Forbes said it himself ‘The art of conversation lies in listening’. To really communicate with our audience, we must first understand them - their pain points, needs, topics of interest, influencers and desires. All too often we’re guessing what users will respond to, rather than truly listening.  Thanks to the proliferation of social media (shoutout to Mr Zuckerburg), there is a hefty concoction of consumer insights available online via social media.  By actively listening, you can learn what makes your audience tick and tailor your content accordingly. It doesn’t get more consumer-centric than that.  If only there was some way to harness this tangled web of noise and filter specifically for your interests... Cue social listening. 

So, what exactly is social listening?

 The premise behind social listening is as simple as it sounds: paying attention to what is being said on social media by your customers, prospects and competitors.  As marketers we know that to create content which resonates and connects with our audience, we need to stay in tune with them; this can take considerable upkeep.  Social listening provides a gateway into the perspectives of your audience, allowing you to track and analyse the conversations surrounding your brand and your industry at large. By first digesting this information, you can then build more meaningful campaigns, hone your content strategy, and ultimately outsmart your competition.

The premise behind social listening is as simple as it sounds: paying attention to what is being said on social media by your customers, prospects and competitors. 

How can social listening leverage my brand?

1. All of your channels, in one place: We’ve moved on from the days when following social trends was as simple as a quick search on MySpace. Now, we have a plethora of platforms at our fingertips, and monitoring each independently can sap time without giving tangible insights. Cross-channel data allows you to collate the voices of your audience whilst empirically measuring and analysing shifting trends.

2. Customers like to be heard: Are your ears burning? If a user is talking to you or about you, what better time to jump in and respond? This gives you the chance to strengthen customer relations by exploiting any customer complaints, answering user queries, and showing appreciation to valued customers, all the while conveying that all-important brand personality. 

3. Tell your audience what they want to hear: Luckily, it’s never been easier to access the opinion of your audience. From customer feedback to pain-points, quirks and guilty pleasures, social media provides a myriad of consumer insights which can be harnessed and fed into your strategy. The more your brands’ content aligns to it’s audience’s interests the more represented and affiliated they feel. So, if your audience is hooked on sharing reactive news stories, then become their go-to source of topical articles. Or if they’re manically tagging their friends in puppy pictures, give them some pups to pine over in your feed. Social listening allows you to discover more about your audience, thereby helping you establish a deeper connection. 

4. How do you compete: Nobody likes a copy-cat, but competitors make a handy reference point to measure yourself against. How does your brand compare to its competitors in the public eye? It’s worth paying attention to your competitor’s tactics, and probe when and why they make a move. Note their successes, but crucially, learn from their mistakes. 

5. Align your posting strategy to your audience: You can gauge what your audience responds to best by monitoring their online activity. What time are they tuning in to social media? Are they prone to getting lost in deep Youtube holes throughout the night, or do they sneakily scroll through Instagram during the Monday morning meeting?

You can auspiciously time your posting strategy to your audience by utilising the windows of high engagement. For example, this graph demonstrates engagement (green for high engagement, red for lowest) and post volume (larger representing a higher volume, smaller for lower volume) by time and day of the week. 

In this case, Wednesday mornings between 7-11 am incite high engagement, alongside Monday mornings between 10-12 am. These can be directly compared to competitor strategies to monitor the times in which you can gain high engagement with reduced competitor noise. AKA you can talk to your audience without any interruption from your competitors.

This can be tracked in realtime to increase the validity of your data and ensure your strategy is reactive to your audience.

Similarly, social listening also allows you to aggregate data according to demographics. Take the example below: here we tracked mentions of CBD across the US to help gauge public perspective by both city and sentiment (green being positive, red showing negative, grey being, well, a grey area). This allows us to tactically tailor our strategy according to location. 

6. Talk topically: Stay relevant by keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest consumer trends. Trends come and go in shifting waves of popularity; by keeping tabs on what’s growing you can ride on relevant topical movements. Let them shape your social messaging and you can piggyback off their engagement. 

While social data is not the definitive measure of a trend, it is a highly useful signal to interpret interests, attitudes and in some cases behaviour. So, by analysing their nature, we can tactically incorporate trends into our strategy.  See the example below of ingredient trends: Bok Choy shows unsteady virulent growth, meaning it is a highly shareable but unsustainable ingredient. This means it has scope to trigger viral content but this could be hit or miss with your audience. Conversely, beetroot shows slow but sustainable growth on social media, making it ideal for informing your evergreen content or all-year-round recipe development.

7. Identify industry influencers: A relationship with an authentic admirer is worth nurturing. Better yet, if your brand advocate has clout in your field, you can increase brand exposure to a like-minded audience, and leverage your account’s exposure. A key strength of social listening is that it allows you to spot superfans you may not have been aware of otherwise. 8. Speak their language: It’s worth noting the inter-platform differences between audiences. Social listening allows you to decipher exactly who you’re speaking to on each platform. So, you can tweak your tone of voice appropriately, saving your finsta references, yas queens and yeeet’s for your Gen Z TikTok users and your #challengerbrands, #investmentininnovation and #startups for your entrepreneurial investment firms on LinkedIn.  Urban dictionary anyone?

Before you go 

 Social listening is becoming an increasingly powerful tool. And with more and more brands turning to social data to inform their strategy, you’ll need to be proactive to avoid faltering behind the competitors who do. With a bit of implementation, social listening can ensure your brand is progressive, engaging and ultimately, ahead of the curve.  If you’re interested in learning more about social listening, get in touch. Or alternatively (spoiler alert), stay tuned for our social listening execution guide.  Your audience insights are out there waiting for you, so go and listen to what they have to say!