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Social Listening: What It Is, Why It Matters and How It Can Uncover Key Consumer Insights

Social listening has become recognised as a powerful method to help brands glean consumer insights from social media data.  Yet as a nascent research discipline it is sometimes confused with other social media-related research approaches. In this post, we’ll introduce the similarities and differences between the core ‘social’ solutions and explain how social listening and social intelligence are invaluable to businesses that want to forge positive connections with their customers and make better strategic decisions.

What is Social Listening?

Social listening is the process of collecting data from social platforms and forums on a chosen topic – whether a brand, product, competitor, or even a whole industry. It provides an understanding of what people are saying about your brand, products or industry so you can determine your visibility, identify pain points, look for customer care opportunities and perform appropriate crisis management. By quantitatively and qualitatively analysing these conversations, social listening enables brands to better understand their target audience’s preferences and unmet needs, and glean insights into consumer behaviour in general, to solve business problems and inform strategic planning.

Social Listening vs. Social Analytics

Often used synonymously, there are key differences between these two processes. Whereas social listening involves capturing unstructured data from social media channels, websites, blogs, press pages, forums and other public sites with consumer-generated content, to be sorted, cleaned and analysed, social media analytics gathers structured data from selected social media accounts. In tracking a variety of performance metrics, for example, follower growth rate and engagement rate, and benchmarking these against KPIs, social analytics provides you with a comprehensive look at how your brand’s social media accounts are performing to help maximise social media ROI.

Social Listening vs. Social Media Monitoring

Although social listening is often confused with social media monitoring and vice versa, they serve different purposes. Both involve tracking relevant conversations on social media but the processes are carried out on different scales. As the name suggests, social media monitoring is the process of watching and observing online conversations. The main purpose is to keep track on a micro-level of how a brand or campaign is performing over time using metrics, most importantly conversation volume and sentiment. Meanwhile, by keeping an ear on the ground to watch out for broader trends, social listening occurs on a macro-level by tracking consumer conversations over time to, for example, spot upcoming crises and manage them, and tailor brand messaging to improve resonance.

Social Listening vs. Social Intelligence

The two terms are often used interchangeably mainly because they’re closely related. Social listening is the process of listening in on social media conversations to uncover valuable insights for your organisation. Meanwhile, social intelligence refers to the insights that your social listening efforts manage to uncover. While social listening is the process, social intelligence is the result. In other words, social listening is used for extracting social intelligence.

What is Social Data?

Social data refers to the information that social media users generate across social media platforms, blogs, forums, review sites and comment sections. In the context of social listening, the social data subject to analysis is consumer-generated information around a specific topic and is publicly available data from open-source channels.
Social data can be both earned and owned, and encompass a wide range of content formats including text, images and videos. It also includes metadata, from location and biographical information to language used and shared/reposted links.

The social data subject to social listening analysis is consumer-generated information around a specific topic and is publicly available data from open-source channels.

As it involves vast amounts of data from millions of users, social data is often noisy and can easily appear overwhelming. Cleaning the data is necessary before any valuable insights can be derived. The cleaning process can involve manual or human input to assess the data for relevance and filter out irrelevant noise, which is why technology on its own cannot be relied on when it comes to finding insights to answer business questions.

In many cases, analysts may exclude certain keywords to get cleaner results. They may also manually go through the results to assess each mention for relevance and extract key insights.
The importance of native analysts in global social listening projects cannot be underestimated. Native analysts who have cultural familiarity with the topic and channels can provide a true understanding of social media conversations based on cultural context. As such, they help in effectively filtering out the noise and identifying the most culturally relevant insights for global social listening efforts.

Social Intelligence – applications

Social intelligence refers to the insights that are uncovered through a social analysis project. It’s the valuable and actionable conclusion that you reach after analysing the different metrics and conversational content of your social listening efforts. In other words, social data is transformed into social intelligence through social listening.

These insights are used to answer various business questions. Some of the main uses of social intelligence insights are:

Competitor Insights

Social intelligence gives you the information needed to benchmark your performance against the competition. It reveals the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, which can then inform your strategy. For example, their strengths may help you identify opportunities where you can grow or improve your existing approach. Their weaknesses, on the other hand, can show you which approaches aren’t working so you know which to avoid.

Influencer Marketing

Social intelligence shows you who the key online influencers are for your target audience. It helps you narrow down the most suitable influencers by revealing their expertise and relevance in terms of the given topic area. Moreover, social intelligence is also suitable for identifying potential engagement opportunities that will optimise the impact of your influencer strategy.

Trend Spotting

Since social intelligence is extracted from tracking relevant online conversations, it can help you detect emerging trends as they develop. For example, your social intelligence insights may show an emergence in demand for a specific product, solution to a need or adoption of a product type. These are often the beginnings of trends.

Persona Development

Social intelligence shows you the commonalities in behaviours, interests, geo-demographics and content engagement between consumers. These insights can help you develop in-depth and accurate target audience personas to bring your customer segments to life.

Supplement to Traditional/Primary Research

The insights that social intelligence contains can provide context to the data extracted from traditional or primary research methods. As such, social intelligence should be a fundamental part of your research mix.

Brand Perception Analysis

Social intelligence also shows you what consumers think about your brand and how this perception changes over time. It reveals the perception of your top competitors so you can see where you stand compared to them. Moreover, it also gives you the insights you need to take appropriate action.

Brand Perception Analysis

Quantitative expression of the customer’s purchase journey or experience, broken out by specific steps highlighting topics and themes, emotions, unmet needs and attitudes per stage. Using images shared across social media to understand contexts of brand consumption and need-states.

How can Convosphere help?

Through human-led social listening, we deliver deep cultural insights to empower your strategy and ensure your brand can stand the test of time. We believe that social listening platforms offer brands a good way to derive value from consumer conversation. We also know that they make us more efficient at what we do. In fact, as tool-agnostics, we have access to a wide range of different platforms so that we can select the best platform(s) to meet your business objectives. But we also realise that these platforms are just the tools in the box and, as with any tool, you need skilled people to handle them and deliver the results.

Our team of 150+ experienced social listeners are located in-country, across the globe. They are immersed in the local culture offline and social channels online – providing them the context needs to develop the most accurate and actionable insights and recommendations.

Are you ready to truly understand your target consumers’ behaviours, stay ahead of new trends and uncover new opportunities and achieve business objectives? Contact us today 

Our global insights team conducts social listening in over 100 languages to answer our clients’ most important business questions with actionable insights that deliver impact.

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