A Start-to-Finish Guide to Social Listening

  ●   August 4, 2022 | Social Media
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August 4, 2022 | Social Media

The volume of conversations taking place on social media at any given moment is huge.

To put a number on it (or a few):

  • 6,000 tweets are tweeted each second
  • that’s 350,000 tweets per minute
  • or, 500 million tweets each day
  • or, 200 billion tweets per year

And that’s just one social platform! 

To borrow from Amazon’s founder:

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room’. So, if your audience is talking about you, or better yet, talking to you, you’re going to want to pay attention. 

Jeff Bezos

Using social listening, you can eavesdrop on conversations and analyse trends surrounding your brand or industry as a whole; guiding you to make informed marketing decisions. Although the concept of social listening can seem complicated and confusing on paper, it doesn’t have to be. The purpose of this blog is to walk you through this process, the do’s, don’ts and everything in between. So, let’s get listening.

What is Social Listening?

Social listening is a blanket term for two main processes – monitoring of online conversations, and analysis of those conversations. By performing detailed social listening, you can get an accurate picture of what people are saying about your brand, the general sentiment around your brand, and what issues and topics matter most to your audience.

It’s something that can help every part of your business, not just the social media work you do. Research from Sprout Social & HubSpot has found that:

“By prioritising responsiveness and relevance on social, marketers can positively influence consumer behaviour to benefit the entire organisation. When consumers follow brands on social media, 90% are likely to make a purchase.”

Sprout Social & HubSpot

You can also take this one step further by analysing more detailed categories, such as reach analysis and audience metric analysis, to add extra colour to your social listening audits. The sky’s the limit for these more granular sections, but the most important ones are, as supported by search aggregator TechTarget:

Overall reach

What topics and posts are getting the most attention and traction, and why? Are there similarities?

Top Authors

Who are the most followed accounts that talk about your brand/topic? This can also be measured in conjunction with overall reach to identify suitable micro influencers, separating them from the easily-found macro influencers (those with high following but less engaged audiences).

Specific Emotions

General social listening will give you a good picture of whether general sentiment is positive, negative or neutral, but when aiming to focus more closely on one topic/product, it can help to understand the emotions being displayed by those involved in conversations. Are they angry (perhaps at poor quality or customer service)? Are they excited (perhaps for a new product or a sale)? These can add more detail to a rather general analysis of “general sentiment for our brand is positive”, and help influence future marketing decisions.

Overall Reach of Your Brand’s Mentions

While a lot of people may be talking about your product, they may have little reach due to their small account size. On the other hand, while the base number of mentions may not look impressive, if those authors have a good following on their accounts, you will reach far more people than you’ll expect. Understanding this is key to making sure you can curate your content well to your audience.

Share of Voice

You may have a lot of people talking positively about your brand, but is it just a drop in the ocean compared to the larger industry, and your competitors? Understanding this helps influence your strategy, partially by marketing in a tailored way towards your existing audience, but by hijacking some of the conversations dominated by your competitors to expand your reach.

What do Companies use the Data From Social Listening for?

The data you can pull from a detailed social listening audit can be used in a multitude of ways, and provided it is of high quality, the data can be used for weeks or months afterwards, depending on the size of your brand.

Inform Marketing Strategies

Social listening audits are normally used to influence marketing strategies for companies. At Semetrical, whenever we onboard a new social client we perform a social listening audit to identify the main talking points for the client’s audience, both brand-related and not. This forms the main focus of the audit, and helps us inform a content plan that fits the client’s needs, striking a balance between continuation of past topics that have performed well and new topics that have high potential to be well-received. Research from Reputation states that companies can see as much as a 25.8% increase in revenue when performing high-level social listening that can influence their marketing strategy.

Monitor Negative Press

Social listening can also be used as part of a plan to monitor and respond to negative press and news articles. Recently, we were tasked with undertaking a social listening audit for a client that was concerned about negative press they were receiving that was damaging their brand reputation. Gathering all relevant data, we compiled a comprehensive report, covering general reach, the top authors talking about this subject, and the general sentiment and volume of conversations around the topic.

Moreover, this was supported by Google Trends insights measuring search volumes of terms that the client was concerned about, and would be searched by users seeking information about the negative press in question. In terms of ‘who is taking part in these conversations’, we performed analysis of the main authors and the growth and engagement rates of the accounts in question. Once you learn these details, you can act accordingly – putting out different news to spin the conversation into a more positive light, or maximising the discussions around popular products so you aren’t wasting your time on unpopular listings.

Competitor Analysis

Finally, social listening can be used to perform more detailed competitor analysis than can otherwise be done manually. A lot of metrics that have been previously mentioned are used in competitor analysis via social listening, such as reach, growth rate, emotion and sentiment, best performing topics, and their search popularity over time via Google Trends.

How can I get Started With Social Listening?

Social listening seems daunting, but you can get started today by yourself with as little as a spare afternoon and a collection of social media accounts. You can begin by manually searching up your brand’s name and their social media handle, and delving through the top posts in terms of reach and engagement.

This is a good starting point, as it allows you to see the posts that most people will also see when searching for your company. But you’re only scraping the surface with this kind of social listening, as not only is this a tiny percentage of the total conversations about your company, but meaningful chats rarely happen on high-reach posts. To get a better feel, you need to dig deeper, and this is where social listening tools come into the mix. Some of the most prominent platforms include Meltwater, Pulsar and the social listening functionalities of social media planning platforms, such as Later and Sprout Social, but there are many platforms out there for all purposes and budgets.

What can Social Listening Tools Offer to Enhance Social Listening Audits?

If we were to chronicle every benefit that using a specialised tool for social listening has over manual searching, this blog would challenge Tolstoy’s War & Peace for word count. So, we’ll talk about the top 5 benefits of using tools to assist your search. The main platform we use at Semetrical is Meltwater, but many tools will share similar features. This includes:

Instant Search Result Pulling

This one is massive for your ease of access and analysing. Where manual searches require you to continually scroll through search result pages and individually read each one to determine whether it’s helpful to your search, social listening tools enable you to read through thousands of posts with next to no loading time, providing easy access to reach, engagement and sentiment. This instant result pulling also feeds into many other benefits, such as…

Centralisation of Over 30 Sources

From Facebook and Twitter to Reddit and WordPress – and countless news sites both in the mainstream and unknown – social listening tools save an immense amount of time by centralising all these together in the same feed. Gone is the need to waste time trawling through Google for relevant news stories about your company, or spending 15 minutes scrolling back in time through a person’s feed to see if they’ve talked about you in the past, along with the Tweet that came up from 2 days ago. Now, all of the relevant tweets have not only been instantly grabbed, but can be filtered by platform to build a better idea of what brand perception is like on a platform-by-platform basis.

Blacklisting of Unhelpful Words, Phrases and Accounts

This one is massive for your quality of life when performing social listening. The world is more socially connected than ever – on Twitter alone, 500 million Tweets are sent per day by its users. This makes for an awful lot of noise, and while more information is always a good thing, it also means you’ll be seeing a lot of information that is unhelpful. For example, in a social listening audit we undertook with Equinox Kombucha, the word ‘booch’ brought up a lot of unhelpful results from an active user with the word in his username. By blacklisting his name, it removed all of his Tweets from our search, cutting down on the noise and making our search much more streamlined.

Exportable Results

With every social listening audit comes a point at which you need to wrap things up and present your findings. And this can be the most time consuming part of all! Thankfully, many social listening platforms have the ability to instantly export your results in a number of different ways, from a CSV document that can be quickly plugged into your reporting processes, to full presentations with a selection of interactive charts. This leads us onto…

Charts, Charts, Charts

Social listening platforms offer a bevy of graphs and charts to really make your reports stand out. These range from basic bar and line graphs showing things such as volume of posts and average engagement, to word clouds that can be interacted with on the site to show the top used and top performing words used in conjunction with the ones you are searching. Not only does this make reporting easier, but saves a lot of time as you no longer need to make these charts manually in Excel, which can be a finicky process at the best of times.

What are the Demonstrable Benefits of Social Listening?

The benefits of social listening can be widely varied, and the bad news is that if you focus on everything, you will miss a lot. However, if you go into your social listening search with a picture of what you need to learn, you can tailor your searches and get really granular with your data.

For brands looking to rejig their marketing strategy…

You should focus on the conversations your audience are having. What products of yours really get people talking, and which ones get them talking for the wrong reasons? Are there design problems that are pushing people to shop elsewhere? All of these can be used to tweak marketing strategies, ensuring you’re maximising your potential with popular products and not wasting time with unpopular ones, or bringing those lesser-talked about products into the limelight to show your audience what they’re missing out on.

Similarly, performing social listening on your competitors can yield a wealth of results…

It could be the case that they have a particular USP that you had not realised until now that is causing your brand to lag behind theirs in terms of sales. Customers also prefer to buy from engaged brands, as Sprout Social has found. Even if their products are lacking, a great customer service experience from the point of inquiry could be all your brand is missing to really match up against them – and without looking into the actions of your competitors, this can all be missed quite easily.

For brands looking to monitor PR and brand reputation, mentions are key…

Social listening platforms play a key role in this, enabling you to look at: what is the average reach per day of posts about your brand? What are the main emotions when your brand is discussed? Who are the top authors talking about your brand? This can help you not only work out possible points of concern when it comes to negative press, but the positive press you find can also help you identify good micro influencers that can push your brand to previously untapped audiences.

How to Conduct Social Listening

Before you start

Big or small, you should clearly outline what you would like to achieve from your social listening, though the chances are, you’ll find out a lot more than what you were searching for along the way. 

Choose Your Social Listening Tool

It’s time to shop around! Every business has different needs, so there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing a tool, but we advise that you pick one which offers the following:

  • Automated Sentiment Analysis technology to detect the emotion of user language
  • The ability to track tagged words in real-time & pull historic data
  • Access to data from social platforms important for your brand
  • Analytical features to help you interpret your data

Many tools offer a trial period, so why not give a few ago to make sure they’re right for you, and then hone in or broaden your approach depending on the results. 

Choose Your Keywords

Put simply by @eskimon, ‘you wouldn’t just walk into a party and only join conversations about you’. 

Throw a wide net beyond just your brand or product mentions to draw insights around related trends. For example, it may be useful for a CBD beauty brand to track conversations under the hashtag #CBDbeautymovement to gauge wider public perception of similar products and keep tabs on relevant trends.

So, put apart time to choose the relevant keywords for your brand, making sure to include common misspellings and suffixes, as well as slang and abbreviations around your topic. 

Hypothetically, if I were to collate keywords for a tech company called Pear, who sell a range of products such as myPhones, myPads and myBooks, I would need to consider how my audience would spell and hashtag this brand and all of their products.  

As such, I would need to include the broader brand-related words and hashtags.

Pear, #pear #peartechology, #peartech, #pearproducts

As well as narrowing down into specific products:

myPhone, myPhones, #myPhone, #myPhones, #pearmyPhone, #pearmyPhones

Which can proliferate further into specific models and varieties:

myPhone XL, #myPhoneXL, #blackmyPhone, #whitemyPhone

As well as slogans and campaigns:


It’s often worth duplicating some keywords to include a date or location, for example #myPhone2020 or #myPhoneUK.

You get the picture. 

The syntax may differ by platform, but most tools should follow that pattern. Here’s a checklist to help you kickstart your keyword compilation:

  1. Brand name & handles
  2. Product(s), models and varieties including common mis-spells
  3. Slogan and hashtagged slogan
  4. Relevant industry hashtags
  5. Brand representatives e.g. CEO, ambassadors, prominent influencers
  6. Campaign keywords & hashtags
  7. Competitor handles, names, products, campaigns & slogans.

Choose Your Social Platforms: Where is Your Audience Centred?

When choosing which platforms to focus your social listening on, choose the ones most used by your audience. If you don’t know which this is for your brand, go broad – you don’t want to risk ignoring a chunk of your audience! 

While there is no hard or fast rule, for B2C brands this is commonly Instagram and Facebook, while B2B find most of their conversations occur on Twitter and LinkedIn.

While it’s worth keeping in mind which platforms are most useful to leverage your brand, a lot can be said for the omnichannel approach. Provide Support found that 9/10 consumers expect

to receive a consistent experience over multiple contact channels. So, to maintain your customers expectations prioritise, but don’t limit, your online brand presence.

Clean Your Social Listening Data 

Social listening data can sometimes be noisy, picking up irrelevant information which can potentially skew your results. For the most part the effect will be negligible, but it’s worth checking to avoid invalid insights. 

Often, if something isn’t right you can spot it. A common diagnosis is the misinterpretation of homograph words.

For example, if I was collecting social data on the hashtag #CBD, and there was a viral tweet complaining about commuting into London’s central business with the hashtag #CBD, this will skew my results in a number of ways.

To rectify this, you can use specific word combinations to filter and exclude data which might skew results. In this case, you’d exclude any posts which include CBD alongside words such as city centre, district and commuter zone. Think of it as raking your data with a fine-toothed comb.

The key takeaway here is to never assume your first set of data is reliable, check and recheck before you make any deductions! 

Analyse Data for Content Strategy 

It’s time to listen to your audience! 

In the context of social listening, the term ‘analysis’ can be somewhat ambiguous. There are countless ways in which you can explore your data, usually depending on your initial goals.

That said, here are a few common ways to experiment with your data to get the ball rolling: 

  • Examine the sentiment towards your topic – check for consistency.
  • Measure the peaks (and troughs) of mention volume.
  • Check for seasonal patterns in online behaviour.
  • Differences in demographics.
  • Note the topics frequently mentioned in combination with your brand.
  • Keep track of and importantly, interact with, your brand advocates.
  • Assess where you stand against your competitors. 


Social listening provides a myriad of consumer opinions, useful to inform anything from product development and branding, to blog and social content. 

It could flag up an item that slipped through quality control or highlight a malfunction in your new app. It could inspire fresh flavour combinations for your product development or give you the newest recipes ideas for your website. It could help you understand which industries will benefit from your services, or find out where in the world you’re in demand.

Make sure you communicate your findings and ask for input from wider teams too – they may have questions they’d like answered and will almost certainly be able to benefit from the new information you provide.

The Bottom Line

Social listening is a hugely powerful tool. When used correctly, it’s the next best thing to reading customers’ minds. Most of the time, your audience is telling you what they want, you just have to go out there and listen. 

We hope this guide has provided you with a blueprint for your social listening practice.

Social listening can be a tricky and time consuming process to do correctly – but we can help! If you’d like to discuss building your social media strategy and working on social listening with Semetrical, get in touch with us today.

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