If brands are truly living in the social era, why do they spend most of their time on their social platforms talking about themselves? Many brands, big and small, still firmly believe that sharing information about their products and services on social media is what interests their customers the most.
Surprise: it’s not.
When brands don’t listen to their audience, the opportunity to truly engage with them is lost. Listening to what people are saying about your brand gives you the opportunity to respond. That’s how you create a responsive, interactive connection with your audience.
But first, let’s take a step back and define social listening.
What is social listening?
HubSpot defines social listening as, “the monitoring of your brand’s social media channels for any customer feedback and direct mentions of your brand.”
Social listening involves listening to discussions related to specific keywords, your industry at large or even your competitors. But it doesn’t stop there. Social listening is just as much about paying attention, as it is about reacting to what you’ve heard in a thoughtful way. It’s about listening to gauge the flow of conversation, then using those insights to inform your response, adding value to that conversation.
So, how can you use social listening to your advantage?
The benefits of social listening
It increases engagement
If your social listening is on point, your responses will always hit the mark. Responding to people’s comments and questions on your posts with valuable replies will show people you care. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going and encourage engagement from other followers. If people know you are not only responsive but are actively clued in to what’s happening, they will be more likely to engage with your brand online. A simple truth: People like to feel heard and validated. And for you, a thoughtful reply is all it takes.
There is another benefit, too. When a customer mentions or tags you in a post on social media, that’s free advertising for you. Go out of your way to respond to these mentions by offering a small discount, or even just some kind words. Never underestimate the influencing power someone may have in their circle of friends and family. A pleasant brand interaction can encourage invaluable word of mouth marketing, and the more the better.
Hilton Hotels receives over 1,500 tweets a day. That’s incredible engagement, and it’s because it’s not one-sided. On average, Hilton responds to about 3.3 tweets an hour. This feedback loop of customers posting, and Hilton responding, is what has encouraged such massive engagement with the brand online.
You’ll learn more about your audience
By paying attention to what your customers have to say online, you will end up with a lot of insights on their other hobbies and interests. These insights can be used to fuel your marketing strategy, new marketing tactics, features, and even products.
Shoe company TOMS invested in social listening and discovered that customers “of all ages” who loved TOMS also loved My Little Pony. The brand eventually struck up a licensing deal with Hasbro and launched a limited edition My Little Pony shoe. With people Rainbow Dashing to the stores, it sold out in 48 hours. Go figure.
A more recent example is Disney and Build-A-Bear working together to sell a Baby Yoda, following the audience’s reaction to the introduction of the character. A move that sent stock prices soaring.
It’ll generate new ideas
Listening to what people have to say about your product or service online can spark some pretty creative thinking. Arby’s is a great example of this. Through social listening, the brand was able to determine that people care as much about their sauce as they do their burgers. In fact, a number of comments online reflected people’s fear of running out of sauce—it’s that good.
In a genius play, Arby’s launched the #Saucepocalypse campaign, playing off of people’s worst fears of running out of sauce during meals where it is very much a necessity (we’re looking at you, meatloaf). Doubling down, Arby’s turned their sauce into a standalone product available for purchase in stores. This brilliant marketing move allowed Arby’s to gain a new revenue stream because they prioritized social listening, cared about what their customers were already saying about their brand, and responded effectively.
You’ll double down on your competitive advantage
It’s easy enough to learn about all of your competitor’s strengths online but harder to hear about their weaknesses. Social listening solves this problem by tapping into the most credible source on your competitors you have—their customers. Monitoring negative reviews and comments about your competitor’s products or services gives you an opportunity to play the upper hand.
Let’s say you design reading glasses and your competitors are receiving negative reviews for their poor quality. Take this opportunity to position yourself in the market as some of the most durable glasses out there (assuming your quality is real) and watch your sales increase. If your campaign has a little sass and makes reference to your competitor’s perceived lack of quality, that might work well in your favor, too.
You’ll differentiate your brand sentiment
Social listening is not just about what you respond with, but how. As a brand looking to interact more closely with its audience online, a great way to stand out among your competitors is to really own your unique brand voice.
Take Lyft and Uber as an example. Both offer practically the exact same service. Both have an active social media presence, but the sentiment around them is radically different. While Uber will usually respond with a stock answer, Lyft will respond with memes, gifs, emojis, and personal comments. This, coupled with continuing bad press heading Uber’s way, has given Lyft has a stronger reputation for “friendlier service” than Uber.
Let’s compare that interaction with this one…
Generally speaking, however – Uber seems to have refocused its online efforts in an attempt to appear more customer-friendly. It’s a good look.
Going even deeper
Don’t forget that there are platform-specific tools that offer some data and there are also keyword search tools, hashtag searching tools, etc. But social listening goes incredibly deep. Beyond social platforms, even. If you want to become a true data whisperer, there are also many more advanced options that will have you feeling like a mad social scientist. These include Klear, SparkToro, and Brandwatch (formerly Crimson Hexagon).
Social listening is an incredibly effective way to close the gap between you and your followers. By listening to your customers on social media and responding to their thoughts, questions, concerns, and musings, you can forge a meaningful connection between your followers and your brand. If you are able to respond in a way that differentiates you from your competitors, you’ll get the added benefit of lifting your brand sentiment. With social listening, you’ll be able to learn deeply about your audience’s hobbies and interests and develop effective marketing strategies and product ideas as well.
As the world of social gets increasingly complex, using it to actually engage with your audience—rather than just post at them—will certainly make your brand stand out among the crowd.