We’re all aware of the importance of listening in our everyday relationships. But what about the relationships with consumers? To this day, many brands neglect social listening and turn their back on the biggest source of insights – social media.

The truth is, if you’re not listening, you won’t be able to help the customers, you won’t reach those who’re interested in your products, and you’ll be completely out of the loop on your industry. And that doesn’t sound like an effective business strategy, does it?

A lot of professionals ignore social listening because of the assumed complexity of the process. I can assure you: social media monitoring is one of the simpler (if not the simplest) elements of social media marketing. And it saves you a lot of time and effort, whether you are a business owner or a marketing manager.

There’re so many different ways to apply it to your business, which we’ll discuss later. First, let’s answer the question: what is social media listening?

What’s social media monitoring?

The basic definition is that social media monitoring is the process of applying a tool to track assigned words or word combinations, which are called keywords, to social media. I told you, it was simple.

If you were attentive, you probably noticed that I keep altering between different names such as “social media listening”, “social listening” and “social media monitoring”. Social media listening, like some crime novel writer from the beginning of the XX century, has many aliases including but not limited to:

  • Social Listening

  • Social Media Monitoring

  • Online Analytics

  • Buzz Analysis

  • Social Media Measurement

  • Social Media Intelligence

Most specialists agree that social media monitoring is a part of social media listening: monitoring triggers an immediate response (you see a post and respond to it), whereas listening is that plus analyzing collected data and identifying trends.

Think about it this way: with monitoring, you can understand whether your customer likes the shoes you sold him, with listening you will understand what kind of shoes people like, how and when they buy them and so on.

However, it doesn’t prevent anyone in the social media marketing world from using these two terms interchangeably (or even simultaneously).

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How do social media listening tools work?

To put it simply, social media listening tools get relevant mentions containing your keywords in real time and gather them on your dashboard. The “real time” part is very important – 60% of customers expect brands to respond to them within an hour.

Relevancy is also highly important – you don’t want to spend your time browsing through irrelevant posts.

In order to get social data, tools usually connect with social networks through API. This allows you to monitor publicly available information. It only shows the data which users choose to share with the world. Tools cannot access private groups, posts or messages.

With that in mind, the definition of “publicly available” varies on different social media platforms. Some social networks consciously restrict access to certain parts of the platform. For example, Facebook will let you monitor public pages, but personal pages and closed groups are beyond your reach.  

At this stage I have to confess something: even though we’re discussing Social Media Listening, most tools don’t just monitor social media - they also get mentions from the web. For example, besides social networks, Awario also monitors forums, blogs, news, review platforms and the rest of the web.

To monitor the Internet you can choose one of two ways: use a third party provider or have your own crawlers, which is just a slightly creepy name for search bots.

Awario uses its own crawlers, so you can guess which one we think is more effective. Actually, we’ve been working on our crawlers for 10 years already with our colleagues at SEO PowerSuite.  

The bots continuously crawl sites and index them. After that, these pages are ready to get monitored! The tool prioritizes websites based on their importance and crawls them accordingly: some websites are monitored in real time, some every 5 minutes and some every two hours – you get the idea.

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So now that we’ve answered the question “What’s social media listening?”, let’s talk about what it’s not.

Social listening is not a simple word search.

I say the tool is simple but not that simple. When crawling, social media tools take many different parameters into consideration: date range, location, duplicated mentions, spam and others, in order to give you the most relevant results.

Moreover, with such features as Boolean operators you can create refined and sophisticated queries, which allow you to get only highly relevant mentions.

Social listening is not simply gathering mentions.

That wouldn’t be fun at all! Most social listening tools offer something more than just gathering mentions. For instance, Awario groups mentions according to different parameters, does sentiment analysis, categorisation, compares several alerts etc.

Social listening is not just for brand monitoring.

There are so many ways to use social listening apart from boring brand monitoring. Of course, it does this job perfectly, but there’s so much more you can do with an effective social listening strategy.

For social media marketing specialists, a social listening tool is a true Swiss Army knife with as many use cases as you can think of. But let me tell you: you can use social listening on every stage of your business journey, from product development to HR management.

But why is social listening so important anyway?

For starters, you have no other choice. Your customers, both current and potential, are already on social media, trying to reach out to you.

Some marketers might believe that there’s no use in a tool to monitor social media – most platforms alert you when you get @mentions anyway. But the numbers suggest the opposite: 30% of tweets including company names don’t include their Twitter handle. That’s nearly the third of your audience! And that’s with Twitter’s tag-friendly UI! Imagine, what’s happening on other platforms.

But even those who understand the importance and value of social media monitoring sometimes don’t deploy it to its full potential. One of the biggest misconceptions about social listening is that it’s only good for monitoring your brand mentions.

As a good marketing professional or just as a logical human being, you probably understand that the power of marketing lies in customer insights – the more you know about your target audience, the more profit you get. And the Internet is objectively the biggest source of information in the world. Why do you think GDPR was needed?

But how do you find relevant information in this ocean of data? The answer is, obviously, social listening. It can provide tangible insights about your business and your customers.

With social media listening, you can both react to immediate triggers and see the bigger picture: how your customers’ opinions change with time.

Here’re some of the ways you can use social listening:

  • Brand monitoring

  • Competitor monitoring

  • Social customer support

  • Social selling

  • Influencer marketing

  • Campaign monitoring

  • Crisis and reputation management

  • Market research

  • Collecting customer feedback

  • Content curation

  • Social listening for SEO

  • Social listening for bloggers

In the next few articles we will go through each of these and learn how to improve every aspect of your business with the help of social media listening. I’m convinced that there are even more applications for social listening, so your imagination is really the limit here.