Learn What Your Audience Wants Thru Social Listening

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

What do your customers want? You can find out in a few ways:

  • You could send out email surveys, but they would exclude people who haven’t given you their email address or their explicit permission to email them;
  • You could target your followers with surveys on social media, using one of the many smart targeting options available on platforms like Facebook and Twitter; the reality, however, is that not all of your followers are your customers, you can’t use the same targeting across various social platforms, and not all of your targeted followers will actually fill out your survey;
  • You could hold focus groups, but they’re far from cheap, with most focus groups costing over £1,000 – the bigger the sample, the higher the price.

Besides, these options have one thing in common: the results you get out of them won’t be valid forever and’ll soon be outdated. What your customers want, expect and need from you will change over time.
So, how do you keep on top of it all without spending all your budget? You could use social listening, and best of all, it’s free.
Social media is vast, and there’s so much that you could find about customer feedback and expectations, so what do you search for? More importantly, where do you start?
There are mainly four ways of finding out what people want from you through social listening:

  • Searching for your products and services;
  • Searching for mentions of your brand;
  • Searching for your competitors;
  • Agnostic search.

Let’s go through each one.

Search for products and services:

Through social listening, you can find what people think about your products and services. When doing so, it’s important to remember that people don’t always refer to them in the same way you do. This may be due to abbreviations, colloquialism, slang, or just other names that people use when they refer to your products. For example:

  • A lot of British Telecom customers refer to the BT Home Hub 5 as “BT HH5”
  • Some people refer to the Glaceau Smartwater as the “Jennifer Aniston water”, due to her featuring in the Smartwater ad
  • Some people refer to Instagram as “insta” or “the gram” (“insta” can refer to both Instagram and an Instagram picture, while “the gram” commonly refers to the social network)

You can also find a great deal of information by monitoring comparisons of your products, especially:

  • Comparisons between two (or more) of your own products;
  • Comparisons between a product of yours and your competitor’s.

By observing these two types of comparisons, you’ll quickly see your main selling points as well as your stumbling blocks.

Search for brand mentions:

You may think that you have perfect understanding of what your brand stands for, but what does your brand stand for to your customers and those who aren’t (yet) your customers?
When searching for your brand name, the main two aspects that you need to focus on are trust and loyalty. A lot of other aspects (advocacy, retention, churn etc.) stem from these two qualities which aren’t always mutual: you may have customers who trust you as a brand but won’t stick around if a competitor delivers something better and cheaper; on the other hand, you may also have customers who have been with you for years and years, not because of trust, but perhaps because of convenience (e.g. broadband customers in rural areas who don’t have that many operators to choose from). The main two questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Why do they feel this way?
  • What can I do to make it better?

Oftentimes, you won’t see these mentions if you only focus on people talking about your products – don’t forget about people talking about your brand too.
Looking at brand mentions is important for another reason: if you’re already tracking brand metrics like CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score) or NPS (Net Promoter Score), you can build a commentary around these scores by monitoring brand mentions online and how their volume moves over time. Furthermore, when combined with sentiment (be it as a sentiment breakdown or as a net sentiment score) you’ll see exactly what the main reasons are for your brand score. That way you won’t have to leave commentary to guesswork, as social listening can give it to you for free.

Search for competitors:

Competitor intelligence is important for so many reasons besides the obvious. Sure, it’s important to keep an eye on your competitors, but it’s not just to know what they’re up to: social competitor listening can do so much more, and it could potentially give you key reasons to change (or at least tweak) your overall social and/or marketing strategy.
First things first, keep an eye on what competitors say about you. Some of them might introduce a new proposition “attacking” your current offering. Monitoring what they say as well as public responses off the back of that will help you decide on how best to respond (if at all). What about opinions from the public, are you seeing a shift in your brand sentiment following a campaign from your competitor? Is it a positive shift? A negative shift? Why?
Share of voice (SOV) is important too. Unfortunately I often see it used as just a percentage score used in “we have a bigger share of voice than X” arguments, and if a brand has a smaller SOV than their competitors then their marketing team will pump more money into their strategy to achieve a bigger share. Does this sound familiar? The common pitfall in this is that brands are satisfied with being talked about the most, without even checking the sentiment behind those mentions. Having the biggest share of voice doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the loudest or even the best out of all your competitors – it can sometimes mean that people were dissatisfied with you the most and were the most vocal about it.
That’s why you shouldn’t see share of voice as just a percentage: start looking at the bigger picture around it, the factors that feed into this valuable metric. Monitor how much of your SOV is positive vs. negative, and compare that with your competitors. Break down your SOV in topics related to your brand: your customer service, your products, your pricing, your reliability etc. Break it down for your competitors too, for easier comparisons, and see where you performed best (and worst). Share of voice works best when you put some context into it.
Aiming for a bigger share of voice shouldn’t be your strategy: aim for a more positive share of voice.

Agnostic search:

This is perhaps my favourite type of search, and perhaps one of the most ignored too. This type of search isn’t all about what you offer or what you already know – this type of search is about what you could offer.
Say you’re looking after a mobile network. Go beyond just tracking your brand name and your products: research what makes a good mobile network according to consumers. What do people expect in a mobile network? What’s the price that people are willing to pay for their price plans? What do people think of prepaid plans? Do people prefer being tied into a monthly plan or do they prefer a plan with less commitment? What features do they find essential, and what do they not care much about? What do they expect in features like roaming, tethering, data speeds, price caps etc.? What makes them join a mobile network? What makes them leave? What makes them switch, upgrade, downgrade…? What makes a perfect mobile network for consumers? People will often say what they wish their provider could do, and they’ll happily namedrop companies that do something similar or better. Those companies might not even be in your same country. Study what makes them tick to those consumers.
This doesn’t have to relate to your company: when doing this search, take out all references to your own brand and your product names. Stick to generic keywords, like “roaming”, “4g”, “tethering”, “mobile network”, “mobile data”, and feel free to add any qualifiers like “best”, “better”, “cheap”, “expensive”, “great deal”. This search needs to relate to consumers, not just your customers. In fact, this is one of the most consumer-centric researches you could ever make.
If you’re thinking of launching a new product or service, this type of research is essential, as it’ll give you an edge against your competitors by getting to know what consumers want even before they choose to be your customers.
This is the kind of research that often goes on in focus groups, and if you’re looking into providing a great service that customers will anticipate, you’ll find gold in this type of research.

What next?

All of this sounds great, but without one very important step this could all be useless: implementation. Implementation is the cog that keeps this moving, it’s the step that makes all of this work. Without it you’ll only end up with a few reports in people’s inboxes, reports that may or may not be read at all. Trust me, you don’t want this type of information to be kept in an unread PowerPoint presentation, especially when that information could feed right into your social strategy, your digital strategy, your next marketing campaigns – the possibilities are endless here. However, without taking action, it remains just that – a possibility.

What’s the cost?

So, what’s the catch? If you can get all this information for free, there must be a catch somewhere, right?
Well, there’s no catch, but don’t think you’ll get this absolutely for free: the data is free, but before you go and tell your senior managers and executives that you can get all this great information and intelligence for free, remind them that this comes at a cost: investment in social intelligence. So many brands today don’t have adequate tools and resources due to lack in investment.
Sure, you could get some of this data for free with a Twitter search, but a Twitter search will only spew out a number of results. Besides, you can’t run advanced searches (besides the parameters that Twitter provides) and get analyses with it. That’s where social listening tools come in handy.
Keep the money that you were going to spend on a focus group or the email campaign you were going to start for the email survey. Instead, invest it on a social listening tool that can provide you with the intelligence, and I’m sure you’ll still find yourself with some savings, savings that you can invest in further social activities.
Granted, quite a few tools out there cater to social listening. Some of them are all-in-one suites that do more than just social monitoring: this includes the likes of Hootsuite and Sprinklr. On the other hand, you have specialist tools whose main (if not sole) function is social monitoring, and they’re pretty good at it too: this includes tools like Mention and Brandwatch. For other social media tools, check out The Complete Guide to Social and Digital Marketing Tools for a few great suggestions.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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