Listen before you tweet: why social listening is key
Who enjoys being bombarded with pushy promotions? (I’m sure nobody has a hand raised right now.) This isn’t the type of communication that people – or businesses – enjoy having, especially on social media. When you view social media platforms as shiny virtual microphones, ready and waiting for you to send marketing messages out to the masses, you miss out on one of their most valuable assets: the insights that come when you stop talking, and listen.
As author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek says: “There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” So before you get too trigger-happy with the tweet button, let’s look at why – and then how – you can use social networks to listen and discover valuable information for your business.
Why should you use social media to listen?
To monitor the competition
Social media platforms are public and forward facing, giving you an opportunity to see how your competition is using them, how they interact with customers and what kind of products or services they’re offering. A weekly or monthly roundup of what your competitors are doing on social can ensure your efforts are going above and beyond.
To study your audience
What do they use each platform for? Do they use them in different ways? Listen to how they speak. Chances are, that’s how they want to be spoken to. Search for conversations happening about your brand, and take notes on the sentiment. You might be surprised at what you find.
To find new leads/prospective customers
Don’t limit your social listening efforts to mentions of specific product/service names only. Searching for general phrases such as “need a new (insert brand-relevant term or product here)” can unearth new business leads and potential customers.
To be proactive in crisis communications
These real-time platforms are the perfect breeding ground for ripples of discontent to become tsunami waves of negativity. Monitoring social media for mentions of your business and any negative words or phrases (and proactively responding to them) can give you a head-start on curbing a potential crisis. Plus, you can glean important feedback on how your company is perceived by clients and the general public.
How do you use social to listen?
There are a number of different ways you can approach social listening and a number of different tools you can use to do it. We’ll review four different ones below, but note that there are far more options out there. What’s important is that you know exactly what it is that you’re looking to get out of a social listening tool and do your research before committing to one.
Also, note that these tools and tricks will help you collect social data, but you’ll still need to analyze it. This is why the role of a social strategist is so important; data is useless without context and insight.
Listening within each native platform
This is as basic as it gets. You’re simply using the search functionality built into each platform, and collecting data manually. But if you’re just starting out or have a limited budget, it’s better than nothing.
Search hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, monitor the social activity of your competitors across all platforms, audit your own branded Facebook Pages or Twitter profiles and take notes on overall sentiment, interaction trends and the highest performing conversation topics.
Facebook definitely offers the most robust, free-to-use analytics built directly into their platform. Just a quick spin through Insights can provide a deep look into your Page’s audience, their behavior and what types of content is resonating with them the most.
Hootsuite is primarily a social media management tool, a platform designed to manage multiple profiles in one place, delegate tasks within a team, and streamline your social efforts across multiple platforms. And it does all of these things very well. But it also offers analytics and reporting tools that can help you keep tabs on conversations and social activity.
Hootsuite offers several different plans that range in price from free to $9.99/month and beyond. Granted, those prices don’t include unlimited analytics reports (unless you’re on the Enterprise plan) since access to their reporting tools and templates is based on points that often come with an additional price tag.
Although you get up to two free reports when using the free version of Hootsuite, there are a few other ways that I’ve used the platform to do social listening without diving into analytics reports:
- Set up a stream based on a search term (a hashtag, your business name or relevant phrase, for example). This is a good option if you have a unique company name or are looking to monitor a very specific hashtag (e.g. #analytics or #SEO or #mobile). Note that you can geo-target these search results to only include mentions within certain regions.
- Do a search for Twitter users related to these search terms to find influencers and begin establishing relationships with them.
- Hootsuite offers easy management of multiple social networks
- Unlimited streams can be set up to track keywords, hashtags or mentions
- Inexpensive option for smaller businesses looking for both content management and analytics/listening tools
- Can be integrated with Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and more
- Points-based reporting system can get pricey quite quickly
- Exported PDF reports often have formatting issues
Sysomos is a social monitoring and analytics platform designed specifically for listening, measuring and analyzing social conversations. Although it’s one of the pricier options available, it’s one of the most comprehensive. Through their two products, MAP and Heartbeat, you can listen to social conversations in real-time, view historical social data over a period of time, set up reports that are automatically generated on a regular basis, seek out social influencers, set up e-mail alerts for certain keywords or phrases regarding your brand to be flagged and more.
MAP and Heartbeat both have their own pros and cons, many of which are complemented by the abilities of the other. However, in my experience using both services, here are some overall notes:
- Can track and compare both real-time and historical, long-term data
- Can use it to listen across all major social media platforms but also across blogs and news sites
- Ability to set up e-mail alerts when certain keywords or phrases are posted on social platforms
- Integrates into CRM software and has API-development ability
- Separate costs for MAP and Heartbeat
- No free use at all, can be pricey for small businesses
- Slightly more complicated system than other tools, requires a user knowledgeable in either social media or research and data analytics, preferably both
Nexalogy offers three services that aim to get data, sculpt data and share data. This goes for social media data, CRM data, survey results, comments and CSV data.
NexaMaster is a platform that allows businesses to import their social data, construct search queries and then filter that data by time, concept, demographics and more. You can then export the information into reports and presentations, and begin comparing it against itself, identifying key trends and KPIs over time. There are two plans available for NexaMaster, one coming in at $500/month and the other at $1200/month, or businesses can request a custom package to suit their needs.
NexaLive is a “turnkey microsite solution for when you want to capture and analyze the activity on a Twitter hashtag by visualizing your tweets on an interest graph.” It’s unique in that it allows you to quickly and efficiently set up dashboards for specific brands, issues, events, conferences and more. NexaLive comes with a pricetag of $40 per month.
And finally, NexaMe is a free-to-use app (which can also be implemented within Hootsuite) that allows Twitter users to analyze the tweets in their timelines, see connections in their community and identify influencers.
- Easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing interface and reports
- NexaMe integrates into Hootsuite – added value for those using free versions of both platforms
- Listening beyond hashtags and mentions, interest maps can identify concepts and potential hidden markets
- Create dashboards to listen to social buzz of events/conferences
- Can integrate your own data from various sources
- Reasonably priced, with different options to suit different budgets and needs
- Very focused on data, still requires social strategist to digest and analyze
- Interest maps can be full of non-helpful or irrelevant words and concepts, need to constantly be monitoring them to find useful nuggets
This is just a brief overview of the social listening capabilities of these specific products and services. There are many more options out there to choose from, and like any smart business decision, finding the right one comes down to deciding on exactly what you need and thoroughly researching your options. The important part is that you’re using social media to listen, just as much as you’re using it to speak.
Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons
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