Why It's Time to Take Social Listening Seriously

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

I often get the chance to meet people who work in digital marketing, whether they work for agencies, small brands, big brands, global enterprises, or themselves. When talking to them about how they do their social listening, I’m amazed to see how many marketers don’t take social listening that seriously, or even worse – by how many marketers don’t do any social listening at all.
Social listening is an essential health-check that every brand should have regularly, no matter how big or small they are. As long as you choose to put your brand online, social listening should be an integral part of your digital strategy. Why so? And if you aren’t doing any social listening, why is it time to start taking it seriously today?

Why Should You Take Social Listening Seriously?

I’m fairly certain that your brand has ways to get feedback from users. This may be in the form of focus groups where users can come in and share their feedback with you. Perhaps it’s a link strategically placed in your emails (newsletters, receipts, etc.) for anyone who might want to give you their feedback or ask for help. Perhaps it’s a request to take part in a quick anonymous survey at the end of a call or a web chat. Whichever way you choose, if your brand has at least one method to get feedback from users then your brand understands its value. Feedback is essential when determining your customers’ needs, wants, and preferences. Feedback allows brands to understand how customers perceive the brand and products. That same feedback is vital when determining where your brand excels and where it falls short compared to competitors.
That same logic applies to feedback on social media, or generally online. There are so many avenues where your customers may choose to leave feedback about you: think of forums, discussion boards, blog sites, mainstream news sites , etc. That differs from the more “traditional methods” of feedback listed in the previous paragraph. If you’re leaving a link in your newsletter allowing your customers to email you back with some feedback, you know exactly that the feedback will land in that inbox. Nowadays, feedback about you could be anywhere online. In the same way you wouldn’t ignore a customer’s concern sent to your inbox, you shouldn’t ignore a customer’s concern if they posted it on a social network or some other site.
This is even more important when you market on social media. When you’re marketing on social media, you also understand that people may use those same channels to express how they feel about your brand. Some will praise it, others will tear it down, but regardless it’s still feedback that you need to hear. If your marketing strategy is truly data-driven, then you should know that social feedback is part of that data that can help drive your strategy, not only for marketing but other brand functions too.
So, how can I tell that you’re not taking your social listening strategy? There are quite a few signs, but the following four seem to be the usual:

  • No tool to do social listening: you can’t do social listening without a social listening tool. Searching for brand mentions on Google or Twitter is not social listening. Relying on less than adequate tools for social listening isn’t helpful either. Perhaps you feel that you have to resort to those tools due to low budget or lack of support from senior stakeholders who have access to the money and resources you need.
  • Subpar tools for social listening: it’s not just about having a tool to do the job, it’s about having the right tool to do the job. (There’s more to that, but it’s certainly a good start.) Also, if you’re using Google Alerts for social listening, you’re not taking social listening seriously. While somewhat limited in functionality, you can find free tools out there to help you. These tools can crawl the web to find relevant mentions, unlike tools like Google Alerts that only return a small sample of mentions from few signals like breaking news, views and social shares.
  • No implementation: if you’re only using social listening tools to churn out reports, you’re not using your tools to their full potential.
  • Little to no support: when I’m talking about taking social listening seriously I’m talking about your company as  whole. You can’t be the only one taking social listening seriously. Part of it comes from you, advocating social listening in your company. Yet, it’s also your company’s job to embrace social listening. After all, if they’ve hired someone to do tasks including social listening, they should understand why it’s important, what impact it has on your brand, and the perils of ignoring it.

Just having a social listening tool doesn’t mean that you’re taking social listening seriously. Unless you’re doing something with social listening, you’re not really using it to its full potential, and you’re not using it for what it was built for.
While social listening tools were built to help you listen to mentions online, their intent was for you to put those mentions to good use. Even these tools’ taglines say it. For example,


Use social listening to power any decision

Crimson Hexagon:

Social data you can work with


Make smarter business decisions with social insights

What do these tools do? They help you retrieve data and insights. What were they built for? To help you make better decisions in your marketing and as part of your social strategy.

How Can You Take Social Listening Seriously?

Start with these four steps:

  1. Listen to more than the obvious: if you’re looking for brand mentions, don’t just look out for mentions that you’d find in your notification inbox anyway (e.g. replies, Twitter mentions, DMs, Facebook comments under your own posts). Expand your listening reach. Look out for mentions that you normally wouldn’t be aware of: mentions of your products, mentions of people comparing you to competitors, even if they don’t mention your social accounts. Don’t only listen to platforms where you’re on: widen your search. You’ll then find your name mentioned on forums, online groups, blogs and other sites, even sites you never knew existed.
  2. Tailor reports to stakeholders: package your reports based on your stakeholders’ needs. Understand them and find out why they need those reports. Get to know their KPIs: it’ll be easier for them to relate to tailored KPIs rather than just generic stats. So, your brand team and your PR team may be more interested in your brand’s share of voice, recurring and new themes, how your brand perception changes after a new launch or a PR disaster, and how much of your brand share of voice is positive vs. negative. Your sales team may be more interested in mentions of new customer deals vs. retention deals, what makes people join your company and what makes them leave, and their propensity to stay after a campaign or a product launch. When reporting, contextualise your reports according to the stakeholders who are receiving it. It’ll then be easier for them to know what action to take, if any.
  3. Implement: action needs to come from your reports. This might not be your job, but it’s your brand’s job to be on social media and act on the feedback they get there. Maybe you don’t have the power to make change happen in your company. Perhaps your sole duty is reporting. In that case, call out what needs to happen, what needs to change, and send that to those who can make change happen. Don’t let your social listening reports just be a PDF sitting idle and unread in people’s inboxes.
  4. Widen your audience: don’t just report for a select few. When you hear of something new coming up, or a team making a change that will impact your users, think of how people may react to that online and report on it. These teams will soon understand that social media can make an impact. I usually send these reports to senior managers and executives, and I’ve not shied away from sending them to CEOs either if that means that social has a bigger visibility. For example, if your IT team updates your site, people may notice it and talk about it online: do they like it? Do they hate it? Do they compare the new design to other sites, and if so why? What things do they prefer in this one, and what features are they missing from the previous design? Are there any bugs that need immediate attention? Are there users from a specific platform that can’t access the new site properly? Oftentimes people will complain online to others more than they will complain to you, sometimes to check if their peers are experiencing the same or perhaps just to vent their frustration.

Roadblocks to Social Listening

You may go against a few roadblocks that may make implementation difficult, or roadblocks that may stop your brand from taking social listening seriously. These four scenarios are unfortunately quite common:

  • Too expensive: there’s a vast amount of social listening tools available, some free, some cheap, some expensive. Quality isn’t always dictated by price, as you may find an expensive tool that doesn’t meet half of your business requirements. You need to find a tool with a good proportion of affordability, quality and requirements met. If you’re already using a social listening tool and you find it to be too expensive, check with your account manager to see if you can downgrade to a plan that makes more sense to you, not only financially but also in terms of requirements. Perhaps you don’t need a big allowance of mentions. Perhaps you don’t need that many users on the platform. Perhaps you don’t need all the extra add-ons you’re paying for. Review what you’re paying for, making sure that you’re not only cutting down on costs but you’re also paying for what you’re actually using. If you’re on the lookout for a new social listening tool then shop around, ask other peers in the industry, feel free to contact me for any advice on this anytime. See what tools are available, in their different features and expertise, then ask for the price. Once you’ve done your research, see what the range is, and check whether your current budget can afford a tool like that. Once you’ve found the right tools with the proper research, it’ll be easier for you to justify the cost.
  • Too many people needed: you don’t need too many people to do social listening. A lot of brands I know have one social analyst whose role includes social listening. The rest of the company is then empowered to use the social media tool to answer any questions or quick queries. While you do need at least one social analyst, they don’t have to be the only ones carrying all social listening duties. You can hand some of these duties over to other teams or other social people. So, your social campaign manager should know how to track their campaign through your social listening tool. If you have a PR team, they should have access to the tool to check how things are going for your brand online. Social media managers should definitely have full access to your social listening tool. Pass the knowledge around, have open sessions when people can come in to get trained, have drop-in sessions where people can come in with their report requests. Not only is that a great way to deepen the understanding and appreciation of social media even further in your business, but it’s also a way to show that social listening isn’t something available to just a select few. The more people know about how useful a social listening tool can be, the easier it will be for you to have more financial backing towards social tools.
  • Too many systems: your IT department might not be happy about having to take care of yet another system. That is often because a lot of tools out there have their own solitary environment. A lot of tools can’t integrate with others you already have, or they don’t comply with company policy. You might have a company policy that requires new tools to follow company rules, such as prompting users to change their passwords every 30 days, or letting you log in with your company login instead of the system’s username and password. Understand that these measures are for your best interest, with security in mind first. Before you send out requirements for your ideal social listening tool, check with your IT team on the technical requirements for a social listening tool. Not only will they appreciate that you’ve taken the time to consider the technical aspects of the tool, but you’ll also have the reassurance that the tool works well on your and company’s perspective.
  • Too much time: you’re probably trying to find too much information with too little resources. Automate when you can. Once you’ve justified what’s needed and you realise that there aren’t  enough resources to take care of social listening, it may be time to hire a social analyst. A lot of companies out there hire people specifically to take care of their social listening: we’re talking about the likes of Dell, Cisco, IBM, Philips, Coca-Cola, Adobe, HSBC and Microsoft. These are global brands that understand that their social reach is wider than their owned reach, so they have people dedicated to social listening.

So, What’s Next?

If you and your company are already taking social listening seriously, then kudos to you: you’re already ahead of the curve. Considering the things you can do with social listening and the doors it opens for you, sky’s the limit. (Budget provided.)
If you and your company aren’t taking social listening seriously, then it’s not too late: if you’re willing to accept it, then you’ve already made a big step towards adopting it. Once you’ve started, not only will you wish you had started sooner, but you won’t be able to see yourself without it, and that is a huge step towards social maturity.


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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