What is social listening and why is it important for marketing?

Being active on social media is by now a natural element of any marketing strategy. But with so much social media marketing focused on putting content out into the online sphere and getting your voice heard, it is easy to forget that listening to others is just as important.

Cue social listening. A hot topic for many strategists, this week we’re exploring what it is, why social listening is important and how you can integrate it into your marketing strategy.

What is it?

Social listening is an important skill for any social media-savvy marketer. Put simply, social listening is about learning to draw key insights, real-time feedback and social metrics from the conversation that surrounds your brand in the social media sphere, and then using this to inform and improve your marketing strategy.

Based on the notion that ‘most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen this with the intent to reply’, social listening is about moving beyond simply putting more and more content out into the online world.

A recent whitepaper by CRM organisation Salesforce (in conjunction with Marketing Week) has argued that although it is easy to see social listening as a job for the customer service or relations team, ‘what goes on across social channels can bring greater benefits to the company as a whole when you don’t limit it to one department.’

It argues that for content marketers ‘listening for interaction and engagement can confirm your messaging is on track — and helps assess your brand’s impact.’ In data terms, the ‘number of interactions and engagements are more relevant than number of followers’, and can be used to inform decision making at every level of an organisation.

Why is it important?

For Chicago-based communications organisation Sprout Social, social listening is important because marketers must go beyond simply watching the mentions tally up and replying to followers. Given that ‘a whopping 30% of Tweets mentioning your company don’t include your Twitter handle’, Sprout argues that brands must go ‘beyond your notifications and find people who aren’t tagging you in their updates and discussions.’

Although perhaps an unusual source of social media marketing advice, a recent article for transport magazine Mass Transit, written by content analyst Zach Hernandez from data analytics agency AlphaVu, paints social listening as the human approach to social media marketing.

Defined as a qualitative approach to market research and based in anthropological methodologies, Hernandez suggests that ‘social listening gives marketers a glimpse into the thoughts and conversations that customers express in an impartial manner and setting familiar to them.’

He notes that ‘one or small groups of comments may not be a representative sample of your entire population, but are valuable because they could point you to a nascent phenomenon or a developing trend.’ By listening to social media in real time and using this data to constantly inform strategy, it is possible to respond quickly and agilely to emerging conversations.

How can you integrate it into your strategy?

For Enterprise Innovation, there are a number of things you can do to optimise your listening strategy. Among these is the need to understand your KPIs beyond simply crunching numbers, for example by ‘being able to map conversations against peak sales periods [which] offers a 360 view of performance indicators.’

By understanding who the key influencers are and ‘allowing them to become natural brand advocates’, it is argued that brands can not only map but shape conversations and interactions on social media. When combined with actionable results and linked to key strategies for growth, social listening becomes a valuable tool for marketers.

CMS Wire also believes that careful integration of the data you mine from social listening into your strategy can be used to inform everything from service improvements to product roadmaps. CMS Wire argues that social listening can be used to get ahead of the curve and always stay one step ahead of the competition.

With a focus on spotting as yet untapped opportunities and then building strategy around the insights generated, social listening can go beyond simply monitoring progress, and become a useful tool for informing marketing campaigns and remaining agile in a fast moving online world.

What is social listening and why is it important for marketing?