Social listening is becoming an increasingly popular market insights avenue. If you’re not quite sure what it is, you’re not alone. But it’s time to learn, as you may be missing out on an incredibly valuable – and economical – source to understand your customers and your market.

Quite simply, social listening is the practice of leveraging data from social media to gain insights about a company’s brands, customers, competitors and market.

Different teams have different uses for the practice. Public affairs teams monitor the real time discussion of their brands in order to gain early detection of reputation risks. Marketing teams use social listening to track and analyze the reaction, engagement, and KPIs of their campaigns. Looking broadly, market research teams leverage social data as a unique source of consumer information that provides a complete understanding of the consumer.

Bloomberg/file photo

What makes social listening so compelling? Several things. Consider:

Social media conversations are an invaluable and rich source of consumer feedback.

While unsolicited, your consumers are sharing their feedback about your product or service and you simply can’t ignore it. In addition, this feedback is made publically, making it one of the most potentially impactful mediums for word of mouth marketing. Employing a social listening strategy empowers teams to monitor the feedback and opinions shared online and react in a timely manner. This work can also identify key online opinion leaders who are potential brand advocates or detractors.

Case Study: A top CPG manufacturer utilizes on social listening to identify highly effective brand advocates with whom to partner and to evaluate the effectiveness of existing partners in order to maximize return-on-investment.

Social data offers a unique perspective that is unavailable elsewhere.

No other source of consumer data provides insight into how your customers speak about your brand to each other, in an unguided and unbiased fashion. The discussions that unfold online are driven by the organic experiences and desires of the consumer, and are occurring peer-to-peer, not under the observation of a researcher. It is not uncommon to uncover unique attitudes and behaviors here that were not expressed in other mediums.

Case Study: A psychoactive drug manufacturer learned a new driver of non-adherence among their patients when conducting social listening. While patients were not sharing their continued alcohol use and its impact on their compliance with researchers or their doctors, they shared this fact with each other without hesitation online.

Social Listening is timely, relevant, and cost-effective.

The immediacy of data due to the nature of social media and the sophistication of social listening technology results in a faster time to value than ever before. Alerts and insight into unfolding conversations can be accessed essentially instantly. In addition, market research reports leveraging social data can be turned around in a matter of weeks, having skipped over many of the traditionally time-consuming upfront planning processes such as recruitment, questionnaire and stimuli development, and data gathering.

Case Study: Recruiting for research of rare disease patients can be difficult, but social listening allowed one partner to locate a vast community of engaged patients within a public group on Facebook. The resulting research augmented the otherwise limited sample of research participants.

So why are some not yet using this powerful tool? Despite growing awareness of Social Listening, some brand teams face barriers to full adoption.

Below are three of the most common misconceptions that can stand in the way, and responses that can help you push your team forward.

Social data is really just for the marketers. It is true that most marketing teams are leveraging some type of social listening to monitor campaign success. Don’t miss the value available by using Social Listening techniques to identify organic influencers or to study complex attitudes, perceptions and behaviors of your consumers.

Regulations will limit our ability to use this practice. In fact, compliance with industry regulations within Social Listening is rather simple and straight forward. Even pharmaceutical brands are taking advantage of social data, and if pharma can do something within their regulations, any industry can.

We have no specific use for social insight analysis. You are right to question the motive, as truly the most vital part of any Social Listening endeavor is smart planning. However, the opportunities to leverage Social Listening to inform decision making abound, and a skilled partner will help your team to identify and articulate these objectives at the outset of an endeavor.

Below are just a few uses for social listening that may apply to your brand:

  • Uncover decision factors around your brand and competitors
  • Validate and test hypotheses and findings from other research
  • Elucidate unmet needs and desires in the market
  • Inform content development by learning what language and themes resonate with your target consumers
  • Improve customer experience by identifying points of dissatisfaction
  • Track and monitor reactions to DTC campaigns, both digital and traditional
  • Track consumer reaction to a market event such as a conference or competitor entrance
  • Explore the viability of a social engagement by analyzing the success of your competitors already doing so
  • Identify potential brand advocates or partners who are influential in the online community
  • Uncover potential controversies and reputational risks before they become associated with your brand

Social listening works best when you have experts in your corner who are capable of transforming the teams’ goals into a research plan, and then into timely and actionable insights. Vet partners carefully; request work samples and case studies. A successful social listening strategy is a critical tool in a successful brand team’s tool belt, to optimize marketing strategies and accelerate brand usage.

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Jennifer Dandy

Jennifer Dandy

Jennifer Dandy manages the analytics division of the ListenLogic business unit within Anexinet, which specializes in leveraging unstructured data analytics to drive business outcomes.