Just about every organizational leader recognizes the need to use social media and online content to create awareness, build engagement, establish reputation and enhance public relations. But how do you actually monitor these results? Social listening can be an effective tool to learn about the latest developments impacting your brand. Your public relations team can use social listening to react faster, respond better and elevate your business outcomes.
What is social listening?
Social listening, sometimes called social media monitoring or social media analytics, is a program run by companies or their public relations agencies for the purpose of tracking online mentions of your brand or industry. The idea is to know sooner and with greater confidence what’s being said about you online, and whether the sentiment is positive or negative so that you can react or respond to online conversations or take other actions in a more timely way.
A strong social listening program should always be connected to your business objectives. Social listening might even disrupt your core business or suggest new business goals because of the insights you gain. Wouldn’t you rather disrupt the market yourself than be disrupted?
I find that sustained social listening programs can make an important difference in an organization’s readiness to deal with shocks and to take advantage of time-sensitive opportunities in the marketplace.
How does social listening enhance public relations?
An effective public relations program thrives when you can be situationally aware. Social listening programs significantly alleviate your reliance upon stakeholders, employees, and friends of your brand to make you aware of news or anecdotal information. Would you rather know about your PR crisis tonight, or tomorrow morning when a reporter calls you looking for a response to it?
Social listening helps you to stay situationally aware in the following ways:
Social listening offers real-time opportunity identification. Monitor your reputation so that your PR team can respond, both to good and bad developments.
Social listening provides ongoing context. Social listening programs are superior to anecdotes or snapshots. They allow you to have a continuous stream of information.
Social listening helps you to broaden your view. Because you’re looking at more than just your organization. Look at competitors and industry news to conduct market research. You can uncover ideas for content that you might not otherwise have thought of on your own.
In addition to competitors, you might have a brand or business that serves as an inspiration or role model even if it’s not in your business sector. These role models can also be monitored in order to spark to your own creative content ideas.
Perhaps most importantly, having a social listening program in place can provide a greater sense of comfort and security. Knowing when the latest news comes out helps you get ahead of news cycles and respond with greater care and thoughtfulness. You will have more time to respond.
What are some social listening tools?
There are different categories of social listening tools and not all of them are dedicated to listening and analysis activities:
Social media scheduling / social marketing
Social customer service / social conversation
Social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite may offer social media listening capabilities, allowing you to track the performance of your online posts. If you are working on a budget and need a scheduling tool to help manage the amount of time you put into your digital marketing, the social listening capabilities in these tools can be leveraged, but will generally not be as robust as a pure play social listening platform.
At Kane, we use paid tools sufficient to the needs of most small-to-medium sized businesses. We also use free versions of tools like TalkWalker as well as totally free tools like Google Alerts and Google Analytics.
In looking at business outcomes, consider what tools are best suited to show you the most useful results. Brand24 is good at looking broadly across the web. But if you really want to understand your influencers on Twitter, you might want to use BrandSumo. Most platforms won’t allow you to see individual comments on Facebook, due to limited access to the platform. LinkedIn engagement is similarly difficult to track because it does not include publicly visible posts.
Where should you start? To begin with, think about the amount and purpose of online discussion in your industry.
Broadly, the volume of discussions will be proportional to whether you are a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) type of business.
What’s the relative public visibility of your topic? Is it related to politics or entertainment or a similarly hot topic covered by mass media on a regular basis? What are the hot topics?
Finally, what’s your main purpose for purchasing a social listening solution?
If there’s a lot of chatter in your space, you might need heavy duty social listening tools like the ones below. It’s not an exhaustive list but may provide you with a starting point in your research.
As a rule, if you visit a social media listening platform’s website and there’s not a clearly visible pricing option in the main navigation, it’s going to be one of the heavy-duty apps with a higher price tag. Pricing can quickly scale up from a few thousand dollars to $25,000 or more per year and can vary considerably based upon the volume of conversations you’re tracking.
If you’re a small or medium-sized business, the platforms listed above are probably way too much tool for you.
But you can certainly do more than just use Google Alerts. Here are a few low cost, low barrier-to-entry platforms you could evaluate.
Some of these platforms are highly specialized. Reputology tracks online reviews from Yelp, Facebook and elsewhere. TrackReddit, unsurprisingly, just tracks mentions of your keywords or brand on Reddit. Tweepsmap provides deep, geotargeted analytics for Twitter. Rival IQ lets you track social media mentions of up to 10 competitors on its entry-level plan.
The downside with some of these platforms tends to be limitations on the number of keywords you can track or the volume of data. Larger volume conversations at the national or global level may require significantly more investment.
Remember, too, that while it’s helpful to track Reddit mentions, every new tool you use to engage will require your time and effort to monitor.
Note: The entry-level subscription prices above were gathered at the time of this article’s publication on 27 March 2019.
How else can social listening help?
Social listening is a Swiss army knife for your communications and marketing team. Here are just a few more ways it can help:
Track the results of your PR and marketing campaigns in real time
See and respond to customer complaints and feedback
Watch for industry trends
Understand the overall sentiment toward your brand
Learn from your customers how to improve your product or services
Identify your most influential advocates or fans
Manage your online reputation and respond to a crisis
Social listening can also be used to monitor employee and customer reviews. But your effectiveness at uncovering these reviews will depend on the tool you select. Brand24, for example, is specifically set up to track Yelp mentions. Reputology tracks customer reviews across multiple platforms.
No tool tracks everything, which is certainly the case when it comes to employee reviews of your company. It’s a good idea to keep track of websites like Indeed and Glassdoor manually. These sites allow employees and those who interview with your company to post a review and can have a profound impact on your brand.
Social listening is something every organization should be doing. Without a monitoring program, you might miss out on a major reputation crisis or a new business opportunity. You might never learn whether your online marketing campaigns are performing.
Don’t get lost in the multitude of tools you could choose from. Start small, especially if you’re on a budget, and put effort into qualifying the information you find.
Quantitative numbers about followers and likes are fine but must be contextualized and interpreted against your business goals. Humanize your data with qualitative information like quotes or stories about how people have benefited from your product or service.
If it sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. It can be. You will need to decide if the budgets and operational costs of setting up a social listening program is something to keep in-house or to outsource to a public relations firm. Kane provides ongoing social listening and reputation management services to Milwaukee- and Wisconsin-based clients and could help.