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Using Social Listening to Inform Your Content: The Complete Guide

19 Min Read

Building an online reputation is generally a good thing. For people to talk about your brand online, they have to know your brand exists. This is the “brand awareness” phase of any marketing strategy, and if people are talking about you, you’ve done that part right. The messy side of being talked about online is when you’re developing a negative reputation. To know where you stand, you have to make an effort to understand how people feel about your brand.

Before the rise of social media, understanding exactly how people felt about your brand was difficult. Monitoring the results of ad campaigns and sending out surveys can only tell you so much about how people truly feel about your brand—and your marketing efforts.

Thankfully, today it’s much easier. Enter social listening.

What is social listening?

Social listening is the term we use to describe the process of monitoring what people are saying about your brand online. In other words, it’s like the tech-savvy version of eavesdropping.

Some people use the term social listening interchangeably with social monitoring, but they’re actually subtly different. Social monitoring is the practice of keeping track of what’s going on in your social accounts. This could be as limited as tracking when your brand is tagged or mentioned on a platform and monitoring DMs for conversations.

Social listening takes social monitoring one step further. It requires analysis and, ideally, taking action based on what you’ve learned. You’re choosing to look beyond the face-value numbers and metrics to understand why you’re getting the results you’re getting and, most importantly, how you can use what you’ve learned to improve.

what is social listening
Source: Hootsuite

Why is social listening important?

Most brands are doing some form of social monitoring, but very few teams have unlocked the true potential of social listening. Done right, it could be one of the most powerful tactics to impact your marketing strategy.

Here are just a few of the reasons why social listening is so important:

1. Monitor your online reputation

As we mentioned above, social listening is a little bit like eavesdropping on your audience. If you’re listening carefully (which in this case, requires setting up your strategy to capture the right information), your audience will tell you what they like and don’t like about your brand.

2. Get ahead of issues and questions right away

If you find anything negative as you’re monitoring your overall reputation, social listening allows you to get ahead of the problem early. This can save you from an unsatisfied customer telling everyone they know (and everyone they don’t know, via social media)  to avoid your brand at all costs. When you find someone talking about a negative perception of your brand or reporting a negative experience, you can address that concern as if it came directly through a customer support channel to right any wrongs that may have occurred. If you notice many people citing the same complaint, that’s a good indication that you have a big-picture problem on your hands that should be addressed before it affects more of your audience.

3. Determine the effectiveness of your marketing efforts

There are some marketing goals that allow you to very clearly measure results. But others, like brand awareness, are more difficult to nail down. Social listening is especially effective at helping you understand the impact of your marketing efforts on any goals that might be more vague, like brand awareness or brand reach. Plus, if your audience mentions specific campaigns or touchpoints they’ve encountered from your brand, you can incorporate what they’re saying into your metric-based results to get a more holistic picture of your success (or lack thereof).

4. Assess where you stand compared to your competitors

Just like you can monitor your own reputation online, you can also keep track of how people are talking about your competitors. If you’re especially lucky (or you’re a larger brand with lots of social mentions), you may even be able to find people directly comparing you to your competitors. This can help shape the attributes of your brand you play up and the attributes you either don’t mention or work to improve. In general, you’ll benefit from promoting features that are a strength for your brand but a weakness for competitors.

5. Source user-generated content (UGC)

We talk about UGC often at Lemonlight, and that’s because it’s incredibly valuable for your content strategy, especially when it comes to video. Social listening helps you track down authentic, useful UGC without having to specifically ask for it. Note that if you find content this way, you’ll want to make sure to ask the person who shared the content for permission to use it for your brand.

6. Inform your content strategy

Last but not least, social listening can be a game-changer for your content strategy. This is because it gives you reliable insight into what your audience is talking about, where they’re spending their time, and what else seems to be working well across your industry. You can use social listening to find new keywords, source new websites to advertise on, and optimize the topics and formats for your content.

How do I get started with social listening?

Social listening tools

There are tons of great social listening tools out there, and most of them share the same key functionalities. On virtually every platform, you can track mentions of your brand or other keywords you might be interested in, monitor engagement with your brand’s accounts, and track the metrics that may inform your strategy going forward.

The list below contains many of the industry’s most recognized tools for social listening. If you’re in the market for a new tool, we recommend checking each of them out to compare the specific features to what your brand is looking for.

  • HubSpot
  • Sprout Social
  • Hootsuite
  • Buffer
  • BuzzSumo
  • KeyHole
  • SumAll
  • Mention
  • Awario

Social listening best practices

So, you’re on board with the importance of social listening. But what should you keep in mind during the implementation phase? Glad you asked.

Here are some social listening best practices to guide your strategy.

1. Monitor all platforms.

Anywhere your audience is, you should be too. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need an account on every trendy platform that your audience might take part in, but it does mean that you should have a procedure for gathering info across the board. For most brands, this includes all the standard social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It may also include TikTok, Pinterest, Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn, and anywhere else you think your audience spends time online. To help you out, we’ve even put together an article about a few social media platforms you might be wrongfully ignoring. Don’t miss out on valuable mention data just because you didn’t think to monitor one of these platforms.

While you’re at it, make sure you understand that each platform will have different kinds of results. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, your audience on each platform may slightly differ in terms of demographics or psychographics. Because each platform has different features, audience makeup and behavior is slightly different on each one. Second, each platform performs slightly differently in general. A “like” on Instagram can mean something different than a “like” on TikTok or Twitter, so be aware of the differences in engagement and user behavior across platforms.

2. Don’t ignore your competitors.

While it’s most important to track your own audience and mentions, keep up with those of your competitors, too. Competitor data will provide important context when interpreting your own data. Plus, if your audiences are similar enough, you can learn from what works and doesn’t work for your competitors and apply those learnings to your own audience. This saves you from having to test every single tactic you can come up with while still reaping the rewards of trying something new.

3. Clean your data.

Before you get too excited about your findings, make sure the data you’ve gathering is actually the data you intended to gather. Because social listening tools often work by compiling content containing specific keywords or phrases, you’ll probably accidentally include extraneous information that doesn’t relate to your search. This is especially true if your company name, product name, or anything else you’re tracking is also a common word in everyday language.

If that’s true, you may have to get creative with your search parameters. You could narrow the geographic location of your search, remove data points with keywords that indicate someone is not referencing your brand, or manually remove content that isn’t what you’re looking for. This extra step ensures that your findings are accurate and genuinely reflect the traffic you were hoping to capture.

4. Share your findings internally.

Your social media or marketing teams are not the only ones that will benefit from your findings. In fact, the insights you take away from social listening can (and should) influence virtually every department in your company. Support teams can get ahead of potential issues and reach out to customers who didn’t go through formal channels. Product development teams can iterate on future products using customers’ likes and dislikes of existing products. Media teams can identify new channels to explore when distributing content.

Consider compiling a regular report containing your social listening findings and sharing it with your entire organization. Chances are, someone else will benefit from it, even if you can’t see the overlap right away.

What should I be tracking?

While there are tons of metrics you could choose to track, there are a few must-haves that virtually every brand should make sure to include: share of voice, volume of conversation, rate of engagement, and sentiment scores. The image below shows what your results might look like for some of these metrics to give you an idea of the types of data you’ll have to work with. Keep reading for a breakdown of each of our recommended metrics.

social listening metrics
Source: Sprout Social

Share of Voice

Share of voice measures how much of the market/your industry your brand owns compared to competitors. Share of voice most often refers to paid advertising as a measure of how often your audience sees your brand compared to competitors. But, it can also be applied more broadly to capture how much people are talking about your brand compared to competitors. Having a high share of voice often means that your brand is seen as the authority in your space, which is good news for future sales.

Volume of Conversation

Volume of conversation captures the size of the dialogue surrounding your brand or topic. It serves as an indicator of how interested or engaged your audience is with your brand. The higher your volume of conversation, the more likely you’re generating buzz online. However, keep in mind that a high volume of conversation is not necessarily positive. This metric doesn’t take into account what people are saying, just how much they’re saying. If every mention that goes into this figure is negative, it changes the meaning.

Rate of Engagement

Engagement rates track how actively involved your audience is with your brand. It measures things like likes, comments, and social shares, although the specifics of what’s involved will depend on the platform being tracked. Engagement is a great way to understand what your customers care about. High engagement rates tell you that you’re doing something right with your content, while low engagement rates offer a chance to improve.

Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment analysis tools use algorithms that evaluate the tone of a given post or reply, and most will filter every mention into either positive, neutral, or negative categories.

Sentiment analysis is useful because it provides context for the rest of the metrics we recommend here. It measures whether the things being said about your brand are positive or negative, which puts into perspective the meaning of your other results.

Because of the categorization into positive and negative groups, sentiment analysis can also be a powerful tool for community managers to engage with audiences. Any message that falls into the negative category is an opportunity to resolve a complaint, while any message that falls into the positive category presents an opportunity for customer testimonials, user-generated content, or even a new brand ambassador.

social listening sentiment analysis
Source: Hootsuite

Competitor Metrics

As we mentioned above, don’t forget to monitor these same metrics for your competitors. If you can’t get an exact figure, at least make an estimate for each of these values—or consider qualitatively what other companies in your industry are getting right and what they’re getting wrong.

Conclusion

Social listening offers a treasure trove of information to apply to your content strategy. It tells you what your audience likes to talk about and engage with. It can show you product or service selling points that you hadn’t thought to promote before. It can point you to new platforms and content formats that you might be underutilizing.

The challenge here is that it’s easy to gather data and reflect on what it means for your strategy. What’s more difficult is actually creating a plan to implement changes. So, as you develop (or expand) your social listening strategy, don’t forget the most important step: adjusting your content to reflect what you’ve learned. Your audience (and your teammates) will thank you.

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