Social Media Listening Tools, as well as frequently asked questions and challenges.

Table of contents
  1. What does Social Listening mean – A Definition
  2. The Importance of Social Listening for Companies
  3. Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media Listening (Tools)
  4. Successful Integration of Social Listening into the Marketing Strategy
  5. Methods and Tools for Social Listening
  6. Which tools are suitable for Social Listening analyses?
  7. The future of Social Listening
  8. Frequently Asked Questions and Misunderstandings about Social Listening
  9. Conclusion

Have you ever wondered: "What do users out there think about my brand or my product?", "How do they talk about us and what do they criticize?". Of course, you can spend a lot of time reading social media comments under your own posts, rummaging through direct messages or reading reviews on websites about your brand. However, this is often very inefficient and little supported by meaningful data. Although it is always commendable when brand managers work closely with customer feedback and understand what the world out there really thinks about them.

What does Social Listening mean – A Definition

Social (Media) Listening is a part of Social Media Monitoring, which basically represents the automated search for terms in social media. This often involves the use of special tools with specially created search agents, which normally search channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and smaller blogs and news sites, i.e. external websites outside the social media platforms. This results in insights regarding (Social-) Media trends, market movements, sentiments on general topics, but – primarily important for brands – on their own product or their own brand.

These are data sources that can be further processed for different topics in the next step: content planning, competitive overview, positioning, customer experience analyses. Why are these data important for us marketers or companies in general? 

The Importance of Social Listening for Companies

Social Media Monitoring is not only important for tracking previously set target KPIs, but also forms an important part of the qualitative analysis of your brand/product in the social media environment. This is best achieved through social listening. As the person responsible for a brand's social media presence, you should know what the target group thinks about you on the respective platform you are playing on, in order to accurately align your activities accordingly. Social listening is one of the best echoes that you can consider for your daily effort to meet the interest of your target group. 

The importance of Social Listening becomes clear when you look at its areas of application: Monitoring is a supplement to classic market research tools, but has the advantage of real-time feedback and real sentiments in a social media relevant target group. So it's a method that helps to capture opinions, trends, (customer) feedback, competitor analyses and market developments and transfer them into your own brand strategy.

This allows you to transfer the unfiltered, direct and honest opinion of the "social media" generation. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media Listening (Tools)

In addition to the advantages of social listening for companies mentioned in the previous sections, there are also challenges that should not be overlooked in this context. Let's take a look at a small comparison:

 

Benefits

Challenges

Direct and timely feedback

Data structuring due to data overload

Broad and customizable data basis

Data reliability

Time and cost efficiency

Correct interpretation of data

Real-time analysis option

Data protection restrictions

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Listening

In addition to all the positive aspects that social listening brings with it, there are some variables that you should keep in mind when using it. The challenge is primarily due to the processing of data. In the age of tracking restrictions in digital business, caution is also required when gathering insights in social listening.

It often happens that different tools display different results for a search term. It is important to understand, in the interpretation, which KPIs were used for the calculation, how the filters work and which data bases were used. This can be different depending on the tool.

Similarly, the opposite of more restrictive data is the mass of data that is available to you. It is important to structure yourself accordingly by asking yourself: What is the information you want to find out with this analysis? What is your hypothesis in this context? Accordingly, you should only pull and interpret this data from the analysis.

Example: If I want to know how often my hashtag used in a campaign was seen by users, I probably don't need to demonstrate the interaction rate. The question I'm asking myself is: "Users who noticed the campaign hashtag (measured by impressions, for example) have had a higher awareness of my offer during the campaign period."

Successful Integration of Social Listening into the Marketing Strategy

First of all, you should ask yourself what question you want to answer with the analysis of sentiments, hashtags and keywords on social media. Basically, it is always advisable to know as much as possible about your audience. But is the more the better principle valid here? Not necessarily. Because much more important is to ask yourself, what data basis do I need to make strategic decisions?

A social listening analysis is therefore just as much the basis for operational action within the social media strategy as performance analysis. Depending on the approach and topic, a social listening analysis can take place at irregular intervals. In general, a social media performance analysis (paid and organic) is recommended to be carried out monthly depending on the scope of the activities. A social listening analysis can be adjusted to this, can happen less frequently, but can also be automated in real time. This should be aligned with individual needs.

Your (Social) Marketing strategy gives you guidance on content, channels, control instruments and naturally the goals. To assess the success of these measures, sentiment analysis or social listening is used. It reveals how well or poorly the strategic measures are received by the users and to what extent the goals can be met. For example, if one goal in the marketing strategy is to increase engagement with the brand, you can find out through social listening and targeted keyword research the sentiment and thus the engagement with the brand.

How do you now integrate such an analysis into the marketing strategy? The answer is simple: Part of a comprehensive marketing strategy should already be the analysis of performance KPIs. A social listening analysis can be integrated into the standard analysis process using your own social monitoring tools. If you are already reporting performance on your social media channels, you can look at the same time how certain keywords are received in the community, how they are interacted with and further quantitative evaluations. If you look at this data regularly, the marketing strategy can be continuously developed. Especially the analysis of current trends and market movements helps with this. The use of Social Media Analyses is indispensable for a successful social media strategy.

Methods and Tools for Social Listening

Mainly two basic approaches are distinguished in social listening analyses: manual and automated.

A manual analysis means the hand-search for mentions and hashtags. E.g. via the Discover Feed. Here you can only aggregate very limited data, only quantitative data like the number of postings with the searched mention.

Qualitative analyses often fall out, like sentiments. A manual search also takes a long time and is therefore resource-intensive. Automated tools are much better suited for social listening analyses. There are countless providers on the market. They basically analyze social media data sources according to the previously entered search agent. This search agent should be cleaned up once or twice, because data can also be captured that might not have anything to do with the desired search term (similarity of terms in other contexts), but of course it is much more time- and cost-efficient than the manual search.

Here are some examples of Social Media Listening Tools, the best Social Media Listening Tools can be compared on OMR Reviews.

Which tools are suitable for Social Listening analyses?

As already mentioned, there are countless tools that only differ in minor details. Basically, you should make sure that if you decide for a tool, it displays the most important KPIs for you. What most tools display is the display of impressions, mentions, top influential posts, sentiments, trends, engagement. 

Furthermore, there are more specific KPIs, which depending on the need one or other tool more or less displays. Often, Social Listening integration is also included in Social Media Monitoring Tools or Social Media Management Tools.

Here are three examples of Social Listening Tools:

Hootsuite

is a comprehensive social media tool, which combines various social media marketing functions. It has social listening function besides editorial planning and analytics functions.

The following are exemplary social listening functions that are included in Hootsuite:

  • Competitive analysis: With this data you can compare yourself with your pears and read out trends.
  • Sentiment Analysis: With this you evaluate the mood that the social media users currently have about your desired search term. You can capture opinions, reputation, and feedback from your target audience.
  • Social Listening Dashboard: In a personalized dashboard you have different filter options, like channel filter or displaying KPIs relevant to you.

Facelift

is an all-in-one tool, which among other things has the possibility to do sentiment and social listening analyses. With a total of ten different features, Facelift covers almost all concerns around social media business.

The following functions are offered by Facelift on the social monitoring level:

  • Listening Tool: a comprehensive monitoring of mentions, opinions about products and services, trend analyses. It's easy to find out how people talk about your product or your brand, in what context, and then use that as a chance to address and deal with certain topics.
  • Trend Analysis: You can identify impulses and trend topics with Facelift through a controlled search agent and make deductions for operational things like editorial planning or even strategic questions.

Talkwalker

is a tool that has the special feature of focusing on social media monitoring and social media listening at the same time. On the other hand, in addition to the most common social media platforms, it can also scan external websites such as news sites, blogs and forums. This gives you a comprehensive picture of internet presence and the prevailing opinion.

These are the most important functions that Talkwalker has to offer:

  • Sentiment Analysis: Helps you get a feel for how your brand is talked about on the internet, what opinions (also from opinion-leading influencers) exist, and how external and self-perception match
  • Data source: The scope not only includes the common social media channels, but also news sites, blogs, forums, external websites
  • Smart Alerts: You can create a search agent for one or more terms and be notified in real time when there are new mentions or similar

Beyond that, there are of course more tools on the market that enable you to understand, based on data, how your brand or your product is perceived and understood in the social web and whether your content strategy is achieving what it is supposed to.

The future of Social Listening

The trend of data-driven work in marketing is omnipresent and no new insight. With the multitude of sources and data that are available to us today, it is unavoidable to base your decisions and strategies on this. Only in this way can you optimize your activities and avoid gut decisions that are often made in marketing.

The future development of social listening is probably obvious, because as in other analyses, the tools are becoming increasingly intelligent, they learn, offer more options and spit out even more data at the end. Not least because of the rise of artificial intelligence. There will be more filter options, segmentation possibilities and ways of presentation.

Another exciting scenario will be when social listening tools can analyze not only mentions and hashtags, but any kind of content, including images and videos. Some AI tools already offer image recognition, but the integration into social monitoring tools is still missing today. This technology is still in its infancy.

Frequently Asked Questions and Misunderstandings about Social Listening

The classic mistakes in social listening analyses lie either in the setting of the search profile or in the subsequent interpretation of the mass of data. If you are not clear about what question you want to answer with the analysis, you can quickly enter the wrong search profile. Should a social listening analysis be done with a certain campaign with perhaps a campaign hashtag or the sentiment to your brand name in general? 

One of the most common stumbling blocks is the interpretation of the data. A social listening tool can spit out a lot of data. Here it is important to categorize correctly. Assign related KPIs to each other, try to form clusters and dependencies. Put general industry trends in a temporal connection to certain mentions. Try to overlay campaigns or paid media effects. Throw out the data that does not contribute to the result, often you also have the possibility to personalize reporting dashboards. But the most important thing at the end: Check if your previously established hypotheses can be answered with the data you have.

Conclusion

My conclusion: Social Listening is an effective and thereby also necessary method within your social media presence to find out the "unvarnished" truth about your product, your brand and your content. It should be the claim of every marketer to take target group or customer feedback seriously and to optimize his product or service according to their needs. Of course, classic market research can also help with this, but if you want to quickly, cost-effectively and honestly find out data based on the interests of your target group, social media listening tools are excellent. And who wouldn't want to play "mouse" in their own community and see what users really think of them?

Virginia Singer
Author
Virginia Singer

Virginia ist Social Media Managerin bei fraenk – die Mobilfunk-App (eine Marke der Telekom Deutschland GmbH). Dort ist sie zuständig für den Social Media Auftritt und kümmert sich mit ihrem Team rund um die Themen Social Media Strategie, Creator Management, Paid Social, Content Strategie, Social Insights und diverse Vermarktungsthemen im Mobilfunksegment. 

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