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Social Listening and Digital Marketing

An Introduction to Social Listening

With social networks being a primary source of information and influence for consumers today, savvy marketers cannot argue that it has become necessary to have a social strategy in order to gain valuable traffic and attention through social channels. With new social networks popping up daily and almost all corporations and ad agencies dedicating resources to social media marketing and monitoring, there has been an increased desire to measure and leverage social activity for marketing purposes. But how can any one marketer, corporation or even agency keep track of all that is being said about their brand across the countless number of social networks? That is where “social listening” has come into play.

Social listening is just what it sounds – a method that allows users to identify all of the social chatter around their brand and focus in on the most important aspects of these conversations, whether it is positive feedback, negative feedback, customers looking for help, product reviews, suggestions and much more. A strong social listening strategy, most often backed by a strong social listening tool, can lead to a number of innovative marketing strategies. 

Social listening can be leveraged across all aspects of digital marketing. Here is how you may want to consider applying social listening to your current digital strategy.

Social Listening and Search Engine Marketing

With social results becoming more visible on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), it makes sense for Search Marketers to have a game plan for Social. From an SEO standpoint, these social search results are often pushing Organic listings down below the fold. If the social search results are going to continue to take up valuable SERP real estate and lead to a decrease in Organic search traffic as a result, SEO managers should, at the very least, consider using social listening to monitor and understand what is being said about their brand in the social community and where it is being said. SEOs can work with their Social Media Manager or their respective agency to help ensure that negative responses are identified and responded to in a timely manner – before they have gained enough momentum to appear at the top of the SERP. SEOs may also want to use social listening to monitor the chatter around their brand to identify new content ideas based on what their customers are talking about. This could lead to valuable new optimization opportunities that the competition has not yet realized.

From a Paid Search perspective, Search Marketers should utilize data gathered from social listening to highlight the brand’s strengths and their competitor’s weaknesses. One way this can be done is through ad copy and landing page tests. In the shorter term, for instance, a Search Marketer could capitalize on social chatter around a competitor running out of inventory for a given product by quickly adapting their brand’s ad copy to call out the fact that they still have that particular product in stock.  A longer term strategy would be identifying key pain points of a competitor’s product and building landing pages and ad copy which highlight the competitor weaknesses with their brand’s strengths.

Search Marketers will also want to select keywords to bid on based on their social findings. If there is a new or trending term being used by potential customers, Search Marketers will want to ensure this is added to their keyword set.  Conversely, if social listening leads a Search Marketer to find a certain keyword or phrase has a strong negative sentiment, the Search Marketer may consider including that keyword in their negative keyword list so they do not associate their brand with that term.

Social Listening and Display

For Display media buyers who are looking for insight into where to target their buys, social listening can be a powerful tool. Monitoring where your current customers are spending their time online and what they are talking about could lead to interesting and valuable discoveries. Social listening allows for Display media buyers to identify common themes or interests amongst their customers and then apply that learning to their buys by targeting sites based those keywords and interests mentioned in the social channel.

Additionally, most social listening platforms include a tool that identifies brand "influencers." Many of these influencers are bloggers with sites that are extremely relevant to your customer set. This could turn out to be a perfect site on which to place media buys. By partnering with highly active social influencers who are trusted resources for your customers, you can connect with core customers at a more personalized level.

Finally, Display media buyers should work with their creative team to ensure they are using creative messaging that resonates with their customer base. If a particular ad or statement is trending in the social world with a negative sentiment attached, the Display marketers may want to switch out their creative to avoid reinforcing the bad PR. Conversely, if a certain ad or statement is well received by a brand’s customer base, the Display marketers may want to increase the frequency of this ad being shown. By sharing the social responses with the creative team, any of brands teams who are using creative or ad copy can react and benefit from this insight, not just the digital teams.

Social Listening and Social Media

While most Social Media Marketers are likely using Social Listening to some degree, they may not be doing everything in their power to ensure they are taking full advantage of the conversations being had about their brands.

First and foremost, the person or agency tasked with being in charge of Social Media must act as the liaison between all of the different social channels and many of the different teams supporting their brand. This is not an easy task.  For large brands, this is manageable through a mix of stellar communication skills and a sophisticated social listening program.

For instance, a customer tweets at a hotel brand about the poor housekeeping service they received during their stay and they also write a negative review on Yelp.  A couple Twitter users retweet this message and the Yelp rating gains a comment, echoing a similar experience. Whether these customers really did receive poor service or the hotel did a fine job of housekeeping, is not up to the Social Media Manager to decide. However it is up to the social media manager to make sure the appropriate person on the hotel’s team is aware of the issue so that they can investigate and craft a response to these customers in a timely manner. This response may by posted by the Social Media Manger after receiving direction from the hotel representative. In this specific case, not only did social listening allow the Social Media Manager to pick up on this chatter, but it allowed the Social Media Manager to do so quickly in the early stages before it turned into a larger, more widespread conversation.

In addition to helping to streamline the communication process, Social Media Marketers should make an effort to leverage social listening to identify both their client’s most popular brand advocates as well as the sources of their client’s criticisms. Then, Social Media Marketers should focus on building these relationships. Many brands reward their biggest social advocates or “influencers,” as we mentioned earlier. This could be done through contests or giveaways, perhaps with the winner receiving a trip to tour the brand’s headquarters or sending them new products to test. Many brands encourage their influencers to blog about their experience with the brand to continue to generate social buzz, as well as SEO value.

Obviously, it is harder to build relationships with your brands’ critics. One way to ease this process is to make quickly and politely addressing their concerns a standard practice. Ignoring a negative comment or rudely responding to a critic on social media is a surefire way to draw more attention to their comments and gain negative PR. If the social conversation seems to be escalating beyond just some minor negative feedback, try direct messaging the customer and following up with a phone call to provide a deeper level of customer service to resolve the issue once and for all. Many companies keep track of their advocates and their critics and calculate the number of critics they turn into advocates as a benchmark to understand how well they are executing their social media strategy.  

Best Practices and Strategies for Social Listening

Now that we’ve uncovered the various ways that you can use social listening through various digital media channels, we will now dive into some more specific strategies and best practices on how to use and implement social listening. The recommendations below can apply to almost any brand or company and are useful thoughts to consider when planning out your social listening strategy.

Constant Monitoring

Consistent social media monitoring is a good way to learn more about your audience and how people in the social media arena are reacting to your brand. It can serve as an organic focus group to gauge customer feedback, new marketing ideas, and solve current problems. Monitoring your social media space on a regular basis is the key to staying in touch with customers and reacting to any issues that may arise. Monitoring should be done as often as resources allow but, in the very least, on a monthly or quarterly basis. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the more you monitor, the better in touch you can be with you customers and the potential customers interested in your brand.

Setting Up Alerts for Constant Monitoring

In addition consistent monitoring, setting up alerts is another key strategy to track social listening. Various tools, such as Social Radar, allow users to set up queries that monitor spikes in social conversation. These spikes can be caused by industry changes, product launches, product failures, etc. but are important pieces to keep track of. Monitoring such spikes can help a brand quickly react to any negative backlash as well as determine what early adopters are saying about a newly released product. 

Pre- and Post-Product Launches or Major Announcements

In some cases, a brand knows ahead of time when there will be a spike in conversation within the social space. This may occur, for example, when a brand launches a new product, makes a significant change, or releases a major announcement, and can benefit greatly by utilizing social listening. Using social listening in these scenarios can be a very useful way to quickly determine customer reactions and get immediate feedback. It can also help a brand respond to any negativity or issues that may arise once they make some kind of change within their space.

Competitor Listening

Monitoring positive or negative sentiment pertaining to a brand’s top competitors is another useful strategy that can be accomplished through social listening. For example, if there is a negative perception of a competitor or competing product, a brand can capitalize on it by highlighting its competitive advantage and how the brand scores over its competition. This knowledge can help guide keyword expansion and ad copy within the search campaigns and differentiate you as the better alternative for consumer needs.

Industry Listening

In addition to listening for your mentions of your brand or your competitors, utilizing social listening to keep track of industry changes is another key strategy. Tracking industry changes is a good way to pay attentio to trends, changes, complaints, and reactions occurring within the social arena. Competitor’s may already be doing social listening within the industry and it is important to stay on pace with them so that they don’t receive an upper hand. In essence, keeping up with social listening within your industry is just another research tool that can benefit various parts of your business, not just marketing.

Seasonal/Holiday Listening

Social listening can also come in handy during a brand’s seasonal periods or during certain holidays. For example, an office supplier may take advantage of the back-to-school season and utilize social listening during that time period. They can learn about what their competitors are offering, when their competitors are releasing back to school promotions, what people are buying, and much more. In turn, this can help a brand develop and alter their marketing plan for their back-to-school season. With certain tools, such as Social Radar, you can look at data from years past to see any common trends or patterns.

Holidays are another useful time-period to implement a social listening strategy, especially in December when many brands are putting out various promotions and sales. Social listening can help a brand to not only learn about what their competitors are offering during those time periods, but also help discover consumers’ wants and needs.


Overall, it is clear that social listening is an important part of any marketing campaign and can be used in a variety of ways. Not only can brands apply social listening to their various digital marketing channels, but they can also leverage conversation in the social space to alter their marketing messaging and keep up with competitors. It’s important to always apply what is learned through social listening and test it out in a variety of ways before determining which way to utilize this strategy.

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