To find discussions about your business online, invest in social listening. The process of tuning-in to conversations about your brand, industry, or competition can attract new customers and create a more loyal, engaged following.
Our survey explores why businesses listen online, what they listen to, and where they listen.
- Businesses undertake social listening to improve products (25%), attract customers (24%), and provide better customer service (21%).
- More unconventional social listening benefits include monitoring how different content performs (13%), recruiting/hiring people (9%), and learning about the competition (9%).
- Improving customer relationships is a key objective for nearly half (42%) of businesses.
- Most monitor customer requests, questions, and concerns (86%).
- Social listening is not limited to Facebook and Twitter, but rather takes place on Instagram (71%), YouTube (65%), and Reddit (27%) as well.
Building an engaged audience is becoming easier as more marketing software enters the market. Your business can invest in social listening tools to identify what customers like and what they don’t. Then, it’s up to you to respond by adding value.
By learning more about how businesses use social listening to manage customer relationships and brand reputation, you can work with your marketing team to address customer complaints and capitalize on your brand’s strengths before your competition.
Social Listening Goes Beyond Tracking Vanity Metrics
The analysis and reflection involved in social listening are what make it stand out from tracking vanity metrics on social media, such as number of likes, shares, followers, downloads, or page views.
Social listening is the process of monitoring terms, products, and concepts associated with your brand across a number of different sites, including social media channels, blogs, question and answer forums, and news sources.
Think of the data collected through social listening as crowd-sourced research about your industry and customer base. “People talk about their emotions and experiences online,” says Magda Urbaniak, Global Community Manager at Brand24, a social media monitoring tool.
Social listening not only gives you information about your industry and customers but also encourages you to respond to what they’re saying. “Those who expect a reaction need to know that you’re there and ready to engage,” says Urbaniak.
You need to demonstrate that you’re listening by adding value in response to questions or comments associated with your brand/industry.
Add Value By Responding to Customer Comments & Questions
Someone asks, “What’s the best tent for camping?” on Quora or Reddit. You, an employee at a small outdoors company, tracks the term “camping” with a social listening tool and come across this question.
You reflect on the request, considering what resources or guidance your company could offer the questioner.
You respond in a helpful manner by directing them to a resource, “Check out this blog post that compares different tent brands. All options are also offered in our store and online!”
Through the exchange, the outdoors company not only shows that it’s a helpful, relevant resource but also learns that some beginner campers are confused about how to choose gear. Now, it can create additional resources to help this segment of their audience.
Real-Time Feedback Main Benefit of Social Listening
The main benefit of social listening is access to information in real-time, which can be used to improve business processes and offerings.
Nearly three quarters of survey respondents say the main benefits of social listening are improving their products and services (25%), attracting new customers (24%), and providing better customer service (21%), all of which result from a better understanding of what customers say publicly about your brand or industry.
Although social listening also is a boon for monitoring content performance (13%), recruiting new hires (9%), and learning about the competition (8%), feedback is most attractive for companies seeking to build an engaged audience. It’s akin to a “1-800 call-in” for customer service departments, according to Nicholas Kinports, Executive Vice President of Strategy at Notice Agency, a New York-based social content agency.
The following conversation between Virgin Mobile and a disgruntled customer shows one way to use customer feedback to improve business processes and offerings. (Notice that the customer, Brad, didn’t use @ to mention Virgin Mobile. Rather, Virgin Mobile was actively tracking its brand name.)
Objectively, Brad’s comment, “I hate Virgin Mobile,” was brash and lacked context. But, instead of disregarding Brad, Virgin Mobile used the information to press him on his concerns.
The example shows that at its core, social listening allows you to
- Improve customer service by responding to a customer’s concerns or criticism directly.
- Improve services by better understanding how customers use your products and where they run into trouble.
- Attract new customers that may notice your willingness to consider and prioritize their needs.
Social Listening Benefits Both Small & Large Businesses
Regardless of business size, social listening plays a role in keeping you up-to-date about online mentions of your business.
Social Listening at Small Companies
The process of actively seeking out brand mentions, even at the most basic level, gives you deeper insight into how to improve customer service, stay ahead of the competition, and manage online reputation.
If you’re a small business owner, you may set up Google Alerts to receive notifications when your company is mentioned in the news, or you may monitor a term or concept that’s crucial to your company.
You’ll know what people are saying about your competition and the products and services that matter most to your company.
Social Listening at Large Companies
If you’re an employee at a larger company, you may have access to more extensive social listening resources, like dedicated software that crawls through social media channels, blogs, news sites, Q&A forums, and more, as well as a team of data analysts, responsible for sifting through the information collected.
Therefore, larger businesses may focus more on analyzing the data collected to enhance their services. “They’ll conduct thorough analyses to assess the effectiveness of marketing and draw conclusions for the sake of future campaigns,” says Urbaniak.
Using social listening data to assess the effectiveness of marketing efforts may entail monitoring your industry and competitors to learn about any gaps your company can fill.
Stance Socks, a specialty sock shop, used social listening to determine the key differentiator in the sock business. It needed to stand out in a competitive market – every apparel store sells socks.
What could the company do to elevate its brand? They used social listening to learn about who is willing to spend money on socks and why. The answer? Athletes – because they need socks to do their jobs.
Going forward, Stance Socks began associating itself with athletes to market its products better.
Social Listening Used to Enhance Customer Experience
Businesses use social listening to foster a sense of community between their brand and customers. This is reflected in our survey data, which shows that nearly half of businesses surveyed do social listening to improve customer service (21%) and to reach new customers (21%).
Although staying ahead of the competition (15%) and managing online reputation (14%) remain priorities, businesses primarily seem keen to approach social listening from the perspective of making their brand more valuable to their audience. They strive to create opportunities for two-way communication and address both the positive and negative feedback they receive.
“These days, the Internet has become a place where people have discussions and share their experiences and opinions about brands and products,” says Urbaniak. “Companies are becoming more and more aware of the importance of reaching the sources that mention them.”
Engaging with your brand’s fans and detractors is key to not only forming stronger relationships with your customers but also improving your business. Feedback, and the conversations it evokes, are the building blocks for continuous improvement.
So, how can you use social listening to serve your audience better and monitor the competition?
To Serve Customers Better, Proactively Respond to Feedback
Respond to both positive and negative feedback. Although it’s easier to process positive feedback – a virtual pat on the back – it’s important to pay equal, if not more attention to negative comments.
Positive feedback shows what you’re doing well. What do customers say they like? When do they mention your product? What are they asking for more of?
Negative feedback signals what you need to do better. When do customers express dissatisfaction? What triggered the negative sentiment? What do they need more (or less) of?
Ignoring negative feedback risks losing customers. The extent of customer loyalty only goes so far.
“With a social media monitoring tool, we are able to respond first and nip a potential social media crisis in the bud before it can escalate. It just so happens that sometimes disappointed customers, if taken care of properly can become brand ambassadors.”
— Magda Urbaniak, Brand24
Social listening enables a nearly instantaneous response to negative feedback, ensuring a solution to a problem before it escalates. A study by Edison Research found that 42% of customers who reach out to a brand over social media expect a response within one hour.
Social media and online customer service expert Ravi Shukle agrees with the 60-minute time threshold and explains nine additional safeguards for addressing negative feedback without losing customers. Most important is acknowledging mistakes instead of exchanging a flurry of disgruntled tweets or messages with a customer. Other tips include taking the conversation offline, personalizing your response, and not taking complaints personally.
To Monitor Competition, Track Industry Trends & Fill The Gaps
Monitoring your competition doesn’t necessarily mean tracking their every move, but rather keeping tabs on the industry overall, so you can stay one-step-ahead of your competitors.
“Companies need to go beyond basic brand monitoring to get the entire dimensional social story of their consumers and their competitors’ customers,” says Paige Leidig, Chief Marketing Officer of NetBase, a California based social media analytics platform.
An existing or prospective customer’s social story may entail why she is more likely to use a competitor over your business. Understanding the reasoning behind this choice can help direct your company’s efforts to respond and win her over.
Consider how Brand24 beat out its competition to get a new lead, simply by responding to an individual attempting to contact an unresponsive competitor.
In this scenario, Brand24 identified a gap – its competitor’s unresponsiveness. Brand24 was not monitoring Radian (its competitor) but rather keeping an eye on people using industry terms, like “social listening tool.”
When In Doubt Tack Customer Questions, Concerns
The terms, phrases, names, and topics you monitor should correspond with your business goals.
Our data shows that survey respondents’ overarching objective of improving the customer’s experience affects what they monitor the most: 86% track customer requests, questions, and concerns.
While other factors, such as the competition, brands and products, industry terms and influencers, are also tracked frequently, customer requests, questions, and concerns come out on top, even when comparing responses across data segments.
We explored whether company size (fewer than 500 employees versus more than 500 employees) affects what businesses monitor for social listening and found that customer, requests, questions, and concerns were tracked the most. We also explored whether business type (business-to-business versus business-to-consumer) affects what was monitored and found the same result.
Clearly, regardless of company size and and business type, monitoring your customers is key to social listening success.
Whether your social listening goal is to stay ahead of the competition or identify new business opportunities, you can learn a lot from your customers.
Social Listening Not Limited to Traditional Social Media
Even though most businesses look to popular social media channels first for monitoring customer conversations, Q&A forums, news sites, and blogs are also strong sources of information for learning about industry trends.
Most of the top websites businesses monitor are the obvious: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+.
But surprisingly, social listening is not limited to the big three social channels – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Businesses also listen in on Q&A forums like Reddit (27%), blogs (43%), and news sites (38%).
Businesses that only listen on social media platforms are missing a big opportunity to learn from customers who are not active on social media, journalists who write about industry trends, and thought leaders who blog about their opinions and experiences.
Active community members ask questions on Reddit, writers express opinions on blogs, and journalists cover cutting edge trends and data in the news. Therefore, tracking Q&A forums, blogs, and the news is ideal for learning about industry trends and influencers.
Social Listening a Must for Audience Growth
Having a loyal, engaged audience is crucial to business success. But, how do you get to this point?
Clutch’s survey aimed to answer this question and more. And, ultimately, we found that businesses increasingly look to social listening tools as a means of gaining deeper insights into how they can serve their customers better.
If you’re considering investing in a social listening tool to meet your company’s audience growth and engagement goals consider the following five takeaways.
First, regardless of business size, social listening can play a role in your marketing efforts. Small businesses may track brand mentions, while large businesses may analyze more complex social data to learn about industry gaps it they can fill.
Second, using social listening to serve your audience better requires acting on the data collected. Be sure to proactively respond to both positive and negative feedback.
Third, if you want to keep tabs on your competition, don’t track their every move. Rather, look out up-and-coming industry trends and fill gaps before they open.
Fourth, when in doubt, monitor customer questions, requests, and concerns to learn how your products and services can provide value.
Fifth, listen where it matters most: for engaging customers, blog and video platforms; look to social media platforms; for finding influencers, look to blog and community forums.
About the Survey
We surveyed 300 individuals who use a tool for social media listening/monitoring at medium and large companies in the US (100+ employees). 71% of respondents represented enterprises (500+ employees).
All respondents held an associate level position or higher. 85% were managers or higher.
About a quarter of respondents (74%) represented business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, while 26% represented business-to-business (B2B) companies.
About the Author
Sarah Patrick is a senior content marketing strategist at Clutch, a B2B research firm in the heart of Washington, DC. She leads research on digital marketing topics and manages Clutch's guest writers' program. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn or Twitter. Reach out with questions, comments, or concerns at [email protected] or (202) 350-4344.