Why Social Listening Matters for Growing Your Business

6 Creative Ways to Use Social Listening Tools

Aleh Barysevich
Aleh Barysevich / Published August 26, 2019

You track mentions of your brand on social media and respond within a few minutes each time. Whether someone poses a question, files a complaint, or shouts out a feature they like so much that they tell you about it right there on Twitter, you're always sure to connect with your customers. That's awesome—but it's only a tiny piece of the social listening puzzle.

Screenshot of someone praising Starbucks' new drink and Starbucks responding quickly with a pun

The notifications you get via direct mentions is a small percentage of the overall talk that's happening about your brand online. In many cases, people don't use @ when talking about a brand: Maybe they forget to, or maybe they don't know that you're on that social platform (or maybe they just misspell it). Other times, people are writing posts that aren't directed at you but would still make sense for you to engage with.

Basically, people are talking behind your back.

Amanda Palmer talking about Neil Gaiman on Twitter without tagging him, making a joke that he'll never know

Social listening tools solve a lot of these missed opportunities by monitoring not just your brand name, but also your marketing campaigns, products, niche industry, CEO, or any other keyword you decide is relevant. Plus, social media listening apps cover not only the social platforms your brand is present on, but also other social media platforms, news, blogs, forums—basically the entire internet. You'll also get analytics that show your brand's growth, its potential, and its reputation at a glance.

Before you decide to invest in a social listening platform, see if any of the scenarios and examples below resonate with you.

1. Improve your customer service

As a small business, customer service is everything: It's a way to gain customer trust, learn about your audience, and show your personality.

Social media is your most promising customer service channel. It lets people talk to you from where they already spend their time—without waiting for someone on the other end of the line to pick up. But that also means they expect a quick response.

That's where social listening comes in. Social listening tools find all complaints and questions and thank-you-you're-a-lifesavers in real-time. With some tools, you can even reply to these customers directly from the social listening app. Even if you don't have an immediate solution to their problem, you can at least show them that you're listening.

Here's an example of a brand doing it right:

Someone making a complaint about Southwest Airlines on Twitter. Southwest responds promptly asking for a DM, and someone else responds that they appreciate the quick response.

And then there are others.

Someone tweets at Ben & Jerry's that they found a bolt in their ice cream, and no one responds.

Yep, our buddies Ben and Jerry didn't even respond. Which brings me to the next point.

2. Prevent a social media crisis

A lot of brand crises start on social media. It's easier over there: Information travels fast, and people feel a little more anonymous. If you don't address complaints quickly, things can spiral. All you need is a couple of vocal social media users.

Let's talk about Uber. In January 2017, when Donald Trump announced a travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance supported protests by avoiding John F. Kennedy International Airport for one hour. Meanwhile, Uber took advantage of the taxi shortage: They lifted surge pricing during the protests and posted about it on Twitter.

Uber announcing their lift on surge pricing and someone responding negatively.

The event resulted in a full-blown social outrage and thousands of users deleting the app.

Unless they were trying to make a political statement (they weren't), Uber should have monitored the popularity of the protest on social media to see that leaning in the other direction might lead to controversy. It would have also shown them the peak in popularity of their local competitors, New York City taxi drivers. Finally, social listening would have signaled that the idea didn't go as planned, showing a sudden spike in negative mentions after the post. Uber would have had the chance to turn the situation around before it exploded.

You may not be Uber, but the possibility of a social media crisis is just as risky for a very small business. If you lose trust from your loyal customers, it could be devastating.

A social listening app tracks mentions and then sorts them into positive, negative, and neutral, allowing you to see if and how sentiments are changing (it's known as sentiment analysis). If you see a number of negative mentions suddenly growing, it's a clear sign that something is going on, and you can review the negative mentions one by one. As an added bonus, sentiment analysis lets you see how your brand reputation changes over time and in reaction to things like campaigns, news, and product launches.

3. Get ideas for new products and services

To be sure you're offering what people want, you need feedback. You can get that feedback via surveys or direct outreach, but even if people take the time to respond, you're only getting a slice of the pie. You don't want to know only what people think about your product or service—you want to know what they think about your industry. What's missing that you can offer them?

I don't need to remind you that people freely voice their opinion on social media. And, unlike with the surveys, their opinions aren't biased by the questions asked.

When using a social listening tool, you'll want to monitor not just your own brand but also the broader category. Say you run The Fedora Emporium. You're not just monitoring for your store name: You're also looking for fedoras, hats, headwear, and other industry buzzwords (apologies to the fedora industry for likely misrepresenting their industry buzzwords). This will help you hone in on what people generally want from your type of product or service.

You can also monitor competitors' brand names. That way you can see what their products are lacking—i.e., what people are griping about to them—and what people like most about them—i.e., praise they get. From there, you can swoop in as a solution for people with complaints and emulate the best parts of your competitors. Pro tip: Choose competitors that are bigger than you as they'll have more buzz online with more data that can prove more insightful.

4. Find new customers or clients

Lead generation is a pain point for any small business. And while paid advertising can help, it's not always cost-effective. Social listening apps provide you with a different lead gen method: social selling.

Your social listening tool can pinpoint people who are looking for a product or service like yours and people who are unhappy with your competitors' products. What's social media for if not complaining and looking for recommendations?

To be able to find qualified leads, you'll want a social listening tool with Boolean search. There, you'll write search queries that describe what you're selling, plus phrases that people are likely to use when searching for it on social media. For example: "can anyone recommend"/ "looking for"/ "searching for"/ "advice on"/ "does anyone know" + "fedora". You can also set up searches to find users that are unhappy with your competitor's product, for example: "Hat Trick Co. alternative." Your feed will be populated with leads that you can reach out to directly.

This is the kind of interaction that should happen a lot more often on social media:

Someone asks for a coffee roastery recommendation and someone else responds with a suggestion for his wife's roastery

You can even take it one step further. For example, Hilton finds prospects by monitoring queries such as "Where should I go on vacation?". While not a direct connection, you can see how people searching that might be interested in Hilton's service—and if the hotel chain's social media managers nail the interaction, they might nab a new lead.

If you go this route, you might even offer a discount or other incentive in addition to commenting with the link to what you're selling.

5. Find influencers who want to promote your brand

Influencer marketing doesn't have to break the bank. As a small business, you'll likely be working with micro-influencers anyway, not social media stars with millions of followers. And working with micro-influencers is not only cheaper, but it can also be more effective: They usually have a specific audience that's likely to listen more closely to what they have to say and trust them more.

Influencer on Instagram

Social listening tools let you find social media influencers and brand advocates by identifying people who've talked about your brand a lot. You can also find people who talk about your industry more broadly. From there, you can build a relationship: engage with them, share their content, comment on their posts. And when the time is right, you can reach out and see if they're up for some collaboration.

6. Perform competitive analysis

Competitive analysis is complicated, and I'm definitely not claiming that one handy tool can take care of it all for you. But social listening tools can be an integral part of your process.

First, these tools measure your and your competitors' share of voice on social media. That means you get a social media-focused look at the market share of each of your competitors.

Duchesses share of voice
Image of share of voice report on Awario

Monitoring your competitors also lets you see whether their marketing campaigns and product launches were successful, if people are responding well to their customer service, and how their engagement level is. And the list goes on: You'll be able to see where people talk about your competitors, where they come from, and which forums bring up the most conversations about your competitors. You can even compare the sentiment data of your and competitors' brands.

At first blush, social listening tools might seem like a single-focus tool. But they're for way more than social media monitoring. They help you do everything from improving your customer service to performing full-blown market research.

Of course, the growth isn't handed to you on a silver platter. Using the tool is the first step, but you need to engage—and engage well—with your audience based on what the social listening tool tells you about your brand, your products, and your industry.

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