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The Heard, the Ignored, and the Game-Changing: A Guide to Social Listening


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What do you always need more of? Insight. Insight into your market, the wants driving it and the needs holding it back – what prospects are getting from competitors, and what they’re not getting from you – and how to ensure you’re never too far from their thoughts when the conversations are relevant to your industry.

All of this – and more – can be solved by a commitment to social listening. So far as social media management is concerned, it’s at the very foundations, underpinning your entire strategy now, then, and far into the future.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is social listening?

It’s the practice of actively monitoring social channels for insights into your target market, your competitors, and your brand’s reputation. It’s a pretty broad term since it covers a lot of different considerations – but every single one is an important part of leveraging your business’s presence on social media.

Social listening has always been a key (if underutilized) part of formulating a strong social media strategy, but it grew particularly valuable in 2020, as the pandemic altered our spending habits. By 2021, almost half of marketers had embraced social listening. By the spring of 2022, that number had risen to more than 60%.

It’s natural to want to peep over the neighbor’s fence every now and then. When it comes to social media marketing, however, that curiosity is pivotal to your channels’ success.

Is it the same as social monitoring?

No, although the two terms are sometimes confused.

Social media monitoring is great for keeping an eye out for those times when you need to be reactive, such as a negative shift in sentiment. It’s about keeping tabs on direct mentions of and interactions with your brand, so that you can go into crisis management mode as soon as possible.

Social listening is about keeping an eye out for situations you can (and should) insert yourself into. It’s a much wider net and, if you do it right, it’ll give you a 360° understanding not just of your brand’s performance on social media, but on your entire industry – any topics that relate to you, any news or trends, and any situations that could inform your strategy.

The key difference is that good social listening is out being proactive, while social monitoring is about being reactive. Each one is just as important as the other, but they’re definitely not the same thing.

What is the purpose of social listening?

In short, to hone your social media marketing strategy to fit with trending topics relevant to your audience and industry.

So many valuable insights can be found beyond your audience’s direct interactions with your channel. Yes, it’s essential that you’re monitoring comments and other interactions from your followers, but consider the wealth of insights to be found on competitors’ channels, or under relevant hashtags, or between customers or leads who aren’t necessarily talking about you, but about your area of expertise.

This is why social listening is such an important part of utilizing social media. It’s market insight and customer intelligence and competitive research all rolled into one – and, with the right tools, it’s a lot easier than it sounds.

Any good social media marketing strategy will be built to evolve. Social media is a fast-moving and, at times, unpredictable environment, so fluidity and adaptability are key. Social listening drives that evolution, and points you in the right direction for maximizing share of voice.

Examples of Social Listening

Cast your mind back to 2015, and you may just remember a big moment in the world of B2C SaaS. Streaming giant Netflix proved its mettle in social listening when it released a line of ‘Netflix Socks’, capable of monitoring the wearer and pausing their show if they fell asleep. This wasn’t a random product release – it was the result of close social listening, and a strong familiarity with its primary demographic: tech-savvy millennials who appreciated the ingenuity as much as they appreciated the humor.

Language-learning app Duolingo has found a lot of success on TikTok, monitoring trends and finding increasingly creative ways to boost its standing in the algorithm. Thanks to their persona on social media, they can cast a pretty wide net with their social listening, and jump on trends ranging from soundbites to dances, POVs and roleplays.

But social listening can be a lot more focused. In the realm of B2B, Shopify have clearly kept their nose to the ground when it comes to identifying common pain points and questions from entrepreneurs and business owners. Their YouTube account, for instance, represents a valuable resource in and of itself for those looking to start and grow a business, instead of a page dedicated to self-promotion. This is a good demonstration of what powerful social listening can help create.

Social Listening in Practice

Social media listening takes finesse. You can’t just venture out into the wild west of social media, refreshing pages and hashtags until something valuable pops up. That wouldn’t be efficient or productive.

There’s a pretty long list of social listening tools you’ll need in order to get the highest ROI for your efforts, but the right platform will draw them together and streamline the process as part of your daily social media management.

This is our particular area of expertise. Oktopost’s social media management platform makes tracking trends, social posts, and other relevant industry news simple, and displays that information alongside other valuable metrics and insights like share of voice and sentiment. The right social listening software can enable you to identify key influencers – great for embracing the strong potential of B2B influencer marketing – as well as other key individuals or brands to monitor.

Social media holds so much potential for customer intelligence, but, without the right tools, it’s not possible to really leverage it.


Key Social Listening Benefits

Social listening is a broad subject, and it informs many different elements of social media marketing. That’s why there’s no simple answer to the question, “Why is social listening important?” Instead, there are many answers…

  • Social listening for competitive research
    Understanding your own brand’s share of voice, analyzing sentiment from followers, and gaining insights into your brand’s popularity are all vital, but it’s just as important that you’re taking in the broader picture.
    How are your direct competitors performing with your target audience? From sentiment to share of voice, utilizing social listening beyond your own accounts is the key to really honing your strategies on the different social channels, and ensuring everything you post is purpose-built for your audiences.
  • Social listening for pursuing trends and topical conversations
    How do you decide what content to create? What to publish, and when? Creating strong content for social media can feel like a shot in the dark; trends and virality are largely unpredictable, so social publishing strategically just isn’t possible, right?
    Wrong. Social listening is the ultimate way to figure out the most productive social posting schedule possible. Provided you can complement your social listening with a healthy stock of readymade content – from new pieces to repurposed content, and curated content from other pages – you can be ready to jump on emerging trends, and consistently position yourself at the very front of relevant conversations.
    This is the proactivity we talked about above – the ability to go looking for opportunities to further your digital presence, and really lean into thought leadership on social media.
    Using social listening to create content to further your social posting strategy is truly game-changing. From curating strong UGC (user-generated content) to identifying key areas for thought leadership, it’s the best place to gather ideas and resources.
  • Social listening for improving customer care
    Social media is one of the best ways to reach your customers (or potential customers). Why? Because you’re meeting them right where they are, instead of waiting for them to come to your website. The average social media user is active for more than 2.5 hours every day, so it’s a great place for some extra interaction.
    Sentiment analysis is a great place to start, since you can identify opportunities to interact with customers who are praising your brand, products, or services, but users won’t always tag or mention you directly.
    Social listening can also create new opportunities for lead generation. By keeping an eye on relevant conversations about challenges or pain points, you can jump on opportunities to make that initial contact.
    This is all about how social media listening can increase customer advocacy through responsive customer support, actively addressing significant pain points, and allowing you to identify where your competitors may have a slight edge over you.
  • Social listening for market research
    Long gone are the days when market researchers had to head out into the world with a clipboard and a basket of samples. These days, social media represents the key field of research for market understanding and consumer insights.
    Instead of posing direct questions to customers through surveys, you can observe them in the ‘natural habitat’ of social media. Listening in on relevant discussions on pain points and other needs and requirements can yield some truly invaluable results. If you can make social listening a core part of your social media marketing efforts, the entire business will benefit from those insights.

Every single day, your customers, followers, and target market are filling social media with insights that could (and should) prove instrumental to your social media strategy. The only way to avoid those insights going to waste is by embracing social listening, and utilizing a strong social listening platform like Oktopost, purpose-built for B2B brands looking to harness the power of social media.

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