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When you’re conversing with another person, there’s a big difference between hearing what that person is saying and really listening to it. Hearing means processing the words and their meanings. Listening involves a lot more; it means taking in the tone of voice, body language, physical surroundings and your prior knowledge of the person. Ultimately, listening affects how you respond.

Social media allows you to be in constant conversation with the world outside your company. This includes your fans and followers along with potential leads and even your competitors and detractors. Are you merely monitoring that conversation, or are you really listening?

Social media listening involves more than just tracking your social stats. It means analyzing the data and using them to make changes and improve your strategy as you move forward. It requires you to clothe your metrics in context, dig deeper to find root causes and extrapolate based on the trends you notice.

Is Social Media Listening Worth the Effort?

Yes, social media listening comes with loads of benefits. Here are a few reasons why it deserves a budget within your larger marketing strategy:

  • You gain a broad understanding of how your brand is perceived on social media. You learn how to manage your company’s reputation.
  • You engage more on your social media channels, which improves your customer service and the overall customer experience you provide.
  • You learn what type of content your followers want and what resonates best with your target audience.
  • You gain insight into how your products and services are performing.
  • You discover ways to innovate your products and improve processes.
  • You identify influencers in your industry.
  • You stay abreast of emerging industry trends.

When people mention your company on social media, that’s “free” market research just hanging out there like ripe fruit. Your task is to collect it, sort through it and see what you can learn from it.

Ways to Practice Social Media Listening

Here are some of our best tips and strategies for getting started with social media listening.

1. Decide What You’re Going to Listen To

If you’re new to social media listening, then you’re going to want to kick things off by tracking basic data for certain mentions. These include:

  • Your company or brand name and handles
  • Your company slogans
  • Names of your products and services
  • Campaign names and their associated hashtags, slogans and influencers
  • Names of your company’s leaders
  • Industry words, phrases and hashtags

It’s also essential to track data for your main competitors. Don’t forget to include common misspellings and abbreviations to ensure your net catches everything.

Once you get your bearings, you’ll find that your “listening ear” becomes more finely tuned to the important things. It’ll become easier to select what to really listen for — and to know what’s just “noise.”

2. Get Set Up With Social Media Listening Tools

Thankfully, you don’t have to comb through all social platforms looking for the data you want. There are many well-established and robust social media listening tools that do the legwork for you — for a fee, of course. They typically pull data from multiple social media channels and compile it in one place, with analytics and reporting to boot. They can even detect mentions that don’t specifically tag you.

Here are some of the popular tools available:

3. Prioritize Your Social Media Listening Goals

You’ll quickly discover that there’s a lot to listen to. That’s why it’s essential to set your proverbial GPS. What do you hope to accomplish with social media listening? Here are a few goals to consider:

  • Hone your brand awareness. How do people perceive your company and products? What’s the general tenor of the conversation? What kind of reach do you have?
  • See how you stack against the competition. Discover what works and what doesn’t work for your competitors. What can you learn from their successes and mistakes?
  • Provide the best customer service. Social media customer service gets great ROI. If you quickly and transparently respond to queries and complaints, you’ll earn loyalty and build strong connections with your audience.
  • Gain customer insights. Learn more about your customer base. What do they care about, and what do they like and dislike about your company? What are their demographics? What content resonates with them?
  • Refine your products and services. What are the stars and stinkers on your menu of offerings? How can you innovate to better satisfy customers? Are there any gaps in the market that you can fill?
  • Create better content. What content gets the most buzz, and how can you provide more content like it? How can you optimize this content to attract new customers and satisfy your existing base?
  • Identify influencers. Who on social media shares your brand’s values and vibe, and how can you work together on promotions? What influencers are already fans of yours?
  • Gauge campaign success. Did users positively or negatively respond to your latest campaign, ad or partnership on social media?
  • Get ahead of industry trends. What emerging trends are ready to go big in your industry? What can you do right now to capitalize on them in the near future?

It’s tempting to try and do all of these things at once, but it pays to prioritize. Think about your company’s current weaknesses. Choose goals that can provide you with insights that help strengthen those soft spots.

For example, if your content marketing strategy is falling flat, then listen closely to what people are saying about your content. If they aren’t saying anything (and you want to fix that) then use social media listening to learn more about your current customers. Create personas and target your new content to those personas.

4. Analyze and Implement What You’ve Learned

Once you decide what to listen to — having an end goal in mind — you’re prepared to collect all the relevant data. Your next step: analyze it. Sift through the columns, pie charts and timelines.

Instead of simply saying, “We had a lot of negative buzz on social media in May,” ask, “Why did we have so much negative buzz in May?” Take the data and turn it over and over and over again. Look at it from all angles, and really listen to what it’s telling you.

Finally, you get the opportunity to reap the rewards of all that hard work. You implement improvements that better your business. If you don’t have a desire to actually make changes, then you’re not really listening. You’re just monitoring. Listening means you’re taking what you “hear” and acting on it.