Did You Hear? The 5 Benefits of Social Media Listening


People are trying to communicate with your organization on social media, but if you aren’t listening, you can’t hear them.

Indeed, there are people out there in social-media-land who are looking for something that you offer or asking a question that you can answer, but you can only connect with them if you’re listening very effectively.

Social media listening is a powerful tool because it turns traditional social media on its head. Instead of using it as a megaphone, you can use it to tune-in to conversations. Christina Newberry on the Hootsuite blog imagines social listening this way: “Imagine the powerful business insights you could gain from an organic form of market research where the focus group was made up entirely of people already engaging with your brand or your industry. Sounds pretty great, right?”

First, let’s define the difference between social media monitoring and social media listening. According to Alex York at the Sprout Social blog:

“Social media monitoring is … the process of collecting social messages into a single stream and to take a specific action in response to each message (via a like, comment or tasked message). Social media listening queries large volumes of social messages from specific keywords or topics that then requires your brand to reflect and draw analysis from the these actions (via sentiment analysis or topic affinity).”

The 5 Benefits of Listening

1: Listening Makes You Accessible

To provide good customer service, you need to be able to hear a complaint (or a compliment), no matter where it happens. “Being an approachable organization means you have to consider every avenue of communication,” writes York. “And this most certainly includes social media.”

Research by Sprout Social found that 34.5 percent of people prefer to reach out through social media. “That beat out other channels like live chat (24.7%), email (19.4%) and 1-800 numbers (16.1%).” The problem, according to York, is almost 90 percent of social messages aimed at organizations are ignored. “By monitoring social messages, you’ll see opportunities to enter the conversation and provide your audience with answers. And if users @mention or tag you in a comment, you’ll have full exposure to any message needing a reply.”

When you are really listening, you can respond to inquiries and interactions faster, so people feel heard.

Quick Tip: You are likely already reading messages where people tag your organization. But good listening means searching out messages where your organization’s name is misspelled or you aren’t tagged. Listening is proactive.

2: Listening Brings You into the Larger Conversation

You listen not only to hear what people are saying about your brand, but also to understand the ideas and topics that come up in conversations that might be ones you want to be part of. “Listening is great for extracting insights from your brand mentions,” writes York. But it can do so much more.

By identifying relevant keywords on social and following conversations related to your organizations’ mission, “you open yourself up to new discussions, blog and social media post ideas, and see what topics your audience truly engages with the most,” writes York. You listen so that you can find conversations to join. When you join a conversation, you can build relationships and trust. (More on that later, when we talk about “meeting” your biggest fans and advocates on social.)

3: Listening Teaches You the Language of the Conversation and How People Are Talking About the Issues

Your organization needs to know who your audience is. And social listening helps with that. But it also helps you understand deeper things about who those people are. What do they care about? How do they talk about those things?

A friend of mine who was working on a social campaign for an organic body care line noticed that conversations about organic skincare often included concerns about gluten-free skincare.  Neither he, nor the company he was working with, knew that gluten was a concern for many of their customers, but, as luck would have it, their products didn’t include gluten, so he was able to enter the conversation with another selling point.

Even just noticing what kinds of words people use can be helpful. People within a community often use specific vocabulary, terminology and jargon as markers of belonging. If you want to show that you are part of that community, your organization might need to show that it, literally, speaks the same language as the people it wants to reach. (I recently watched a friend who is an event coordinator work. She used acronyms that I had to write down and look up later. “DMC, RFP, BEO.” It was a language of its own.)

4: Listening Allows You to Meet Top People in Your Field & Key Influencers and Supporters

Wish you could ask questions of your biggest fans and strongest supporters? What about the thought leaders in your field? If you are listening, you can easily interact with key supporters and thought leaders. You can ask them for their opinions and support. In conversation with them, you can include them in your communications efforts. You can learn about them and what they care about.

Sometimes your best supporters are the best advocates for you, and may be able to communicate about your organization better than even you can. Listening helps you enable them. York called these people “brand advocates” and says that they often educate others about your organization. This kind of “word-of-mouth marketing” is powerful. (And only careful social media listening can track it.) Indeed, it is more powerful than most other kinds of messaging, because it comes from real people and not directly from an organization. “Enabling and interacting with your biggest advocates will only push your social presence with positive experiences,” writes York.

Quick Tip: Once you’ve located key people online, you have an opportunity to build relationships with them that span different social media platforms… and maybe even goes as far as interactions outside of the social media sphere.  

5: Listening Shows You What is Working (or Not) for Your Competitors

Look at what other organizations are doing and see how people are responding. This might lead you to realize that your organization has an opportunity to do something that others have failed to do. “Consider monitoring conversations that contain the names of your top competitors on social,” writes York. “For instance, T-Mobile might want to track conversations about Verizon. It could help them understand some of the pain points of Verizon customers. Then T-Mobile could use these Verizon customer issues in its own marketing messaging to speak more directly to the audience.”

Quick Tip: Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite's CEO, says getting feedback about his company via social listening can be “extraordinarily informative and humbling.” Like any kind of feedback, listening might lead you to learn that you aren’t doing something well. But think about it as an opportunity for positive change, because it is.