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March 29, 2022

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07 MIN.

What is Social Media Listening and How to Use it

What simply looking at company accounts can fail to tell you is how people feel about your business. This is where social media listening comes into play.

Richard Conn

Richard Conn

What is Social Media Listening and How to Use it

Imagine this scenario: you’re the owner of a restaurant. During service one night, you overhear the conversation between two regular customers. The first of them says “I always come here for their burgers - they’re magnificent!” to which the other replies “Oh yes, I agree. I’m less keen on their fries, though. They’re never crispy enough.”

If you heard this, what would your thoughts be? You’d want to know if this thought was replicated throughout your customer base, right? You’d want to be able to understand the views of your customers on the quality of the product, in this case, food, that you produce for them. This is what we would call “listening.”

Anyone can take the temperature of a business by looking at its accounts. In black and white, this shows how the company is performing, if it's in profit, or if it isn’t. What accounts can fail to tell you is how people feel about your business. After all, they have to pay for their food, unless it’s been a really appalling experience. 

Today’s article will take that concept of listening and see how, in a digital age, this can be used by digital companies, or companies with a digital presence, to gauge customer opinion. 

We’ll share tips on how to gather the most effective data possible. We'll also discuss the advantages of doing this, and how you can make the best use of the data you accumulate.

Social Media Listening

Social Media Listening
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So how, you might be asking, with a user base of approximately half the planet, can we hope to take a substantive look at social media opinion? After all, on platforms such as Twitter, “trending” seems to take care of that anyway, right?

Well, not quite. You see, when we’re looking to use social media listening, we’re not necessarily looking at how our company is performing in terms of trends on a communications platform. After all, things on social media trend as often for negative reasons as they do positive ones.

No, with social media listening, we’re looking to monitor what individuals are saying about our business. If you’re looking at the quantity of social media conversations, you’re doing social media monitoring.

Finding the inner nuance or “mood” of these conversations is where social media listening differentiates itself from social media monitoring. If there’s praise to be found, then that’s wonderful. And if we find criticism, then it’s just as important that we take this on board too.

Using elements like keyword search - the social media equivalent of googling yourself (we’ve all done it at least once!) - to see, at a glance, the general nature of people’s thoughts on your business is a handy introduction into this concept.

You can also track engagement trends - most relevantly shares and comments - on posts that the company has to check the general tone of how those who follow you are feeling about your brand.

During the pandemic (yes, we’re all sick of hearing about it, but it has generated some interesting insights), over half of marketers have turned to social media listening as a means of generating customer information. This now makes it the second-most widely used technique in gathering customer data online.

from which sources are marketing leaders worldwide getting rapid information about consumers during the coronavirus pandemic
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The Advantages of Social Media Listening

If you’re going to go to the trouble of reading between the lines of this data, then it’d better be worth it, right? If you were going to bring on a new team member, you need to be confident that they’ll pay for themselves in terms of the volume of business they bring in.

If you’re going to look at something like demand forecasting, you’re going to want to know the answer to the question: what is demand forecasting and how can it help your business?

The same goes for social media listening. When you can just point at increased engagement or trends as a positive sign, to go the extra mile and assess how good, neutral, or bad the tone of these engagements is where the real value lies.

And luckily, it does. Social media listening provides several advantages for business, including but not limited to:

  • Managing crises
  • Keeping track of competitors
  • Creating sales
  • Identifying partnerships

Firstly, you can use social media listening to manage any major crises you may have. We’re not talking about one person’s bad experience here, either, as bad as that can be. By crises, we’re referring to a PR nightmare, where an issue that your company has caused gains significant traction. It’s a particular type of 21st Century challenge that requires an equally up-to-date response.

In the same manner, as you can track your own “mood” trajectory, you can also use social media listening to monitor the health of your competitors. If you see, for example, that one of your closest competition is taking a beating in the court of public opinion, firing off a quick post with some wit can do wonders for your positive engagement.

You can also use social media listening as a chance to tap into new sales leads. By creating a more informal, relaxed atmosphere online, away from the corporate-speak of many websites, you’re able to build rapport with customers. This ensures they don’t get put off by the hard sell right away.

The Advantages of Social Media Listening
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And finally, you can use social media listening to identify any influencer marketing or brand partnerships for the future. If you find someone who is using your product has garnered a lot of attention and has driven a lot of positive engagement to you, reach out to them. It makes wonderful PR for both you and the influencer and can lead to a new, effective sales strategy.

We now know what social media listening is, and we know why you should be using it. Now, let’s take a look at the “how-to” by sharing some handy tips on how to ensure your social media listening is as effective as possible.

Tip #1: Scope

The first thing to mention in terms of how to ensure you’re listening as well as you can on social media is to be as thorough as possible. Recognize that conversations that are happening about your brand may not be happening in your managed communities. 

They may even be happening on sites where you have no presence. In this sense, without a social media listening strategy, it can be like operating a landline when all of your customers have converted to virtual calling technology such as VoiP.

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Forum sites such as Reddit are a key example of this. So many brands have sub-communities dedicated specifically to their product or their customer base. These tend to be their most fervent supporters, which means that any particularly negative criticism that you find here should be treated seriously.

Doing this also gives you an “in” on how to approach social media listening in a more approachable way. Company representatives on such sites can provide insight to any disgruntled posters without it being seen as a face-saving device that’s designed to sweep any issue under the carpet.

Tip #2: Flexibility

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When talking about flexibility concerning social media listening, what people really mean is ensuring that the language or tone that you strike online is less formal. 

The more time you spend engaging with customers online, the more you’ll feel comfortable conversing with them in a way that is approachable yet authoritative. As your social capital changes, either for good or for ill, being able to convey a response correctly will become easier. 

Don’t plan any material too far in advance, as you run the risk of sounding out of touch or inauthentic. Be in the moment, be nimble, and be responsive to the type of conversation people want to have with you.

Tip #3: Be Proactive

One of the key things with social media listening, again as opposed to monitoring the conversations of your customers, is to be proactive. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Seek them out. Be assertive. And be authentic as well.

It’s important to remain in control during both the good times and the bad times, as it allows you to be in a position to elevate good press and minimize the effects of bad press. If you see something that isn’t working, be decisive and take action. If something is gaining good responses, build it up. Share it far and wide. 

Now that we’ve taken a look at some tips that can help you with the “how-to” of your social media listening strategy, let’s take a look at some of the custom-made tools that can help you execute this.

Tools to Use

With all the benefits social media listening can bring to your business, it’s best to make sure that the software you use to carry this out is up to scratch. Luckily, social media listening isn’t exactly in its infancy when it comes to digital businesses using it. 

Social media management tools like Iconosquare allow you, through process automation, to track many different websites and social media pages at a glance. This allows you to build a much bigger general picture of the sentiment and opinion in which your company is held online.


Understanding how to go about using social media listening as part of your online strategy is vitally important. Depending on how you want to monitor the conversation that people are having about your brand, there are a multitude of sites that you can use.

As people become more and more immersed in the social landscape, conversations that will benefit and inform future marketing, sales, and PR strategies will originate here. And for that reason alone, it's worth getting on board with the practice sooner rather than later.

the writer
Richard Conn

Richard Conn

Senior Director, Demand Generation, 8x8

Richard Conn is an analytical & results-driven digital marketing leader with a track record of achieving major ROI improvements in fast-paced, competitive B2B environments.


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