Do you know what your customers are saying about you on Facebook? Have you seen how your competition is using Instagram in their new marketing campaigns? Are you answering product questions from prospects on Twitter? Or maybe the reverse is true — no one is talking about your company on social at all. How do you even know?
You know by developing your social listening and monitoring skills.
When most people think of social media, they assume it’s all about getting their message out to other people, but there’s another side to social media that is equally, if not even more, important: listening to and monitoring what people are saying about your brand.
Social listening and monitoring can give you the opportunity to manage your reputation, determine new avenues of product development, and to get ahead of your competitors. Plus, customers want to feel heard on social media. According to research done by Sprout Social, 83% of respondents like when brands respond to questions, and 68% like when brands join conversations. Being responsive on social media clearly makes a difference; after all, 48% of customers make a purchase with a brand who is responsive to its customers and prospects on social media.
So what’s the difference between social listening and social monitoring?
Social monitoring is actively looking for mentions and conversations that pertain to your brand, your products, your hashtags, your employees, your competitors, and your customers. Social listening is how you track, analyse, and respond to conversations across the internet.
In short, social media monitoring and listening is crucial to the health and success of any social media marketing campaign you plan to run as well as the ultimate success of your business.
Social Monitoring: Understanding Brand Conversation
Social media is a powerful tool for businesses, but it can feel overwhelming when you’re just getting started, which is why using a social media calendar tool is so important to stay organised. Unlike other communication channels, social media offers so many options and tools that some companies have successfully adopted a social-only marketing strategy. At HubSpot Academy, we tend to recommend a more balanced approach by combining social media, search engine optimization, email marketing, and content marketing in a holistic inbound strategy. It all comes down to knowing your buyer persona and aligning your strategy with their behaviours.
One real-time way to stay on top of your buyer persona and their consumer behavior is through social monitoring.
There is a difference between social listening and social monitoring. These two activities may seem similar at first glance, and in many cases, they both involve the same tactics. Where they differ is in your objective.
You can use social listening to centralise conversations about your brand so that you can join them.
Social listening may be used by sales reps, social media managers, and even executives in your company. On the other hand,
You can use social monitoring to actively look for mentions and conversations that pertain to your brand, your products, your hashtags, your employees, your competitors, and your customers.
Social monitoring aims to measure more broadly what the market is saying, not just about you, but about the problem your company solves and the topics your customers care about. For example, you might use Google Alerts to get email notifications when an article is published about a topic that your buyer persona cares about.You might use TweetDeck to monitor phrases, brands, and people that your buyer persona cares about on Twitter. Perhaps it’s as simple as bookmarking a Facebook search in your browser and checking it regularly.
Crayon senior account executive, Brayton Ducharme, tells us that, “Social monitoring is a really important part of monitoring your brand's reputation because your customers are on social media. You want to be listening to them there, and fielding any questions that they may have, responding to complaints, and understanding their perspective or point of view on the product or service that you're delivering to them. If you're responsive, timely, and helpful, that will then reflect positively on your business.”
No matter how you choose to do social monitoring, there are some clear benefits to being “in the know” about the things your buyer persona cares about.
First of all, it puts you and your target buyer persona in the audience together. Here’s what I mean. In a lot of ways, marketing is a two-way communication channel. You communicate with your audience about you, or they communicate with you about them, and the other party listens. Social monitoring allows you to listen to a third party: other people and brands talking about the things you and your customers care about. It’s no longer you and your audience talking about each other, to each other, it’s you and your audience talking to each other about a third subject or party. In doing so, you’re saying “hey, we both care about this, let’s learn about it together.” Talk about humanising!
Remember, to be a part of the conversation, you don’t necessarily have to be the subject of it.
There are some important dimensions to measure at this higher, macro level. For instance, measure your brand reputation. In social monitoring, we’re not responding to social media posts like we would in our social listening activities. Monitoring brand sentiment combines all of those individual messages into an overall reputation metric along a spectrum of negative to positive. Be on the lookout for brand damaging conversations and customer unrest.
Social customer service is the new normal for organisations. 56% of consumers will unfollow a brand if they deliver poor customer service on social media and forty percent of customers expect a response within one hour after posting a complaint on social media!
If people have questions about your product or service, make sure your support team is ready to respond in a helpful way. You might even keep a customer from churning if you work in a subscription-based business. These conversations on social media can also inform your product or service. Are people unhappy with a particular feature, or maybe a recent change to your service offering? Are they excited about a particular feature that they’re trying for the first time? Use this market intelligence to guide other teams in your organisation.
Use social media monitoring to track links to your website on social media, engagement from campaigns, and check on the sentiment and performance of your marketing campaigns. By doing this, you’ll learn whether your campaign content is resonating with your audience. To make this easier to track, consider using a hashtag for your marketing campaign. This way, you’ll have an easy way to track the conversations and your audience will know where to find the conversation as well. Tracking links, created by appending UTM parameters to any links back to your website, can help you monitor exactly where traffic came from. In this example, we append a source, medium, and campaign, so we know exactly where traffic to academy.hubspot.com came from in our website analytics.
For example: Base URL: academy.hubspot.com
Example of URL using UTM parameters:
Let's talk about how social monitoring can boost your recruiting efforts. The most important asset in your organization isn’t the website, and it’s not the building your office is in, or even the product or service you sell — it’s the people who bring all those things together into a growing business. Recruiting, therefore, may be the single most important activity your organization performs on a regular basis, and monitoring social media can help you recruit more diverse, talented, and remarkable employees for your team.
Your HR or recruiting team can also use social monitoring to apply an inbound marketing approach to their recruiting efforts.
Just like the buyer persona you’ve identified to be a potential best-fit customer for your product or service, create a job seeker persona that is a potential best-fit employee for a particular job opening, and in the same way a marketer would listen to and monitor the opinions of a buyer persona, do the same with your job seeker persona. If potential candidates are active on social media, they’re giving you a way to understand them better, learn what they value in an organization, and fine tune your job descriptions, interviews, and career page to suit their priorities.
Remember, social media monitoring helps to inspire and inform your content, your brand, and can even extend to your product or recruiting strategies.
The Power of Social Listening
As previously mentioned, social listening is how you track, analyze, and respond to conversations across the internet. By monitoring social media discussions about your industry, your company, and your products and customers, you can shape the direction of the conversation. It will help you get a leg up on your competition and inform both brand and business decisions. Done right, it will even help you save both time and money.
Christina Garnett, strategist at social media management company, ICUC, says,
“Social listening is the perfect opportunity to figure out what your audience really thinks about you, your industry, and your competitors.”
“Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, you had agencies that were around just to do market research and they would put all the people in a room and ask them questions. You don't have to do that now. You have Twitter, you have Facebook, you have Instagram. You have all of these opportunities to figure out exactly what people are saying about your brand--unfiltered. You know what they love about you, what they hate about you, what they wish you could improve, what they wish you could change, and you can see them actually talking to potential other customers for you. They could be getting you new business or they could be losing new business for you.”
There are eight key benefits to doing social listening:
The first benefit is that it gives you the opportunity to measure the performance of your social media, web, and even to some extent, your conversations and offline content strategy. You can measure the results from marketing and sales campaigns, including mentions, comments, shares, reshares, and the volume and sentiment of the conversation around your content. Did people love your last blog post or did it ruffle feathers? Do videos resonate better than static images? Did your customers share content to their social channels from the last email you sent to your mailing list? Once you discover what types of content work best, you might consider how to use similar content in targeted ads. Social metrics should be a crucial part of evaluating your content strategy as a whole.
Second, social listening helps you manage reputation. If that blog post did ruffle feathers and you suddenly have a Tweetstorm on your hands, understanding the full extent of the conversation is key. If you’re aware of the conversation early on, you can respond in a timely manner and potentially turn the tide of the conversation. If your customers are complaining about your company or product, you can respond, publicly, how you’ll make it right.
Third, social listening helps you identify your biggest fans and influencers. This is important because people trust word of mouth more than they do brand conversations.
In fact, according to Market Force:
81% of U.S. online consumers’ purchase decisions are influenced by their friends’ social media posts versus 78% who are influenced by the posts of the brands they follow on social media.
Once you’ve identified your superfans, thank and reward them for their loyalty and support. Engage with and involve them in conversations, content, and your campaigns. Leverage their word of mouth to increase the reach of your messages.
Fourth, social listening can help you discover new product ideas or ways to enhance features on existing products. Listen to what your customers and prospects are talking about to discover their pain points, and make shifts to address them with better product features or services. You can identify some of the biggest detractors and invite them to meet with your product team to share their ideas. You can also look for gaps and weaknesses in your competition’s products and up the ante with your own development schedule.
One great example of a company who used social listening to develop a product and create a smart marketing campaign at the same time is Netflix. When they discovered through social listening that many of their customers that were binge-watching shows were falling asleep, they realized they had an amazing opportunity. What did they do? They invented Netflix Socks – smart socks detect when you've dozed off and send a signal to your TV, automatically pausing your show.
Never again will you binge-watch yourself to sleep, only to wake up two seasons later wondering what happened, or to fall into the middle of a spoiler. Of course these socks went viral, winning a Shorty Award and best of all, endearing millions of people to their brand.
I just mentioned the fifth benefit of social listening: Watching the competition. Social listening helps you learn from monitoring your competitors, ranging from how their content performs with their audience, to how happy their customers are and what the world at large is saying about them.
Sixth, social listening can lead to new business opportunities. Monitoring can help you identify gaps in your current industry offerings. Are your customers and prospects asking for something that isn’t yet provided? Is there an underutilized sector of your industry that your company might be able to service? You can also identify trends early on and shift direction to take advantage of those opportunities.
The seventh way that social listening can make a difference for your business is by helping you find leads. For example, some companies look for unhappy customers of a competitor and reach out with an offer to help. If the company is responsive when other companies are not, then switching may often be an easy decision for the customer.
The eighth and final way you can use social listening is to help you set strategic benchmarks for your future. Including listening metrics in your strategy — metrics like volume of engagement, sentiment, shares of your content, mentions, and more — will give you the baseline you need to set better social media and business goals for the quarters and years ahead.
There are two modes of listening to think about: monitoring and engagement.
Monitoring is the method of actively looking for mentions and conversations that pertain to your brand, your products, your hashtags, your employees, your competitors, and your customers.
Engagement is the step you take to have conversations with individuals talking about your industry, brand, products, and services.
If you’re in the early stages of developing your digital promotion strategy, you may only need to be monitoring social media. But as your company grows — or, in fact, to help directly drive that growth — you’ll need to consider how you’ll engage with your customers. In the ideal world, you’ll monitor and engage your audience on all social channels, but when starting out, perhaps you might decide to only engage on Facebook depending on which network your buyer persona tends to frequent. Just make sure you’re adequately directing your audience in all channels to the best way they can have a conversation with you, whether it’s directing them to a specific social channel, a web page, or to an email address. You don’t want to appear unavailable to an audience that’s trying to reach out to you.
Watching the Competition
Listening to and monitoring your competition is likely the number one, most obvious way to use your newly gained social media monitoring powers. In competitive markets, after all, it’s an absolute imperative. Think about candidates running in an election - every word said by or about the opponent is an opportunity to strike, to differentiate, to tell the world that we can do it better. But is that really… inbound? It depends on what you do with that information.
Inbound is a human, holistic, and helpful approach to doing business. Be careful that you don’t become so obsessive watching the competition that it might over-influence your strategy.Inbound is about being customer-centric, not competitor-centric. It’s good to know what your competitors are doing so you can better position yourself, but do it to help your customers.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s go over why you might monitor your competition as part of your social media monitoring activities. Well, for one, you and your competitors are innately participating in the same industry. When rising tides lift all boats, understanding those tides is pretty important to guiding your company’s strategy. Your competitors might be more or less susceptible to a particular variable that influences them. Monitoring your competitors can help you get ahead of industry-wide changes.
For example, as of 2018, companies who store data about European Union citizens needed to spend a ton of energy orchestrating their data processes and technology to support the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. A number of US businesses thought about how this regulation impacted companies in the EU and asked, “if that were to happen here in the U.S. with our customers, what would we need to do? What are those companies doing to prepare themselves, and where are they feeling the most pain? What can we learn from them?” Those companies began to put new systems in place and when the state of California implemented a new privacy law, those businesses were already set for success and positioned ahead of their US-based competition.
To learn more about GDPR, check out HubSpot Academy’s free course Create a GDPR Strategy.
When monitoring your competitors, take note of their wins, losses, reputation, differentiations, marketing tactics, relationships, alliances, and even their brand voice. These characteristics, and how they change over time, can be used to inform your own decisions. You want to use the information as part of a holistic market intelligence strategy.
Let’s say a competitor had some kind of very public blunder. Ask yourself: if that catastrophe happened to you, wouldn’t you feel like they took a cheap shot? Is this really an opportunity to go in for the kill? Is the oversight of a few of your competitor’s employees really going to help you differentiate your offering?
In this case, the best thing to do is simply to listen to the social posts about the incident and creatively and helpfully contribute to that conversation. Don’t take the opportunity to make a hard sales pitch to their customers, just make sure those people feel as though they’re being heard, especially if your competitor isn’t listening.
What you can do, however, is what Aviation Gin did. The exercise equipment company Peloton aired an ad during the 2019 holiday season that featured a woman who viewers saw as less than enthusiastic about receiving a bike than Peloton intended. Aviation Gin, a company owned by actor Ryan Reynolds, saw that the Internet was abuzz about Peloton’s blunder. Rather than bashing Peloton directly, Aviation Gin hired the actress in the Peloton ad and created a “sequel” of sorts, showcasing the woman in the ad’s next steps after a year of owning the bike. They never once mentioned Peloton.
It was internet gold and the video was a trending topic for days after Aviation Gin shared it on their social channels. In the first two months after the Aviation Gin ad appeared on social media, the YouTube video had over 6 million views.
Crayon’s Brayton Ducharme adds, “When it comes to watching your competitors, social listening is a great way to identify what moves they might be making. For example, if your competitor starts to create social media posts around the topic of automation, whereas they previously have not spoken about that, that could be a key indicator that maybe they're going to launch a new product with a key automation functionality, or add automation to a current product. You might want to go back to their website and check out if they've made any updates so you can prepare for changes.”
Monitoring the competition will help your business grow and improve, and hopefully sidestep some of the pitfalls that others have already experienced.
Interested in learning more about Content and Social Media Marketing? Check out our online shortcourse here created with industry partners Hubspot and isobar.
About the author
Crystal King is a Social Media Professor for HubSpot Academy. Crystal created HubSpot Academy’s popular Social Media Marketing Course which has awarded over 50,000 certifications to professionals across the globe. Crystal has led global social media programs for companies such as Keurig and CA Technologies,and taught classes in writing, creativity and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, UMass Boston and GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. She is also the author of two novels, The Chef’s Secret and Feast of Sorrow. Follow her on Twitter: @crystallyn.