Social listening is one of the most powerful tools at a brand’s disposal. It can yield valuable insights into your target audience that help you shape your brand, social, and content strategies to align with their habits and preferences. In turn, you can better communicate with your target audience, which supports brand-building and sales initiatives.
Cue Social Listening
Social listening is the process of monitoring, tracking, and analyzing the conversations happening on social media around your brand and industry. The goal of social listening is to glean important insights about how your brand is performing in the eyes of consumers, what your competitors are up to, and what your target audience is looking for relative to your industry or brand. These insights are then put into action to effectuate better brand, content, and social strategies.
How Social Listening Works
Content management platforms like Sprout, HubSpot, Spredfast, and Percolate make social listening easy by providing you with technology that quickly aggregates hashtags, mentions, and comments. You can choose to follow relevant social media accounts and hashtags to pick up on trends pertinent to your line of business (e.g., you might follow #wine if you’re a wine distributor, winemaker, or wine bar). If you don’t have the budget for a content management platform, it’s still possible to follow social media conversations; you just need to allocate ample labor resources toward manual monitoring and analysis.
As an example, let’s say you’ve just launched a new brand of premium coffee beans. You need to devise a brand strategy but don’t know where to begin. Through social listening, you would follow your brand’s own hashtag (if you have one), your competitors’ hashtags, and other hashtags relevant to coffee.
By following posts tagged accordingly, you might learn that your audience is concerned about how coffee roasters are sourcing their beans, which might lead you to rework your messaging around your responsible sourcing practices. In turn, your audience begins to pick up on the idea that you care about the issues that matter to them, creating a connection that better positions you to sell your product. In effect, you used the information you learned through social listening to make strategic decisions about how to position and communicate your brand.
Social Listening and Brand Strategy
A strong brand strategy—inclusive of things like mission, vision, brand positioning, brand values, voice and tone, and key messaging—is foundational to any brand. Having one provides big picture direction that enables you to make clear, focused branding decisions.
To be successful, your brand strategy needs to account for how your brand will stand out from the competition and resonate with your target audience in a way that gains their affinity and loyalty. By leveraging the competitor and audience insights gathered through social listening, you can enrich every component of your brand strategy in this regard.
Let’s look at one element of a brand strategy as an example: brand positioning. Brand positioning articulates how you want your target audience to think and feel about your brand relative to competitors. Typically, a brand positioning statement is composed of four elements:
- Target audience—your ideal customers
- Frame of reference—context that helps consumers understand your brand’s place in the market
- Point of difference—an explanation of how your brand is different than the competition
- Reasons to believe—the evidence that upholds your point of difference
Social listening can help you understand your target audience’s values and preferences and assess your competitive landscape, which, in turn, informs every element of a brand positioning statement.
For starters, social listening helps you define your target audience, providing you with useful information about who your prospective customers are, where they’re from, what matters to them, and how they use products and services similar to yours. Social listening also gives you a bird’s-eye view of what people are saying about your competitors and how your competitors communicate with your target audience. By simply listening to industry-specific conversations on social media, you can gather valuable data that will help you make informed decisions around what your go-to-market frame of reference, point of difference, and reasons to believe should be.
Key messaging is another element of a brand strategy that benefits from social listening. The insights uncovered through social listening enable you to tailor messages to your target audience’s unique style of communication, including the language and jargon they use that’s pertinent to your brand category. Mirroring your target audience’s style of communication matters, because it helps you better relate to your audience and gain their affinity.
According to Sprout Social, 64% of people want a strong connection with the brands they purchase from. By creating an informed brand strategy, you are better equipped to build that connection, which will help you achieve your brand and sales objectives.
Social Listening and Social Media Strategy
Social media marketing is all about connecting with your audience and building a community around your brand to better sell your product or service. Through social listening, you can accomplish this more strategically. Tuning in to your audience provides you with information that you can use to determine which platforms, types of content, and tactics to build your social media strategy around.
By listening in on social media conversations, you are able to better understand the wants and needs of your audience, so you can make informed decisions about where and how to focus your efforts. For instance, if you find that you have a large share of voice on Twitter (meaning, you occupy a large percentage of the social media conversation on that platform), and the sentiment is positive, you might decide to allocate more resources to engaging with your Twitter audience in real time. Conversely, you might decide to devote more resources to improving your presence on platforms where you don’t perform as strongly.
Beyond that, social listening keeps you up to date on trends and issues that your target audience cares about and how your target audience communicates, which you can use in your social media strategy. For instance, your brand might decide to partake in a social media challenge that’s popular among your target audience, or you might start incorporating certain language into your posts based on the lingo you observe.
You can also use social listening to identify influencers with sway over your target audience, so you know who you can credibly partner with to promote your brand and gain new leads.
Social Listening and Content Strategy
A content strategy outlines the specific content a brand plans to create and distribute as a means of nurturing leads through their buyer’s journey. Social listening benefits your content strategy by providing you with clear insights on what your target audience wants and needs. With these insights, you can develop resonant content that orients you as an industry expert and fosters the kind of trust that makes people more likely to buy your product or service (or at least share the content with someone who will).
You can research your target audience using social listening to develop a better understanding of what drives users during the awareness, consideration, and decision phases of their buyer’s journey. For instance, during the awareness stage, your target audience might have a lot of basic questions about a specific problem, while during the consideration phase, they might be looking into specific solutions to that problem. Once they move into the decision phase, they likely need content that convinces them of the merits of your product or service as a solution.
In addition to helping you understand the content topics that matter to your target audience, social listening gives you a glimpse of how your competitors are devising their content strategies and what your audience thinks about the content your competitors produce. From there, you discern best practices and apply those takeaways to develop content that stands out. Ultimately, your content can be used to nurture leads through the sales funnel—much to the benefit of your sales team.
Now that you understand the benefits of social listening, it’s time to tune in. If this is your first foray into social listening, don’t worry. We have a few helpful tips to get you started:
- Choose a social media listening tool or designate staff to manually monitor and analyze trends.
- Determine which platforms you want to listen in on.
- Choose the topics you want to learn more about, and write down all keywords, hashtags, and handles associated with them.
- Start listening. Record your data and observations.
Following these steps will make all the difference when it comes to making the most of your social media accounts. With the insights garnered during this process, you will better understand your target audience so that you can more effectively shape your brand strategy, social media strategy, and content strategy.