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What Is Social Media Listening? Definition & Examples

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Social media has come a long way since its inception. The average internet user is spending more than 150 minutes per day on social media, a number that continues to increase each year. 

While increased time on social media means ample opportunities for brands to captivate audiences, the benefits of social media for brands don’t stop there. The billions of conversations happening online offer a window into consumers’ behaviors and preferences, making social media a treasure trove of valuable information brands can use to inform their PR and comms strategies. But to cash in on the treasure, brands must understand how to track and derive meaning from those conversations. They must understand social media listening.

What Is Social Media Listening?

The definition of social media listening is the process of monitoring conversations on social media platforms to determine what people are saying about your brand. It uses software to track certain keywords, brands, or products on platforms like Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram, LinkedIn, and others. Social media listening tools leverage artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that analyze the discussions happening around them for things like positive or negative sentiment, then pass insights on to the brand. From there, PR and comms professionals can anticipate potential challenges, craft communications strategies, and manage their reputations more effectively. 

What Is the Difference Between Social Media Listening and Monitoring? 

While the two terms are easily confused, “social media monitoring” typically refers only to the first step within the definition of social media listening: collecting the data. Monitoring means looking at things like brand mentions, comments, and hashtags and gathering them into a database, usually with an automated social monitoring tool. Listening, on the other hand, analyzes data more deeply, looking at brand sentiment, context, and trends to understand the emotions and reasoning behind the words.

Social media monitoring involves observations: It hears what has already happened or already been said. Social media listening is more like a conversation: It not only hears what is currently happening, but engages with it. It reads between the lines to understand the sentiment of what is being said, like reading body language in a conversation.

Why Is Social Media Listening Important?

Social listening provides a deeper understanding of how the public perceives your brand. You can better connect with your target audience, identify trends, anticipate crises, and ultimately make more informed decisions. That’s why there are so many benefits of social listening

Improve Customer Satisfaction

Social media listening provides you with direct, unfiltered feedback about your products, services, and overall brand. You’ll hear what works and what doesn’t. You’ll hear complaints and suggestions. The best social media listening tools do this in real-time, so you can address customer concerns and negative feedback quickly, before it escalates. You can also incorporate insights into your future plans, such as improving a product based on customer feedback.

Discover Trends

The real-time capabilities of social media listening tools also allow you to spot trends across multiple social media channels early on so that you can adjust your strategies accordingly. For example, you can stay on top of industry trends by tracking what influencers and thought leaders are sharing and talking about. And you can identify and track trends within specific demographics to help target your social posts and marketing campaigns. Effective social media listening is one component of a wider brand monitoring and management strategy.

Manage Crises

As you track trends, you might notice rising negative sentiment in a certain area. Negativity can spread quickly online, and social media listening enables you to detect and manage a crisis before it gets out of control. Being proactive and transparent is also essential in today’s landscape. These tools allow you to craft your response from an informed, confident standpoint to mitigate future damage. 

Stay Ahead of Competition

Influencers, thought leaders, and segmented audiences aren’t the only groups you should be tracking. One of the biggest benefits of social listening is that you can also track your competitors. Knowing what customers think of the competition can help you craft campaigns that generate leads. Analyzing what they post and when can give you hints about what might be going on behind the scenes. And tracking their successes and failures gives you a window into what might work – or not work – for your own brand. 

Examples of Social Media Listening

Thanks to advanced algorithms and software, social media listening has come a long way. Brands today use it in all of the following ways, and more: 

  • Developing a product: A software-as-a-service (SaaS) developer follows the discussion around its product features and leverages those insights to fix bugs and make updates.
  • Launching a product: A telecommunications firm monitors the buzz around their brand on social media to determine when to release their new cell phone. 
  • Optimizing campaigns: An auto manufacturer releases a new car model and uses social media listening to track the performance of promotional campaigns and tie audience engagement back to revenue.
  • Competitive benchmarking: A beauty product company uses social listening to determine what worked for a competitor that just released a similar product.
  • Reaching new audiences: A jewelry maker identifies influencers with high engagement in their desired demographic to increase reach. 
  • Managing brand reputation: A high-end fashion retailer notices customers discussing a perceived lower quality in their clothing. They quickly address the feedback to maintain their brand reputation. 
  • Improving customer experience: A restaurant chain discovers customers are complaining about long wait times and uses that information to improve its experience.

How to Build an Effective Social Media Listening Strategy

Social media listening can feel overwhelming: It’s projected there will be nearly 6 billion social media users worldwide by 2027. Here’s how to make sure your social listening strategy can cut through the noise. 

Set Clear Objectives

It’s always important to define your campaign goals. First, choose what you want to achieve. Perhaps you want to determine the sentiment around your brand, identify emerging trends, or improve your product. Next, choose the keywords or phrases to track that are associated with your goal. Finally, segment your audience so that you’re only listening to those who are relevant to your goal, and choose the channels where they are most active.

Choose Effective Keywords

Your keywords are the most important element of your social media listening strategy. They’re the words that the software will detect and monitor. The exact words and phrases vary based on your goal, but most campaigns will follow:

  • Your brand name, including misspellings, abbreviations, and nicknames
  • Names of your products and services
  • Names of key employees like your CEO
  • Your slogan or motto and any related words
  • Frequently used brand hashtags
  • All of the above points for your competitors
  • Non-brand-related words and hashtags common in your industry

Use the Right Tools

Finding the right social media listening software is also crucial. There are many options available, and the one that’s right for you will depend on your business size, the volume of data you want to analyze, your audience, and your budget. It should also include the features you need to achieve the goals you outlined, like:

  • Media monitoring
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Influencer tracking
  • Narrative tracking
  • Real-time alerts
  • Text analytics 
  • Comprehensive reporting
  • Intuitive dashboards
  • Engagement tools

Create Processes

There are a lot of moving pieces to any social listening strategy. You’ll need a process for setting up a campaign, implementing changes, and reviewing data. Have weekly or monthly check-ins with all stakeholders and quarterly meetings with executives. Even the most tailored social media listening plan yields a wealth of data that you can share with other departments, so create a system for sharing data with sales, marketing, product development, and recruiting or human resources. 

Measure and Optimize

The best social media listening software doesn’t just listen – it provides actionable insights and connects your campaigns back to real business goals. Regularly review these insights and optimize your approach to improve your impact on the bottom line. You can use your learnings to increase positive brand awareness, improve your net promoter score (NPS), increase clicks, and drive conversion. 

The Future of Social Media Listening

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and so are the capabilities of social media listening tools. For example, our CisionOne platform uses advanced language models to deliver real-time, in-depth media insights, making sentiment analysis more accurate. And our proprietary Risk Score feature identifies potentially harmful content so you can proactively monitor and respond. 

Speak to a Cision expert today to see how we’ve helped leading brands amplify their social media impact and leverage social listening to inform smarter decisions. 

About Amy O'Connell
About Amy O'Connell

Amy O'Connell is the Global Content and Experience Producer at Cision. She is a skilled marketing and communications professional with over 15 years of experience across various industries.