Have you been listening to your social media users?
If not, it’s time to start.
Social listening can be a great way to not only engage your audience, but improve your brand image.
What is Social Listening?
Social listening is the process of monitoring conversations and mentions involving your brand, certain keywords or phrases, competitors, or other themes relevant to your brand.
But social listening is two-fold.
The first part revolves around monitoring and tracking the conversations.
The second involves leveraging those insights.
You can use social listening to create content opportunities, engage with your audience, or improve your own brand image.
It may sound similar to social monitoring. And yes, it is similar.
But it’s not the same.
Monitoring is more the collection of different mentions and interactions.
But the action – taking those insights and turning them into an actionable plan – is what separates social listening from social monitoring.
Social listening looks at sentiment, not just metrics.
And by deciphering that sentiment, or the mood behind each message, you can use social listening to boost awareness, image, and reputation.
Why is Social Listening Important?
Because if you don’t know how people feel about your brand, you can’t effectively engage with them.
A good plan for social listening can help you do the following:
Understand your target audience
By keeping in-tune with social media, you can uncover the habits, interests, and problems of your target audience.
Think about it: if you have a problem, where do you go to vent? Probably Facebook, or maybe Twitter.
Or if you discover a new product or place that you love, where do you go to rave? Again, probably your favorite social media channel.
In that way, you can use social listening to track conversations around keywords related to your business to see what people are saying and how they’re feeling about them.
It will also help you uncover any potential pain points.
Again, as you monitor those keywords, you’ll find the biggest problems and complaints your audience is facing.
Then, you can use pain points to inform your content strategy, product offerings and descriptions, and even your overall value proposition.
Better understand how people feel about the competition.
This is a big benefit of social listening.
Because not only do you want to understand how your audience feels about your brand, you want to have a grasp on how they feel about those you’re competing with.
When using social listening, you’ll be able to monitor what people are saying about those competitors and gain an understanding of where your brand fits in terms of customer sentiment in your industry.
Do people generally feel better about your business? If yes, then great.
But if you find they react more positively to a competitor, it’s time to investigate where the disconnect is and find ways to improve the general attitude around your brand.
Improve customer service and brand reputation.
Here’s another big one – and one we’ll be covering in depth later in this article.
But for now, let’s leave it at this: you can’t afford to not be using social media for customer service, and social listening is one of the best ways to monitor and respond appropriately.
Take a look at these:
- 90% of consumers in a Sprout Social survey have used social media in some way to communicate with a brand
- Customer service interactions on Twitter have increased 250% over the past two years
And according to a study by Clutch, 86% of medium and large businesses surveyed use social listening tools to monitor customers’ concerns, questions, and requests.
Social Listening Tools
Keeping tabs across social channels is a bit of a chore.
Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone.
There are multiple tools designed specifically for social listening. I’ve written about them in the past, but let’s take a quick look at some of the bigger ones on the market.
First up: Mention.
Mention is one of the best social listening tools on the market.
It allows you to monitor brand or keyword mentions and combines it with powerful analytics.
When you sign up, you’ll be prompted to select the brand you’d like to monitor (ie your brand name, or, if it’s closely associated or the same as your actual, you would enter that too).
It will also give you the option to monitor any related brands (and generate a list for you).
You can also enter keywords to monitor.
Once you’re set up, you can check Mention periodically to see what anyone in the public has said about your brand, and view Listening analytics to see a breakdown of demographics, platforms, and social authority.
Every week, Mention will send you a chart showing how many of your mentions have been positive, negative, or neutral.
This is the kind of sentiment analysis we need to hang on to for later, so take note.
Other handy Mention features include:
- Notification through email when a Mention is recorded
- Monitoring for over 1 billion sources – including social media, blogs, forums, etc.
- Influencer scores, which show you the most important influencers in your niche
- Priority results are highlighted; usually, these are direct Mentions of your brand name or come from a site with high traffic
Hootsuite and Hootsuite Insights
Another social listening tool to take note of is Hootsuite Insights.
Hootsuite is primarily known as a social media scheduling platform, and turns out, that’s one of its biggest advantages in the listening arena.
What’s great about Hootsuite Insights is that because it doubles as a scheduling tool, you can integrate the feature, which allows you to respond back ASAP when you receive a mention.
Because of that, it makes Hootsuite an ideal tool for our purposes in this article.
If you’re using regular Hootsuite, just click Add Stream at the top of the page, and select Mentions.
Now, this column will be updated every time your brand receives a mention. So as soon as it happens, you’ll be able to spot the mention, who it’s from, and reply accordingly.
Hootsuite Insights takes things a step further. With it, you can monitor overall sentiment around your brand and be notified quickly of any unusual spikes in volume or sentiment.
This is especially handy if you happen to receive a bad review or complaint that suddenly goes viral or earns a large of comments – it’s the kind of thing you need to handle, fast.
There are plenty of other tools that allow you to keep tabs on your mentions around the web.
Segmenting Your Social Listening into Lists
Okay, so we know that one of the best parts of social listening is its ability to inform us of the overall sentiment around our brand.
And beyond that, actually take action based on what we find.
Generally, we’ll separate those sentiments into one of three categories:
- Really negative (hate or spam)
The category each mention falls into will inform your plan of action.
And the cool thing? Most social media listening tools allow you to filter your mentions by sentiment.
But remember, what makes it social listening is the action you take after the mention comes through.
So let’s take a look at each segment and how you can use it improve your brand image.
Social Listening: How to React to Positive Sentiment
For obvious reasons, this is most marketers favorite segment.
Praise via social media is not only good for your ego, but it does wonders for your image.
Again, that’s because it’s social proof in its purest form.
But the thing is, a positive comment or sentiment on a singular social media channel doesn’t have a very long shelf life. And while you should respond to each comment, you can do more than that.
Which is why you need a strategy to amplify it.
Here’s a few to try on for size.
First, if you see a positive review come in on Facebook or see that someone mentions your product somewhere on social, ask them if they would mind leaving a testimonial.
The messaging can be super simple, just a quick “So glad you enjoyed our product! We really appreciate what you had to say, would you mind if we used your message on our website?”
Testimonials are great for brands because it’s a vote of confidence coming from someone outside the brand.
They can be used effectively on your website or review collection sites like Yelp, etc.
Pro tip: use them throughout your website, not just a dedicated review page. Leave a few on your product or service pages, at the end of articles, and incorporate them into your landing pages.
If you get a positive social mention from a brand, that’s a great opportunity to further the relationship.
In its simplest form, you can ask them for a link back to your site.
Say, for example, they mention one of your blog posts on the Facebook page and include a mention.
That’s a perfect opportunity to find any related posts of theirs and ask if they would mind including a link back to your article.
For more on how to structure your link outreach message, read my full post here.
Or, you can take it a step further.
Try asking, instead, if you could write a guest post for their site.
This is especially true if you get a mention from a major brand or identify one from an influencer in your niche (remember, with tools like Mention you can monitor each author’s social authority).
You already know that they’re interested in what you have to say, enough so that they featured you on social media, which makes them a highly qualified lead when it comes to guest posting opportunities.
Along the same lines, you can also ask if they’d be open to collaborating on a post or infographic.
All of the above are awesome ways to get more eyes on your content and improve your brand’s credibility through association with an established brand.
It will give you more street cred with your audience, and add more weight to your trustworthiness in Google’s eyes.
Remember, the more authority a site has, the higher its importance in the search rankings. If Google sees that your brand is somehow associated with that site, it will give you a boost as well.
Social Listening: How to React to Negative Sentiment
Staying on top of any negative comments or complaints should be a top priority for any business.
After all, we live in the age of social proof, where your online reputation has a huge impact on the overall health of your brand.
Because of that, it’s crucial that you prioritize the less-than-desirable mentions.
Here are a few harsh realities:
- 36% of people have used social media to shame a company for poor customer service,
- 30% of people will go to a competitor if a company doesn’t respond on social media
- 32% of social media users who contact a brand expect a response within 30 minutes, and
- 42% expect a response within 60 minutes.
People aren’t shy about airing their grievances on social media, and when they do, they expect it to be addressed fast.
But it’s not all bad news.
A lot of that negativity can be reversed with a clear action plan, and most importantly, an attempt to engage that user.
What does that mean?
It means using your social listening tool to promote negative interactions to the top of the list, and addressing the problem head-on.
We call it “hugging the hater.”
Here’s an example from Walmart.
Because let’s be honest, Walmart has its fair share of haters. And they aren’t shy.
So in 2013, Walmart introduced a new policy: No free shots.
Instead of letting any negative tweets or comments go through their feed unnoticed, they adopted a more active approach by responding to each one.
One particularly colorful response came from a vet who called the retail giant out for not responding to a job application.
Walmart’s response? “Please review our Welcome Home Commitment to learn more about opportunities & support efforts: http://walmartcareerswithamission.com/”
It was simple. It was informative. And it gained them a lot of positive media coverage.
In fact, just by engaging with a hater or disgruntled user, you have the opportunity to make some lemonade out of that lemon:
- Answering a social media complaint increases brand advocacy by as much as 25%
- 71% of users who experience positive social care are likely to recommend the brand to others.
Take this example from Warby Parker.
Not only did a well-handled customer service complaint earned them a satisfied user and a positive mention on social media.
So. For your business, here’s what you need to do.
First, acknowledge the user.
Address the problem head-on. Be polite, indicate that you understand their problem, and where possible, a solution.
And if you can, try to move the conversation offline. Ask them to send you an email or direct message so you can discuss the problem in more detail.
For them, it’s a way to feel like their getting more personal attention. And for you, it’s a way to air any dirty laundry away from the watching eyes of the web.
Social Listening: Dealing With Really Negative Mentions
Part of social listening is knowing when not to engage.
And sometimes, engaging with extreme haters will often only egg them on.
The first part of it is being able to identify what’s negative from an actual user and what’s coming from a troll.
Unfortunately, you’ll likely receive some mentions from some very disgruntled users.
But ignoring them won’t make them go away.
They’re likely to just come back even more upset. Instead, follow the rules in the above section and ask to take the conversation elsewhere.
It will show your audience, and that user in particular, that you’re an honest brand willing to engage even in messy conversations.
On the other hand, you absolutely should remove a comment or mention that comes from a troll.
Use your own discretion, but as a general rule of thumb you should ignore and remove posts that:
- Use profanity
- Are unrelated to your business, products, or services
- Writes something irrational
Wrapping Up Social Listening
Social listening can be extremely valuable to brands – you just have to know to use it.
One of my favorite ways is to use social listening to improve your brand image or reputation.
If the sentiment is good, you can leverage it to find positive opportunities for your brand.
If it’s bad, you can still recover gracefully – and even improve your image by dealing with it quickly and effectively.