Social listening analyses online conversations and discussions to show you exactly what your audience is saying. It’s a way to delve beyond the words themselves, and discover more about customer perception, brand recognition, and industry views and opinions.
And at a time when customer perception is changing in response to rapidly moving markets and new waves of innovative technology, keeping up-to-date with how people view your brand isn’t just beneficial… it’s fast becoming a strategic necessity for improved decision making.
This is what social listening is all about; connecting you to audience observations to provide greater insight into expectations and preferences. Through effective social listening, you’re given a unique opportunity to tailor your approach to attract, engage, and convert the right people, at the right time, facilitating a customer-focused future.
What is Social Listening?
Social listening is one of the vital actions that differentiates a ‘surviving’ business from a ‘successful’ business: listening, improving, identifying, predicting, analysing, measuring.
It’s used to tap into real time conversations taking place across multiple digital channels, specifically social media platforms, to highlight relevant communications, debates and discussions about your brand, your products, your services, your staff, or even your reputation. And most importantly of all, social listening assigns context to these exchanges, helping you to really get to the bottom of what your customers think and feel.
It is a common misconception that social listening is just the same as social monitoring or social media analytics. They’re certainly similar, but there are a few distinct differences between the three techniques:
Social media analytics examines how well you’re performing on social media. This often involves measuring ‘likes’ and other forms of direct brand engagement, and tracking how well your social media marketing campaigns are targeting the right audiences.
Social media monitoring is primarily used for proactive reputation management. By closely monitoring user behaviours, this method can identify potential causes for concern before they become problematic, allowing you to address the issue quickly.
Social media listening isn’t entirely about your campaigns, or just focused on your reputation. It’s about your brand as a whole.
Social listening is a method used to gauge thoughts and feelings about a specific area of business and derive value from the ever-increasing pools of data and digital footprints that are left behind by today’s web users. These data pools are expected to become bigger and bigger over the next few years, with Deloitte research estimating that super fast 5G, which is expected to transform passive audiences into ‘always on’ customers, will be widely rolled out across most developed markets by 2023.
If you haven’t already started with social listening, now is the time to do so. And if you have already started with social listening but haven’t yet created a strategy, it’s time to start taking it seriously.
Despite many businesses now using social listening, it’s important to question how many don’t have a formal listening process in place. Without a formal process, these organisations are tracking, monitoring, and listening to what their customers are saying, but they’re failing to interpret the customer voice and generate actionable insight.
Formal listening processes can be challenging to create. That’s because many businesses are overlooking the fact that, while highly beneficial, social listening does have its limitations, just like every other form of business analysis. The reality is that human conversation features more than just data points; it contains real human judgement that requires real human listening.
Social listening tools are highly effective, but they work best when operated by someone who knows just how to handle them. The problem with this is clear to see: if you’re failing to fully utilise social listening services, you’re failing to generate insight, and you’re failing to demonstrate the true value of this strategic form of analysis to decision makers.
The good news is that, by learning more about what stakeholders are prioritising – what key performance indicators matter – you can tailor social listening reports to speak to business leaders.
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How Does it Work?
An effective social listening process will typically involve five steps which focus on gathering, organising and analysing data to transform it into actionable information. While the process can be somewhat complex, here’s a brief overview of the stages involved, and how social listening works to generate valuable, insightful results:
Using the most suitable social listening tools, data is collected from multiple online sources, including social platforms, news websites and blog content and comments. By taking a cross-channel approach, you can be sure that you’re gaining a comprehensive overview of sentiment across all of your targeted demographics.
- Quality Assessment
Some social listening queries can generate huge amounts of data, and not all of it will be relevant to your needs. Therefore, correcting, eliminating, and organising data is an essential part of the process. Through this strategic optimisation of data, you can ensure that all data that’s analysed directly contributes towards understanding your audience.
- Quantitative Analysis
Customer sentiment means more in context, which is why collated data should always be analysed in comparison to the competition. Quantitative analysis measures performance and benchmarks it against your closest competitors to show you where you fall on the scale, and what differentiates you from others operating in the industry.
- Qualitative Analysis
Qualitative analysis helps you to fully understand who’s talking about your brand, what they care about, and how they perceive your efforts to connect with their interests. The identification of a gap here can help you to adjust your approach to ensure you’re better meeting the needs, expectations, and preferences of your target audience.
Reporting takes what you’ve learned about audience perception and transforms it into numbers. Reports can be tailored depending on your priority key performance indicators, creating factual research and figures that can be presented to stakeholders, decision makers, and c-suite executives in a bid to facilitate and implement change.
Why is Social Listening Important?
There’s a difference between what people say when asked, and what people actually think freely. Back in 2004, Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell delivered a TED talk about the big differences in speech and thought, and summed it up be saying this:
“If I asked all of you… what you want in a coffee… every one of you would say ‘I want a dark, rich, hearty roast’… What percentage actually like a dark, rich, hearty roast?… Somewhere between 25 and 27 percent of you. Most of you like milky, weak coffee. But you will never, ever say that to someone who asks you what you want”.
Social listening is about observing customers ‘in the field’; it’s almost as if you’re witnessing how they behave in their natural environment when they think they’re not being watched.
There can be a significant difference between what feedback customers will provide through requested methods like surveys and reviews, and what information they’re willing to share off their own back, through their own channels. And that’s exactly why businesses should be listening to their customers, not only on social media, but across all available digital channels that promote and encourage discussion. Quite simply, if you’re not using social listening, you’re not getting the full picture.
Sticking to the example above, imagine a customer walks into a coffee shop and asks only for a ‘coffee’, then begins to chat to their friend about their favourite blends. The barista has two choices. Make a random coffee without having all the necessary information, or listen to what’s being said and use that information in order to satisfy the customer by creating a coffee using the customer’s favourite blend.
It’s this additional insight into customer needs and expectations that makes social listening so important for modern businesses who can’t afford to operate without having all the information; without having the full picture. And it’s why, according to the CMO Council, 63% of businesses are already listening to what their customers want.
How Can You Grow Your Business Through Social Listening?
The data that’s gathered through social listening services can help you to track your business in the eyes of your audience, and maintain optimal brand health.
But it’s about more than that. Social listening forms the foundation of many different businesses strategies, working to streamline processes and deliver a branding and financial boost.
Here’s how social listening data can be applied to various areas of business:
- Product development: Optimising product development to not only excite and attract customers but also ensure you’re keeping up with the competition.
- Customer experience: Understanding what customers expect from their brand interactions and tailoring approach to deliver a personalised customer journey.
- Lead generation: Gain further understanding into valuable yet under-represented demographics and open up doors to new audience pools.
- Demand anticipation: Track customer buying behaviours and monitor actions to predict demand and ensure you can proactively scale up or down as needed.
- Trend identification: Know what’s exciting audiences right now, and find new and innovative ways to give them what they’re looking for, when they want it.
- Competitor analysis: Know what differentiates you in the eyes of your audience, narrow gaps and learn what makes brands great from a customer perspective.
- Investor relations: Use social listening data to create fact-based reports to present to investors and stakeholders to demonstrate projected successes.
Ultimately, no matter the business area, social listening can be used to understand, detect, create, manage, mitigate and facilitate. From boosting sales and profits to generating new opportunities and building your workforce, by simply knowing your customers on a deeper level, you have the cornerstone needed to grow your business.
What are the Best Social Listening Tools?
There’s more to social listening than setting up a Google alert. To conduct social listening effectively and efficiently, it’s important to use the right tools. A CMO Council report shows that just 10% of businesses who utilise social listening believe their listening software does an exceptional job.
This doesn’t reflect on the act of social listening. Instead, it suggests that many businesses aren’t using the right tools for their needs, or perhaps that they’re using the right tools, but lack the experience needed to fully utilise the advantage of such niche software.
There are a number of different social listening tools available, and there’s really no right or wrong here. Different tools will meet the needs of different businesses, so it’s important to take a look at the options and find what works for you.
However, The Forrester Wave report has identified the most influential social listening platforms with Synthesio, Sprinklr and NetBase achieving ‘leader’ status. Brandwatch was named as a ‘strong performer’, while Digimind, Linkfluence, and Zignal Labs were also listed among the top 10 choices. There are many other highly recommended options, too, including Meltwater Social, Talkwalker, Socialbakers, Awario, Brand24, and Infegy.
Each tool has its own unique selling point, so consider what matters to your business in particular. Synthesio, for example, earned Forrester leader status for its straightforward pricing, number of dashboards and unlimited data and queries. Sprinklr, on the other hand, ‘leverages its extensive social data sources and tech integrations to deliver a core listening product’.
How to Get Valuable Insights Through Social Listening
Social listening can really be divided into two separate and distinct areas. The first area is about collection and analysis; gathering data from real time conversations and analysing these discussions to determine what audiences think about a brand based on the meaning and context of their words.
The second category is focused on actually using this information, and acting upon it to implement positive business change. And it’s this area that’s most commonly overlooked by businesses starting social listening.
To get valuable insights through social listening, it’s vital to understand how audience perception and business processes are connected, and how one can influence the other. A failure to consider this area of social listening means that some businesses are wasting their social listening investment, and aren’t getting the value out of their strategies.
So how can you make sure you’re getting the most from your investment Here are some quick tips:
- Generate the right queries. Understand what information is particularly useful to your business, and ensure you’re entering the most suitable queries into your social listening tool. And be prepared for the time-consuming and meticulous task of optimising query data to ensure only the most relevant gets analysed.
- Expand your channel selection to include digital sources that you wouldn’t normally associate with your target audience. Social listening is designed to provide more in depth insight than what you’d generate from just your loyal customer base, so don’t be afraid to tap into a wider variety of platforms.
- Develop a plan to ensure you’re able to act upon the data that you gather. Consider how this information will impact your processes and contribute towards the success of your business; think about what changes could be implemented to narrow the gap between what you offer, and what customers are expecting.
Why the Human Touch is Important to Perform Effective Social Listening
Social listening tools use automated methods to identify, analyse and predict, and while automation is fast becoming an essential technology for business growth and development, it’s still unable to match human performance in some areas. One of these areas is context; assigning meaning to the words used by your audiences.
One of the biggest concerns today is that the language that’s used on social media platforms is beyond the scope of existing machine learning capabilities. There are two primary reasons for this.
The first is that cross-border marketing and selling is on the rise, which means that not only do you have audiences speaking about you in your own language, but you’ve also got discussions taking place across the world.
The second is that language is changing. People no longer communicate using just words. Messages and even intent can be portrayed through icons such as emojis, or using shortened ‘text speak’, which can create new obstacles for automated software.
While social listening tools may provide you with the technology you need to listen to and understand your audience, you also need to ensure you have the human element needed to turn data into valuable information and insight. Without the human touch, social listening can fail to show you what really lies beneath your audiences’ words.
Taking the Next Steps
If you’re ready to grow your business, develop your opportunities, and connect with your audience more than ever, then it’s time to listen. With digital footprints already expansive, and due to become even larger with the rollout of 5G which is set to bring on-the-go digital discussions to anywhere, at any time, implementing a social listening strategy now is the key to staying ahead of the curve in tomorrow’s data-fuelled world.
Deeper insights into how customers perceive brands, select products and services, and expect to be treated can offer a significant boost to practically every area of business, and the secret to gaining this insight isn’t to hear your customers… it’s to listen to them.
According to that same CMO Council report, more than half of all businesses are already utilising social listening in one way or another, but if you haven’t yet implemented your own strategy, don’t worry… it’s not too late.
With social listening services, you can begin to tap into online discussions, understand more about your brand from a customer perspective, and get serious about facilitating positive business change. Social maturity is a trend that’s here to stay.
If you want to grow your business through social listening, talk to our team today!
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