Social media listening can benefit businesses in many different ways. Sometimes, social media impacts a business negatively, such as when consumers criticize its products or services. However, social media listening frequently helps guide a business to growth – and to pleasing its customers.
McDonald’s didn’t anticipate the outsized favorable reaction to its limited-edition Szechuan sauce. The restaurant chain first introduced the sauce during a promotion of Disney’s “Mulan” in 1998. After characters on the “Rick and Morty” television show praised the sauce, it reintroduced it at select restaurants for a single day.
Customers demanded more sauce at more restaurants, not in letters to McDonald’s management but on social media. Fortunately for the sauce lovers, McDonald’s was listening. Through social media listening, the company quickly learned of customers’ feelings and sent much larger supplies of the sauce to all restaurants. The incident is just one example of how organizations can benefit from social media listening. Social media listening was also instrumental in the company’s decision to offer breakfast items at all hours. Many small businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies also benefit from social media listening
Applications of Social Listening
These are 10 important benefits of social media listening, also referred to as social media monitoring or tracking. A well-designed corporate social media monitoring program is structured to share information across multiple departments in order to reap the widest possible assortment of benefits.
Identify and follow-up on sales leads. When potential customers ask about a product or mention they are considering buying a new product, the social media monitoring or customer service team can respond with information. Several years ago a business tweeted: “Shoretel or Avaya? Time for a new phone system soon.” Avaya was listening. It tweeted back, saying it had information and courteously requested a phone call. Thirteen days later, it closed a $250,000 deal.
Many sales and marketing leaders predict social selling will become the dominant avenue for B2B sales. And most say social media listening is the essential first step in the process of finding sales leads and obtaining customers on social media. Experts recommend using a social media listening tool that can monitor multiple keywords across multiple social media platforms and integrate reports into one intuitive, customizable dashboard.
Respond to customer complaints. Social media has become a leading customer service platform. More customers now prefer to complain to brands about poor products and services on social media than to make phone calls or send emails. Other customers judge brands by how they respond to those complaints. Companies that respond promptly with professionalism and empathy keep customers and gain new ones.
Social media monitoring enables brands to find negative customer comments that call for responses. Monitoring key social media networks and responding quickly is essential to stop an unfavorable discussion from spreading and possibly evolving into a major PR crisis.
Find user-generated content. Consumers frequently post photos, videos and praise of products online. Social listening enables PR and marketing to find that content.
User-generated content can be an enormously effective – yet affordable – marketing strategy. Research shows that consumers trust recommendations of other consumers, especially acquaintances and influencers, more than brands. Finding, amplifying and repurposing user-generated content is affordable as well as effective. It allows small organizations to compete against companies with the deep pockets to pay for extensive advertising
Measure PR results. More Americans obtain their news through social media than ever and the figure continues to rise, according to the Pew Research Center. Social media news consumption is no longer confined to the young or internet savvy. That means monitoring social media for mentions of the brand, products, company leaders and the company’s other keywords is essential in today’s environment.
PR professionals have learned that monitoring the most popular social media platforms, along with blogs and message boards, is as important as monitoring traditional news outlets since social media posts now affect brand reputation and purchases as much as mainstream news.
Social media listening as part of an integrated media measurement program enables PR personnel to prove the value of their efforts. By analyzing brand sentiment, share of voice and other key metrics, PR teams can compare themselves against competitors and rate the effectiveness of their campaigns.
Manage PR crises. Social media listening is a vital crisis communications tool before, during and after a PR crisis. During the heat of a crisis, social media monitoring can provide the PR crisis management team with near real-time information that is often more current than news outlets. (It’s important to verify the social media posts.)
As the crisis evolves, monitoring can reveal the views of key consumer groups and important influencers such as journalists, bloggers and investors. Besides reporting what influencers are saying about brands and grading the sentiment of their comments, social media listening can identify and rank influencers to help PR prioritize its responses.
By tracking how the number of negative, positive and neutral mentions change over time, PR pros can learn how their strategy is impacting the public conversation over time. By identifying a spike in negative mentions or other unusual activity, social media listening and analytics can also reveal an emerging PR crisis and give the organization time to act before the issue gains attention of mainstream media.
Identify influential advocates. You are probably aware of the key influencers in your niche; however, depending on your industry, there could be another hundred or more influencers. And new influencers pop up regularly.
Identifying appropriate influencers remains the biggest influencer marketing challenge, according to surveys. An automated social media monitoring service can identify potential new influencers as soon as they emerge. Identifying them through manual searches would require many hours of staff time each day searching multiple social media networks for multiple keywords impacting your business.
Research shows that micro-influencers have higher engagement rates and that many influencers with large followers have lower engagement rates. A social media measurement tool can identify influencers with healthy engagement rates within your niche as well as measure the effectiveness of PR and marketing campaigns.
Newsjacking. Newsjacking, the technique of injecting your brand into a breaking news story, can generate extensive media coverage and social media engagement when done correctly.
During the 2014 Grammy Awards, Twitter users pointed out a striking resemblance between Arby’s logo and singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams’s hat. The restaurant chain’s social media listening team, actively monitoring its brand terms on Twitter, seized the moment and jokingly asked for its hat back in a tweet.
“The impact of that one Tweet is mind-blowing,” writes Josh Martin, Arby’s social media manager, on Twitter’s blog. Our PR firm estimates that the advertising equivalency would be 84 million impressions with a $22 million price tag. It even outpaced engagement on Oreo’s Super Bowl Tweet.”
Obtain competitive intelligence. Occasionally checking a competitor’s website does not provide adequate information about their PR and marketing strategies and tactics. Companies can gain a wealth of the competitive intelligence through social media monitoring and measurement, including data on competitors’ product development, marketing strategies, product positioning, key customers, and public relations activities.
Companies can identify their strengths and weaknesses of competitors and find their successful strategies to emulate and unsuccessful strategies to avoid.
Common sense says that knowledge about competitors is vital business information, yet many companies focus only on their own messaging and give little thought to how competitors’ counter actions might affect consumer sentiment.
Improve products. Companies can determine their product’s shortcomings and strengths by listening to social media conversations related to their products. Those insights can help guide future product enhancements and develop new products.
For instance, pharmaceutical and biotech firms have found that social media listening can be a valuable research tool to help better understand patient needs and patients’ reactions to side effects. Companies can also recruit customers through social media to participate in product trials, and then monitor social media to measure the product’s success and consumer reactions.
Research your market. Companies like Nintendo and BlackBerry failed to keep pace with their rapidly changing market – and got obliterated. Social media listening can quickly identify market issues, concerns and preferred product features.
Social media analysis for market research can supplement – or perhaps even replace – traditional market research. Traditional market research – surveys, focus groups and in-depth interviews — reflects feelings of a small group of people at one point in time. The information gathered is time-constrained, selective and skewed. Social media analytics can produce data in hours or days, as opposed to weeks or months for conventional research methods. In addition, because information gathered is unprompted, it is more likely to reveal customers’ true feelings.
And here’s a bonus advantage of social media monitoring….
Gauge brand health. The opinions people express on social media give real insights into how they feel about an organization and its products. It’s usually the first clue to problems that need to be fixed.
Bottom Line: Social media listening provides organizations both marketing and PR benefits. Companies can find new customers, improve products, research their markets, and improve their PR campaigns.
This post was first published on Nov. 13, 2015, and updated on Oct. 25, 2018.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.