Social listening is a weird discipline.
It’s so versatile that it can be tricky to define – or even narrow down to a brief list of benefits or use cases. One could say, social media monitoring lets you manage brand reputation; and while it’s true, reputation management is just one of the many ways to use social listening (and, arguably, not the main one).
With equal justice, one could say, social listening lets you find potential customers – not just the ones who go “hey, I’m looking for a home insurance company in New York City”, but also the ones who go “hey, I’m about to move to NYC”, if you’re willing to go there.
In this social listening guide, I tried to put together a somewhat comprehensive list of the benefits of social media listening. I’m also going to try and break down every use case into easy-to-follow steps and give you a way to measure performance. But before we start, let’s address the tricky question: what is social listening, exactly?
(An attempt at) defining social listening
Social listening is the process of using a tool to monitor online conversations for mentions of a keyword (such as a brand name) or a complex search expression across social media and the web at large.
The process also includes pulling analytics on the data to give users insights into:
- the volume of conversations around their keywords,
- the reach of these conversations,
- public sentiment towards the subject matter,
- key themes within the mentions,
- geography and demographics of people mentioning the keywords.
All of these can then be compared to mentions of other keywords (e.g., a brand’s competitors) to benchmark performance and pick metrics to focus on.
8 ways to leverage social data:
- Monitor and improve brand reputation
- Measure brand health & benchmark your metrics
- Dig out your competitors’ secrets
- Measure the impact of marketing & PR
- Find influencers to work with.
- Discover customer prospects
- Improve SEO
- Write better content
1. Monitor and improve brand reputation
Reputation management is one of the obvious things you can do with social listening. A lot of brands use social listening tools exclusively for that — keeping a pulse on the volume and sentiment of conversations around their company and products and making sure they address spikes in negative mentions as soon as possible to prevent them from turning into reputation crises.
If reputation management is something you’re looking to do, things couldn’t get simpler — sign up for a social media monitoring tool that offers sentiment analysis. Consider Awario if you’re looking for a budget-friendly but the robust solution, Talkwalker if you’re on the hunt for Enterprise tools, or Social Searcher as a free, easy-to-use alternative.
Type in your brand name (along with common misspellings and your social media handles), and let the tool dig out mentions and pull in analytics. Here are the most important things to focus on in terms of reputation monitoring.
Measure volume of mentions
The first metric you’ll find in any social media monitoring tool’s dashboard is the number of mentions over time. I don’t have to tell you it should ideally be growing (or at least not going down) month over month.
If you spot any spikes, make sure to examine mentions from that day to see what caused an influx of new mentions – was it a campaign you launched, your new blog post, or a mention by an influencer that went viral? Take note of your findings to figure out which of your marketing tactics work best in terms of brand awareness.
Keep an eye on reach
Not all mentions are created equal: if your every family member puts together a post with nothing but praise about your brand, all of those mentions together will likely not reach as many people as a single acknowledgement by Billie Eilish (whether or not those are the right people to reach for your business is a whole other question).
That’s where reach comes in — an estimate of the number of impressions your mentions get. Just like with the volume of mentions, it’s a good idea to examine any spikes in-depth — if your reach changes dramatically on a given day while your volume of mentions remains roughly the same, that means you’ve been mentioned by someone influential.
Sentiment analysis is perhaps one of the most important aspects of brand monitoring. Make it your morning routine to log in to your social listening dashboard and look out for spikes in negative mentions.
Sentiment chart. Screenshot from Awario.
Whenever you spot one, you can click right on it to explore the mentions that caused the spike. Go through them one by one, and make sure to respond to any negative comments as soon as possible.
Pro tip: Calculate net sentiment to take sentiment analysis one step further.
Net sentiment is a single metric that will show you how your brand is doing sentiment-wise. The formula goes like this (note that neutral mentions are excluded from the calculation):
In other words, net sentiment shows you whether you have more positive or negative mentions, and by how much. Here’s an example: on the sentiment chart above, you can see that there are 23.7% positive mentions and 31.5% negative ones. From there, you can calculate net sentiment: (23.7%-31.5%) / (23.7%+31.5%) = -0.14. The fact that the number is negative tells us there are more negative mentions than positive ones; the value itself – that there negative sentiment outweighs positive sentiment by 14%.
2. Measure brand health & benchmark your metrics
There’s a lot of buzz online around the concepts of brand health, brand equity, brand awareness, and such. On their own, these concepts are somewhat vague. They’re not metrics per se; what exactly do you measure brand health in?
There’s no specific answer. Brand health is an umbrella term for a bunch of metrics you’ll find in a social listening tool, such as the volume of conversations, reach, and sentiment. But let’s say you’ve measured those and got 1,000 conversations, a reach of 10,000, and a net sentiment of 0.5. How do you make sense of these numbers? Can you sit down and say, “Now I know exactly how healthy my brand is”?
Just like with taking a blood test, looking at brand health metrics is only useful if you have benchmarks. That’s why to truly evaluate your brand’s health, it’s important to compare your performance across every metric you’re tracking with your competition’s. To do that, create an alert for each of your biggest competitors in your social listening tool.
Measure share of voice
Start with comparing your brand’s volume of mentions (aka share of voice) to your competitors’. This will let you see which company is dominating the conversation and where your brand falls on the spectrum.
Share of voice for airlines. Study by Awario.
From here, you can also dig deeper into your biggest competitors’ mentions to see who’s talking about them and what the conversations are about.
Track share of reach
Similarly, keep an eye on share of reach to see how many estimated impressions your mentions are getting versus the competition. If some of your competitors’ reach is disproportionately high while their volume of mentions isn’t, there’s a good chance they are doing some influencer marketing. Again, it’s a good idea to dig into their mentions to see which influencers they are working with — perhaps there’s an opportunity for you to partner up with some of them, too.
Lastly, look at each competitor’s sentiment to see how each brand is doing with consumers. For brands that have the most positive mentions, try and examine those to see which aspects of their products or services customers are most excited about.
Best airlines by sentiment. Study by Awario.
Pro tip: Calculate competitors’ average sentiment for benchmarking
To quickly evaluate where you stand in terms of sentiment, it can be useful to calculate the average sentiment for your competition and see if yours is above or below the average. If you’re using Awario, you don’t have to calculate it manually – just go to the Mention Statistics report and select all of your competitors to see their overall sentiment. From there, you can use these numbers as benchmarks for your own sentiment.
3. Dig out your competitors’ secrets
There are many ways social listening can help you with competitor analysis. We just went through how you can use it to assess the same metrics you’re measuring for your own company — mentions, reach, sentiment — for benchmarking. But there are other, more subtle ways you can get competitive intel with the help of social media monitoring. Think figuring out their revenue and number of customers, which influencers they work with, what PR tactics are working for them, and what aspects of their product or service customers like (and hate) the most.
Learn from competitors’ PR and marketing tactics
Which influencers do your competitors collaborate with? Which conferences and events do they visit? What is their PR strategy? To get answers to these questions and learn from your competitors’ tactics, set up social media monitoring searches for the brand/product names of your competitors if you don’t have them set up already. Look for social media influencers as well as press and media mentions by filtering competitors’ mentions by reach. If your competitors get a lot of media mentions, pay attention to the context they get mentioned in: do news websites cover their branded research, company news, or something else?
Pro tip: Reach out to journalists who mention your competition
Some social media monitoring tools offer authority metrics like influence and traffic for web mentions. Check those to decide if it makes sense to partner up with the media outlet, and note the article author’s name along with the publication’s top authors – those will be good candidates for outreach.
Domain authority metrics. Screenshot from Awario.
Figure out your competitors’ revenue
Competitors’ revenue and number of customers are a part of every competitor analysis. But more often than not, you won’t be able to find information about how much money your competitors are making and how fast they are growing. Social listening can help you get that data by finding interviews and conference presentations by the key figures in a competitor’s company. Believe me, you’ll be surprised at just how often your competitors share information on their revenue and growth.
Social listening feed with mentions on YouTube. Screenshot from Awario.
To do this, create a social media monitoring search for the names of your competitors’ CEOs or other key figures (don’t forget to put the names in double quotes to search for an exact match), and select YouTube as the source for the search. Give the tool a little time to collect the data, and you’ll be able to watch those videos right in the app, noting your findings along the way.
Learn more about competitors’ customers
Monitoring your rivals’ mentions will also help you understand their audience better. Look at the social media analytics of competitors’ mentions and pay attention to things like gender, geography, and languages to spot any gaps between the markets you and your competitors target and identify new opportunities.
Demographic dashboard. Screenshot from Talkwalker.
Another thing to look for within your competitors’ mentions is what their customers love and hate about their products. To do that, look at the key themes within your competitors’ mentions. What aspects of their product do customers mention the most? For details, click on a topic to examine the posts that mention it in-depth.
4. Measure the impact of marketing & PR
Whenever you launch a marketing or PR campaign, social media listening is going to be extremely handy to evaluate its impact. By monitoring your campaigns, launches, and other initiatives, you’ll get real-time insights on reach, sentiment, and context of conversations around the topic.
This is particularly useful for the kind of efforts whose goal is increasing brand awareness, or the ones whose impact is tricky to measure in terms of monetary ROI, like most PR initiatives.
Track your campaigns
To measure the success of marketing campaigns, create a social listening search for your campaign keywords and hashtags, and add a URL of your landing page or campaign website if you have one.
Key topics for #beforealexa. Screenshot from Awario.
Once you’ve got some data to work with, pay attention to the volume of conversations, reach, sentiment, and key topics for insights into the nature of the discussion.
Monitor mentions in the media
PR is often hard to tie directly to revenue-related metrics. That makes it tricky to measure and report on. If you got X mentions from Y publishers, how do you know if it’s good or bad? It’s a good idea to focus on the reach of those mentions – the estimated number of impressions they have received.
Pro tip: Monitor mentions on partners’ websites only
Some social media listening tools will let you create a separate search to look for mentions on specific websites. In Awario, that can be done by using the Whitelist in strict mode. Specify the URLs of the websites you partner with, and the tool will look for mentions on those sites. This setup will let you measure the reach of your PR initiatives (as opposed to the reach of all media mentions) and calculate how much exposure your brand is getting from proactive PR efforts as opposed to earned media.
5. Find influencers to work with.
There are several ways social listening can help you with influencer marketing, from partnering up with influencers who are already talking about you to finding new influencers by monitoring your industry and competition.
Leverage brand advocates you already have
Chances are influential people are already mentioning you to their audiences — whether they’re macro- or micro-influencers, reaching out to them to establish a relationship is definitely a good idea. Most social listening tools offer a dedicated dashboard or report to show you the most influential people talking about your brand.
Influencer dashboard. Screenshot from Talkwalker.
Find new influencers in your niche
You can also discover new influencers by looking at the most influential social media users talking about your competition — and your industry in general.
Set up an alert for keywords that describe your industry. For instance, if you run an SEO agency, your keywords could be seo, search engine optimization, etc. Once the results come in, sort them by reach to see posts by the most influential social media users.
Pro tip: Filter results to find micro-influencers
Sometimes looking at the most influential accounts in your industry won’t give you a list of people you can realistically work with. Filtering results by reach is handy if you’re looking for micro-influencers — social media users with up to 50K followers.
An example of filtering results by reach. Screenshot from Awario.
6. Discover customer prospects
There are multiple ways you can use social media for lead generation. The only thing you’ll need is a social listening tool with a Boolean search mode — a flexible way to search for mentions with the help of multiple search operators.
Find people who are looking for a product like yours
The obvious thing to start with is to search for people who are asking for recommendations on a product or service like yours. In your social listening tool, set up a Boolean query featuring descriptions of your product plus words like “recommend” and “suggest”.
I’m looking for an interior designer for my house in SF. Who should I talk to?
— Sam Parr (@theSamParr) April 18, 2020
Here’s an example of a query for an interior design agency in Awario’s Boolean syntax. Depending on the social listening tool you’re using, the syntax might be slightly different, but the gist will remain the same.
|(“recommend” OR “suggest” OR “recommendation” OR “suggestion” OR “recommendations” OR “suggestions” OR “looking for” OR “what is the best” OR “what are the best”) AND (“interior design” OR “interior designer” )
AND NOT link:”*”
Let’s break down the query above quickly:
- “” (quotes) are used to look for an exact match of a phrase.
- OR operators are used to list different keywords if you’re looking to find matches of any of them.
- AND is used to combine different keywords (or groups of keywords in brackets) with each other, so that the tool will only find mentions that contain one term from one group and one term from the other.
- AND NOT link:”*” ensures that you exclude social media posts with hyperlinks from the search to keep your feed free of self-promotional posts.
- FROM lists the platforms you’d like to search.
Discover people who might need your services
Now, think about the typical features of your target audience and incorporate those attributes into your Boolean query to look for prospects.
For interior designers, it may be the fact that they have just bought (or are about to buy) a new house or apartment.
|(“moving to” OR near/3:we,bought OR “about to move” OR “our new” OR near/3:we,moved) AND (“apartment” OR “house” OR “home”)
AND NOT link:”*”
Note the near/3 operator used above. It lets you look for broad matches where the words you list appear within 3 words of each other, in any order. Clearly, you can change 3 to any other number.
In practice, it makes the search more flexible than quotes (which are used for exact matches). For instance, searching for near/3:we,bought will return all of the following results:
- We just bought a house.
- We bought a house recently.
- Just bought a house! We are moving in next week.
One thing to remember is to never be pushy if you decide to reach out to those people. Remember: you can’t be sure they are looking for something you offer, so be nice and not too salesy.
Look for competitor detractors
One other creative way to approach lead generation with the help of social listening is to look for your competitors’ dissatisfied customers. Whether it’s your competition’s customer service, pricing, or anything else where you feel you have an advantage over them, try setting up a Boolean search like the one below.
|(competitor1 OR competitor2)
AND (“unhappy” OR “dissatisfied” OR “disappointed” OR “expensive” OR “alternative”)
AND NOT link:”*”
I’m sure you can think of more words to include into the list depending on what your business does – e.g., “slow” if your product is software, “late” if you have a delivery business, and so on.
Share your expertise
Finally, if you have a little extra time on your hands, it’s a good idea to look for social media users asking questions you have the answers to. Think of questions your audience may have before they are looking for a product like yours. For instance, I bet interior designers get a lot of questions related to decorating a small space.
|((“small space” OR “small apartment” OR “tiny apartment”) AND (decor OR design OR decorating OR decorate))
AND NOT link:”*”
Above, ++”?” ensures you only find posts that contain a question mark.
7. Improve SEO
As weird as it may sound, social media monitoring isn’t just about social media. Most social listening tools will also monitor the web at large, including news websites, blogs, forums, and other kinds of online content. This kind of web monitoring can be particularly useful for SEO.
Find linkless brand mentions and turn them into links
Just like with the previous step, you’ll need a tool with a Boolean search mode to look for brand mentions in blogs and across the web that do not link to your site. You’ll then be able to reach out to the author and ask for a link. Since they’re already talking about you, that’s easy link building. In Awario’s Boolean syntax, your query will look like this:
AND NOT link:“*.designnyc.com/*”
This way, you’ll see web pages that mention your brand but do not link to your website. You can then sort the results by reach to see mentions from the most authoritative websites first.
Find new link building opportunities
A social media monitoring tool can also be of great help for link building and guest posting opportunities. Set up a search for industry keywords, competitor brand names, plus competitors’ websites. Feel free to copy and paste the template below to make things easier.
|“Interior design” OR decor OR competitor1 OR competitor2 OR link:“*.competitor1.com/*” OR link:“*.competitor2.com/*”
In Awario, you’ll also get details on every website you find, including its domain authority (aka InLink Rank), monthly traffic, and top Google keywords. This way, you’ll instantly see if the domain is a good fit for your link-building efforts.
Domain stats for web mentions. Screenshot from Awario.
8. Write better content
Social listening can help you with content marketing in multiple ways, notably by keeping you up-to-date on trending topics in your niche and letting you back your content with social data.
Monitor industry trends
Setting up a search for industry keywords will let you keep tabs on topics that are dominating the conversation. Some tools, such as Talkwalker, will also let you identify key people, brands, and events within the mentions. Those can be extremely handy when you’re out of content ideas.
Back your content with research
Whatever your industry, it’s almost always a good idea to back your content with some social listening data. That holds true for whatever you’re looking to write about – from the anti-vax movement to smartphones.
Let’s say you’re writing an article about the latest Google update for an SEO-related blog. Start a social media monitoring search to track what people are saying about the update — this will show you the volume of conversations, sentiment, and key topics. Dig deeper into the topics to see what is dominating the discussion — I can almost guarantee you’ll find some good writing material there.
If you have data visualization skills, you can also create interactive visualizations to break down the data by location, platform, top influencers, etc. — the only limit here is your imagination.
Usage of abortion-related hashtags on social media per 100K population by US state. Study by Awario.
Those were my top tips for any business looking to use social listening. Have more creative ideas on the benefits of social data? Let me know in the comments below.