Data-driven insights uncover audience needs, enabling you to proactively create communications initiatives.

Leaders in enterprise organizations face a paradox in identifying when, where and how to engage audiences. With finite communications and marketing resources, brands struggle to be everywhere at once.

Brands need to understand trends and conversations in order to generate the content that will win in an earned world. Listening is the key to effectively leveraging buyer and influencer conversation trends to drive customer behavior. Brands can then use insights learned from listening to create content that engages journalists, influencers and customer advocates who will share that content with their broader networks.  

Listening begins with understanding how your brand is already being discussed in the media and by thought leaders online. From there you can evaluate your level of influence as compared to your competitors and track their activities. Finally, listening will enable you to identify the topics and themes to win the next news cycle. You do this by creating content which capitalizes on the knowledge you’ve gained about your industry and competitors, using that knowledge to position yourself as the voice of authority in your industry and building positive sentiment for your brand.

Crisis in listening

In a study published by the University of Technology Sydney in 2015, Professor Jim Macnamara found that the average large organization devoted 80% of its resources to broadcasting its messages to the public or clients and only 20% on listening.

206062Macnamara’s study identified this as a crisis in listening. This is best represented by the global spend on advertising, which totaled $513 billion in 2015. How much is your brand spending on understanding the impact of those efforts on the perceptions, opinions and needs of those you are reaching?

As brands, we are all shouting in a crowded room. When brands fail to listen, they act like someone who is late to the party — interrupting different groups to tell stories about themselves. No one likes being around that person.

Being the loudest in a room doesn’t make you the most influential. In fact, broadcasting a message while being tone deaf to the current conversation prevents you from effectively responding to, evolving with and acting on the insights waiting to be found. (click to tweet)

When we listen, we learn. We can spot opportunities to interject into the conversation, blend into it and take control when we have something valuable to say. Then, not only will you know which conversations to jump into and which to avoid, but you’ll also be able to time it appropriately to position your brand as a credible voice weighing in on a trending topic.

Here are three things that listening can help your organization do:

1. Respond: Identify needs from existing audiences and supply relevant information or services

2. Evolve: Use insights to lead change internally and externally

3. Activate: Drive results from real-time data through benchmarking and optimization

Respond: Giving audiences want they need

Listening enables brands to avoid crises, and in some cases, even save lives.

In May 2016, Northern Alberta, Canada faced one of the most serious wildfires in North American history. The fires raged for weeks and forced the evacuation of 90,000 residents from the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the city of Fort McMurray.

In the worst 48 hours of the fire, Robin Smith, press secretary at Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, worked with emergency personnel to listen to the public and direct them to emergency relief centers beyond the community.

Tweets from residents found blocked roads and Smith directed fire crews to the points of greatest danger. More than 2,400 homes burned down and businesses were destroyed, but no one died. This was largely a result of the communications efforts between all parties involved.

Even if brands aren’t up against a crisis, they can save time, manpower and money by deploying a successful listening program.

The basis of any social listening program should tune in to three things:

1. Service and product issues or requests: As many as 42% of those who complain on social media expect a response in under 60 minutes. Just as your client success or service support teams would act on a phone call, your organization needs to be able to respond to social requests promptly and with the right course of action.

Customers won’t always use your brand’s Twitter handle or product names. You have to listen to discussions around your solutions in the language that your customers use to describe your industry, not your internal company jargon, to identify hidden issues. These additional topic searches need to be deployed in your listening software to enable service teams to respond to social media complaints or requests.

2. Needs identification: Existing clients and contacts may be telling you what they need, but if no one is listening, these valuable insights will go unnoticed. Take suggestions and feed these back into your product development and customer service teams.

3. New opportunities: With more than 60% of North Americans engaging on social media, important user groups or industry niches could be screaming for help. How can you identify a new audience to help if you aren’t listening around the problems your brand can solve? 

Think through the solutions your brand can offer and develop searches to find people who may be interested in your services.


“We lost power in significant parts of the community during the fire. By listening to social conversation, we found that people were concerned about their fridges which were full of rotten food,” said Smith.

With that insight the municipality took action, organizing a white goods pickup program to remove 10,000 fridges full of rotten and dangerous waste that attracted pests and disease. This is proactive action driven by social listening. (click to tweet)

When you act proactively, you can improve your brand’s reputation and be the hero once again. When you don’t, issues can fester, rotting your brand from its core, reducing trust and creating long-lasting problems.

Evolve: Listening to drive change


Residents weren’t listening; people deprioritized their own health. Missing appointments meant people didn’t get the medications or treatments they really needed which wasted the medical system’s time and taxpayers’ money. Brands face this problem all of the time, people don’t listen when a solution to a problem is presented. Brands can identify a need and obvious benefit but getting other organizations or the public to pay attention and take action requires a major change in tactics.

Social intelligence and media monitoring enables brands to measure the signals that consumers are sending. When we listen to what our audiences discuss and respond to, we can find the types of messages that drive action.

Understanding the motivators and affinities of our consumers should influence our messaging and even our products.

Here are the three things your organization should listen for in its existing audience:

1. Interest categories: What are the 10 leading topics and influencers that drive the conversation for your audience?

Measuring the trend in the conversation and identifying the who and what people discuss can determine the what and how your brand should engage.

It is easier to have your organization engage in an existing conversation or to position your brand within an established niche than to build it from scratch. Monitor your target audience, listen for what content is shared most broadly and find the individuals who receive the most attention when they share those messages.

2. Conversation peaks and valleys: When is your audience most likely to be engaged in valuable conversations?

Time is an important factor in ensuring your brand’s messages will be received most effectively. Peak publishing periods are cyclical, based on monthly or quarterly trends and can be drilled down to tactical posting and releasing of content.

Knowing when to launch a product, campaign or earnings release can directly affect stock prices, lead conversion or social virality. As an example, when emails are sent in the early morning, more readers unsubscribe or report it as spam.

3. Message engagement: What messages or content are actually shared and receive engagement?

The final step in evolving your organizational communications is in format. Your content will be ignored if it does not match the format and medium it is being published within, regardless of the subject matter experts you feature. Identify what content formats actually thrive on that particular channel and topic. Conduct an analysis of the leading pieces of content evaluating length, style, authors and tone.


The results found that using personal pronouns like you discussing the costs of missed appointments and including a phone number to cancel appointments improved appointment uptake. When the NHS deployed this across the entire system, it reduced missed appointments by 30%, saving taxpayers millions of pounds the following year.

Listening isn’t about going viral or trending; it’s about saving brands money and improving results. (click to tweet)

The key here is that the NHS knew to listen to the inaction taken by patients and tested different tactics to drive change. Even a negative insight can provide an impactful takeaway.

Activate: Benchmarking and Optimization

Technology makes it possible for us to scale up our communications efforts and reach more people. However, if we don’t listen to audiences with the same technical capacity, we’ll return to the one-to-many communications tactics of broadcast media and email blasts.

But how broad can a brand listen and how detailed can that segmentation go?

As part of a public relations and awareness campaign, Cision monitored the U.S. presidential election starting in October 2015, carrying through post-election. Our team began by tracking the primary debates and benchmarking them against one another over episodic monitoring periods.

This enabled us to identify regional- and topic-based trends in the discussion and build out further searches and segmentation. From the start we realized what the leading topics were:

1. Economy

2. Foreign Policy

3. Terrorism and ISIS

When we drilled down deeper, we saw that every state had its own leading topics. Quite often the top three changed places, or a fourth outlier topic creeped into the top three. This led us to broaden our search yet again, tracking the activities of every commenter discussing all of the candidates at the time in every state.

By November 2015, we’d predicted that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would be the major parties’ respective nominees. Following that trend, in mid-October we predicted, based on social media support, that unless something drastic happened, Donald Trump would be president-elect.

Presidential Debates 2016


This broadscale monitoring let us benchmark how different events in the election cycle performed. For instance, we know that for all three presidential debates, the first had the largest audience online with each subsequent debate losing 20% of its social media commenters. People were less engaged; their minds had been made up.

This data set enabled us to answer new types of questions as opposed to just who got more tweets in a given time. 

1. Who had won or lost supporters and what events caused these changes?

2. What messages drove conversations with supporters in battleground states?

3. Who were the most effective surrogates for either campaign?

4. What debate statements created the greatest antipathy toward both candidates in real time?

5. Which online commenters were automated bots and who were real supporters?

This listening project landed Cision media hits on national live television two nights in a row, including a spot on Canada’s premiere television network, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Stories also ran globally that used Cision data to prove that botnets (automated social media accounts sharing hundreds of posts a day), were impacting Twitter conversations. In Canada alone, our research campaign generated 12 million media mentions.

Not only were we able to identify who had the most mentions, but we were also able to see when supporters fell off the wagon and when they turned on the candidates. (click to tweet)

Lessons for communicators

We brought data to the conversation with the media that otherwise did not exist. You too can bring a data-driven listening strategy to your organization:

1. Identify trends and events that win and lose brand supporters

2. Test messaging that succeeds with varying demographic, regional or persona groups

3. Find and engage the most effective spokespeople and influencers for your brand

4. Build detailed topic-based personas to find target audiences’ interests, activities and affinities

5. Segment industry noise and valuable content based on user engagement

Your brand’s segmented, multichannel communications are only as valuable as your understanding of the audience found therein. A listening campaign should answer these three questions (click to tweet):  

1. Who responds to what?
Identify what messages resonate with your target audience. Then monitor who beyond your target audience is responding to your content as well.

2. What else do they respond to?
If your target audience isn’t engaging with your content, what do they actually respond to? This knowledge should direct the types of content your brand creates and what advertising or sponsorships your brand purchases.

3. What activities or interests drive the greatest engagement?
Identify what topics your target audience finds the most interesting. You can also find what times of year your audience will be most receptive to different types of messages. This way, when your brand wants to target specific user groups you can identify the types of content and times that work best.

Listening is just the first step in a process that will help your communications and marketing teams drive more revenue, increase brand relevance and succeed in the future. Before engaging with influencers or building your next campaign, listen to your online community and customers. Take the time to segment these conversations by theme and use these insights to direct your communications strategy.

When you know what message resonates with your target audience and who influences those discussions most effectively, you won’t need to shout to be heard. Instead, you’ll know exactly what and when that message needs to be said and by whom, and you can begin to craft a compelling content strategy that will engage influencers. inspire positive sentiment for your brand and drive purchasing decisions.


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