what is social listening?

What is Social Listening?


Content manager at Brand24 | Writer & Host of #SocialRecap

What is social listening?

Social listening is a term that’s virtually everywhere these days. Lots of people talk about it, even more are using it, but few have taken the time to explain it. This blog post is long overdue.

So what is social listening? In a nutshell:

Social listening is the practice of monitoring publicly available online conversations to access key insights about your brand, your industry, your competitors… or any other topics that may be of interest to your business.

Pretty straightforward.

You’ll often hear the words data, analytics, and statistics attached to social listening, and while this may seem intimidating, it’s really not that scary. You’ll see how easy it is to manage below.

Now, let’s get to it!

What is social listening used for?

Companies use social listening because brand awareness is the key difference between an effective strategy vs an ineffective strategy.

When a company has access to publicly available online conversations about their brand, their product, their competitors – among other topics relevant to their business – they can use this data to fine-tune and boost their strategies. And identify where necessary changes need to be implemented.what is social listening used for

Awareness of all the opinions, perceptions, and reactions to your company (along with your products and campaigns) is crucial to creating strategies that work.

  1. The first step to gaining awareness (and maintaining it) starts with finding the conversations that are relevant to your business. Social media monitoring tools like Brand24 make this painless.
  2. The next step is to put your thinking caps on and apply social listening to the data. Social listening is about understanding what all these conversations mean for your company.

Basically, social media monitoring is the beginning and foundation of social listening. It’s how you find online conversations that are relevant to your company and round up all the necessary data.

Enter social listening.

To truly understand what all those individual conversations mean for your company, you have to apply your social listening skills and look at all the data together as a whole in order to get a clear view of the bigger picture. This awareness will allow you to make more accurate predictions so you can create effective strategies.

That’s the idea behind ‘What is social listening used for?’.

Still with me? Great!

Now, let’s move onto What is social listening used IN?!

What is social listening used IN?

The usefulness of social listening is abundant. Imagine having unlimited access to your own personal focus group! One that consists of users from all backgrounds and every corner of the market, who openly give you candid feedback – about your company, your product, and your strategies.

That’s what social listening is about; finding all those online conversations that you’re interested in, so you can get customer feedback about your product, your company, your strategies – and anything else that may be relevant to your business.

This is how you get candid feedback without disturbing your customers

Which is why companies use social listening in:

  • generating leads
  • customer service
  • getting customer feedback
  • customer engagement
  • tracking the progress of a marketing campaign
  • identifying brand ambassadors & candidates for influencer marketing
  • reputation management
  • competitor research
  • content creation and distribution
  • and much more…

We can roughly divide these into 2 sections:

  • Social listening for passive opportunities
  • Social listening for active opportunities

Now, let’s talk about social listening for passive opportunities!

What is social listening for passive opportunities?

Social listening for passive opportunities is when you take conversations that you find with social media monitoring, and extract important information about your customers. These key insights help you develop methods and strategies that speak to your customers – without disturbing them.

This applies to:

  • getting customer feedback
  • competitor research
  • reputation management
  • finding topics & distribution channels for content
  • tracking the progress of your marketing campaigns
  • and more…

Social listening for customer feedback

Remember that personal focus group I mentioned? Social media monitoring tools pick up on publicly available conversations across the web that are relevant to your interests (like your company, your product, your campaign, etc), and put them all together in one place. Like this:

Social listening for customer feedback

Find conversations about your own company or product

I monitored mentions of Dove. This is just a tiny sample of all the mentions collected inside the Brand24 dashboard, but by applying social listening, we get an idea of the general types of conversations people are having about Dove, and what they associate with the brand.

Social listening for competitor research

Just like you monitor what people are saying about your own brand, you may want to do the same for your competitors.

Listening to consumer conversations helps you identify your main competitors and understand why people choose your product or your competitor’s product.

social listening for competitor research

Went shopping yesterday…bought my dove alternative.. Olay decent competition.

Posted by Sandra Charlene on Thursday, October 12, 2017

In this case, Dove and Olay (among other brands) seem to be good options for people with sensitive skin, but stickiness may be an issue.

Social listening for reputation management

A major aspect of reputation management is gauging the public sentiment for your company, your product, or your competitor.

Social media monitoring tools help you monitor what people are saying with the help of various metrics, such as number of mentions, social media reach, number of likes, number of shares, number of comments, and sentiment.

social listening for reputation management

Gauge public sentiment for your own company or product

This helps you narrow down what might have caused sudden spikes or drops in interest for your company. The line graph in the Brand24 dashboard shows a sudden spike in interest for Dove around October 9th, including a steep surge in negative sentiment as depicted by the red line.

This happens to be when Dove released an advertisement that the public labeled as “racially insensitive”.

Coincidence? Not so much.

A social media monitoring tool gathers the data you need, as seen above. Applying social listening skills will help you identify causes for abnormalities in the data.

Begin social media monitoring as soon as possible for historical data. This will give you something to look back on and compare results with as you engineer newer and more effective strategies.

Social listening for content

I love this quote from John Peretti, the CEO of Buzzfeed:

So true!

Apart from creating stellar content that your audience actually wants to consume, you need to distribute this content in the right places. This means, you need to find out where your audience is actively talking about your company, your product, or your industry and make sure your content is available on those platforms. If they’re talking about you, they’re interested. Make it easy for them to find your content – instead of just your competitor’s content.

It’s important to know how your customers are talking about you. Below, we see that over 40% of conversations about Dove take place on Facebook.

And roughly 1.5% of overall mentions are from videos.

Historical data would tell you whether the amount of videos is increasing or decreasing. Metrics like these (and more) are available in the Brand24 Analysis Tab.

social listening for content

But where can you distribute your stellar content (besides Facebook)? Start by checking out your list of Most active sites – the results may surprise you!

social listening for content

Get your own list of Most Active Sites

Facebook is (surprise, surprise) #1 on the list of most active sites where people are talking about the company. However, we see that Youtube is #5, with forums like Reddit and 4Chan at #4 & #8.

Since different types of communication work better on different platforms, it’s important to tailor marketing materials to specific platforms. Create specific content for Facebook, video content for YouTube, and advertisements or other forms of content that are appropriate for forums.

Social listening for campaign progress

A marketing campaign today would be incomplete without a hashtag. Whether it’s dedicated or pre-existing, a hashtag is a great marketing tool to help you track conversations and determine the reach of your campaign.

Hashtags are used everywhere, but especially on Twitter. How do you see how many times a hashtag has been used on Twitter? Like this:

Inside your Brand24 dashboard, just select Twitter from the horizontal menu below the line graph, and you’ll get the total number of times the hashtag you’re monitoring has been mentioned.

social listening for campaign progress

Track your own hashtags

You can also see how many times your monitored hashtag has been used on Facebook and other platforms.

Each mention is listed below and contains other metrics:

  • the number of followers the author has
  • their Influencer Score – indicating the Social Media Reach that the author has
  • and the total number of interactions – the number of likes, shares, & comments the mention has received.

social listening for campaign progress

These are just a few ways to satiate your curiosity about ‘what is social listening for passive opportunities?

Now, let’s talk about social listening for active opportunities!

What is social listening for active opportunities?

Social listening for active opportunities is about taking conversations that you find with social media monitoring, and identifying active opportunities to interact and build relationships with your customers.

This applies to:

  • lead generation
  • customer service
  • customer engagement
  • identifying brand ambassadors and candidates for influencer marketing
  • and much more…

Social listening for generating leads

Generating leads is a matter of making your product known to your customers.

A lot of people ask for recommendations online. I’ve been monitoring the phrase ‘where can I find’ online, and my social media monitoring tool has found over 52,000 occurrences of this question.

A typical example looks like this:

Yes! Where can I find it?

Posted by 30 days on Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Most of the comments are suggestions of particular brands, readers linking to their friends, along with comments like “share it when you find it!”. Clearly, a product in demand.

Among all the product suggestions that have been mentioned, I don’t see the one I swear by. It might not erase every trace of fatigue and exhaustion on my face, but I love it and I don’t know what I’ll do when I run out.

It’s a shame that nobody has suggested it!

Questions like this are perfect opportunities for companies to generate leads by reaching out to their audience and making sure that they’re aware of their product.

Social listening for customer service

Customer service is about responding to your customers – and fast.

Consumers are increasingly turning to social media to reach a company. Consider these statistics:

Customer service interactions on Twitter have increased by over 250% in the past 2 years (Twitter).

77% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service (Forrester).

Even if you’re not quite sure about how to answer a customer’s question, a brief initial response – just to let them know that you’re working on it – goes a long way. But remember to follow up!

This post is a good resource on responding to different types of situations online:

How to Respond to Your Social Mentions: Positive, Negative, & Neutral

Social listening for customer engagement

Wondering what the difference is between customer service and customer engagement? Customer service is about helping a customer with a problem or answering their question.

Customer engagement is about engaging with your customers to build relationships.

Something as simple as a 6-word response can help you start to build relationships with your customers, like Wendy’s does:

No questions, no issues, but the customer was happy to engage:

It’s about building relationships with your customers, which is impossible without engagement!

Social listening to find brand ambassadors and influencers

This topic has been covered in great detail in these articles:

How to find the right Instagram influencer for powerful Instagram influencer marketing

Identifying Twitter Influencers for Smarter Influencer Marketing on Twitter

Don’t let the titles fool you. These was written as extensive guides to finding the right Instagram influencers and Twitter influencers, but you can easily use the same methods to find your ideal influencer on other platforms (Facebook, YouTube, other social platforms…).

Wrapping up… what is social listening about?

We’ve covered a lot today, so let’s review!

Social listening is about awareness, and awareness is the key difference between strategies that succeed vs strategies that fail.

We can use the awareness that we gain from social listening in so many ways, be it accessing crucial insights with passive social listening, or finding key opportunities to engage with active social listening.

Get the data you need from your social media monitoring tool and apply your critical social listening skills to gain full awareness of the effectiveness of your strategies. It’s the most efficient way to find out what works and what doesn’t, which is exactly what companies need to succeed in today’s fiercely competitive conditions.