What is social listening: everything you need to know (and best tools to start)

Anna Bredava
by Anna Bredava on February 3, 2022

Article summary

In this article, we explain what is social listening, how it works, how to use social media listening in your social media marketing strategy and give some social listening tips for you.

  1. What is social listening (and what is social media monitoring)?
  2. How do social listening tools work?
  3. Benefits for your social media strategy
  4. 3 best social listening tools
  5. Social listening tips for your business

The truth is, if you’re not engaging in social listening, you won’t be able to help customersyou won’t reach those who’re interested in your products, you won't find new social aidoences, 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 marketing professionals ignore social listening because of the assumed complexity of the process. I can assure you: social media monitoring strategy is one of the simpler (if not the simplest) elements of social media strategy. Actually, social listening saves you a lot of time and effort, whether you are a business owner or a marketing manager.

In this article, I’ll guide you through the concept of monitoring social media, social media monitoring use cases, I'll explain how to do media monitoring and social listening, and list the most popular social monitoring tools to do it.

Now let’s go into details and start with the first question: what is social listening anyway?

What is social listening (and what is social media monitoring)?

The basic social listening definition is that social media monitoring is the process of applying a social listening tool to track assigned words or word combinations, phrases, which are called keywords, on social media. Simple, right?

If you were paying attention, you probably noticed that I keep altering between different terms, such as “social media listening”, “social listening” and “social media monitoring”. Social media listening, like some crime novel writer from 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

That's why sometimes it can be hard to provide a social listening definition. Most specialists agree that social media monitoring is a part of social media listening: social monitoring triggers an immediate response (you see a post and respond to it), whereas social listening is that plus analyzing collected social listening data and customer feedback, identifying marketing trends, and implementing the insights in your social media strategy. You can read more about the definition of monitoring vs listening in our blog post

Think about it this way: by using social media monitoring, you can understand whether your customer likes the shoes you sold them, while with listening you will understand what kind of shoes people like, how and when they buy them, and so on. So it's not just analyzing customer feedback: social listening means proactively looking for trends and social feedback on your competitors to benefit your brand. You then integrate this social media analysis in your business strategies.

How do social listening tools work?

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

Social listening mentions
It's important to collect mentions as soon as they appear

That's why real-time brand monitoring is oftentimes a must-have for any social listening tool.

Relevancy of the social media content you find is also highly important – you don’t want to spend your time browsing through irrelevant posts.

In order to get social listening data, tools usually connect with social networks through APIs, making it possible 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 platforms. Some social networks consciously restrict access to their social media channels for social media monitoring software and APIs to certain parts of the platform. For example, Facebook will let you monitor public pages, but personal accounts and closed groups are beyond your reach.  

Once a social listening app got all the relevant data, it's able to analyze it through various categories starting with social engagement and ending with demographics insights.

At this stage I have to confess something: even though we’re discussing social media listening, usually a social listening service doesn’t just monitor social media channels — it also gets mentions from the rest of the web.

For example, besides social networks, Awario also monitors forums, blogs, news, review platforms, and the rest of the web.

Social media platforms suited for social listening
The sources Awario social listening tools monitors

To monitor the Internet you can choose between using a third-party online monitoring provider or having 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. Once it's done, 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.

So now that we’ve answered the question “What is social media listening?”,

let’s talk about What it’s not.

It is not a simple word search.

I say the process is simple, but it's not that simple. When crawling, social listening tools take many different parameters into consideration: date range, location, duplicated mentions, spam, and other search details, in order to give you the most relevant results.

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

It 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, analyzes social listening data, categorizes mentions, compares several alerts, builds reports, etc.

It 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.

Benefits for your social media strategy

But is there really a need for it? Well, for starters, people expect you to do social listening. Your customers, both current and potential, are already on social media, trying to reach out to you. Without social listening platforms, you're just ignoring them.


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

We have many social media monitoring examples, when social media monitoring tools were able to save someone's reputation or uncover customers' pain.

However, even those who understand the importance and value of a social listening service sometimes don’t deploy it to the full potential. One of the biggest misconceptions about social listening tools is that they are 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 better your customer strategy is, the more profit you get, and the better the engagement rate is. The Internet is objectively the biggest source of information in the world.

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

By using social media listening tools, you can both react to immediate triggers and see the bigger picture. They help you understand how your customers’ opinions change over time and show you how to adapt your future strategy accordingly to gain more engagement.

For a social media marketer, a social listening tool is a true Swiss Army knife with as many use cases as you can think of. There is no single benefit of social listening: it can solve multiple social media marketing and business problems at the same time.

I'll let you in on a secret: you can use social listening at every stage of your business journey: from product development to HR management. It can have a positive effect on the following aspects of your business:

  • Brand monitoring

  • Competitor analysis

  • Social customer support

  • Social selling

  • Social sentiment analysis

  • Influencer marketing

  • Social audience analysis

  • Campaign monitoring

  • Crisis and reputation management

  • Market research

  • Collecting customer feedback

  • Content curation

  • SEO

  • Blogging

3 best social listening tools

The market of social media monitoring software is extremely diverse: you can find specific services for any budget and any needs, from free social listening tools limited to one platform to an all-in-one social analytics tool or even a social media management software. But it might be difficult to decide what social listening app will fit your business best and figure out how to optimize it for your social media marketing strategy.

Luckily, I wrote a small guide with some tips on how to choose the best tool for you. Here are three ones at different price points (including trial options) and with different functionalities. 


Social listening dashboard
Awario's Dashboard with the most important analytics

Social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, blogs and news websites, the web

Yes, I am a bit biased, but I believe that Awario is the best example of an affordable tool with Enterprise-level capabilities. Many tools focus either on monitoring or listening, i.e., they either showcase individual mentions or analyze large amounts of social data and present visualized insights. Awario does both.

The tool offers various ways to customize and tweak your listening strategy. In addition to an elaborate system of filters (location, languages, date range, etc.) you can switch to a Boolean search mode where you can create long detailed search queries. You can set up the tool to notify you of the new mentions by email or through push notifications. 

Awario has three types of social listening reports: Mention Statistics, Alert Comparison, and Influencers.

Mention Statistics shows you all the data around your mentions: the number, reach, locations, languages, and source of posted mentions as well as the social sentiment around your keywords and topics associated with them. In addition to that, it gives you tons of demographic data on your social audience: their age, gender, where they live and so on.

As you can guess from the name, Alert Comparison compares up to 15 alerts (clusters of keywords and keyword combinations). It includes all the key social metrics mentioned above as well as the Share of Voice. You can benchmark your brand against your competitors or find out which hashtags perform better on social media. 

Influencers report shows you the influencers who mentioned your keywords for each social media platform and ranks them by followers, number of mentions, and number of mentions. 
All the reports can be shared via a link or downloaded in a PDF file. 


Platforms Twitter

The best thing about Tweetdeck is that it’s free, the worst — it doesn’t monitor social media networks en masse, it’s limited to only one platform. Tweetdeck is an official Twitter software that makes managing Twitter easier. Along with scheduling features, it includes social listening features.

Basically, you can create a stream of all the tweets containing your keyword. Every time it’s mentioned in a tweet, it will appear in the stream (excluding private accounts). You can also see all your social engagement flow in one convenient dashboard.

The tool is quite intuitive and doesn’t require much time to work out. 


Platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Sina Weibo, VK, QQ, news and blogs, the web.

Brandwatch is the big guns of social data analysis. It consists of three different platforms that use social listening data to give you guidance on your marketing decisions.

Brandwatch Analytics, as it’s clear from the name, analyzes social media mentions and segments them based on the variety of filters and criteria. It also implements AI technology to notify you whenever there’s a sudden change in the sentiment or number of mentions.

Brandwatch Audiences’ main goal is to do detailed research into your potential audiences. It gives you access to a database of more than 450 million people, which you can search based on various demographic data and relevant keywords. Once you find the potential audience Brandwatch will show you how to reach them: what they talk about, what influencers they follow, what interests they share. You can compare up to three audiences to see what makes them unique.

Brandwatch Vizia will guide you through the tricky process of reporting on the analyzed data. Not only does it visualize the insights you get from Brandwatch software, but it also integrates your Google Analytics data so you can see the full picture. It also shows you who saw your reports and how many times they viewed them.

All in all, Brandwatch is perfect for a large social media agency or in-house social media teams in need of an all-encompassing social data platform.

Let's say you chose a tool - what's next?

Now you start your media monitoring journey! If I may, let me offer you some tips and social media monitoring examples to improve your experience.

Social listening tips for your business

1. Choose the right keywords to monitor

An example of a social media monitoring alert for Starbucks
An example of a social media monitoring alert for Starbucks

Half of your social media monitoring success depends on the right keywords. Since social listening platforms collect data based on the keywords and keyphrases it contains, the phrases you put in are the basis of your monitoring. They will depend on your goals: your brand name for brand monitoring, competitor names for competitor analysis, product names for market research, and so on.

Remember that you can always go back and add or delete certain keywords if you are unhappy with the results you're getting.

2. Don't forget to add misspellings

A social listening alert with different keywords

To make sure you find ALL the mentions you are interested in, you need to consider how people are talking about the subject you want to monitor. Think of the abbreviations and colloquialisms they might use.

In addition to that, add misspellings of the brand name or product name. No matter how simple your brand name is, people might post in a hurry and write it in a unique way, but it's still the social data you want to collect. That's where possible misspellings added as keywords help.

3. Embrace long-term monitoring

The volume of online mentions of Starbucks in 90 days
The volume of online mentions of Starbucks

Social media monitoring is a long-term project - if you track your brand over an extended period of time you notice the changes in your analytics and can start spotting some trends.

That's only logical. The more data you gather and examine, the more insights you get. That's why I recommend embracing social listening not as a one-time tool specific to one campaign or task, but a continuous support for your marketing strategy.

Let the data guide your marketing and product decisions and you'll see how much value social listening can bring.

That’s it for the basics of social media listening. I hope you got the answer to the question “What is social listening?” and the examples of how to apply it.

Check out our guide on how to set up a perfect social listening search and stay around for social listening tips and resources!

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