What is Social Media Listening and Why is it an Important Part of your Online Strategy?

Social media listening is often called ethical eavesdropping. You’re listening online to what social media users say about you. What if you could get honest opinions about how your customers and prospects feel about your products and services?

A popular author tells a story about a man he sat next to on a flight who was holding one of his most recent books. The man didn’t recognize the author, even though his photo was on the back of the book jacket. The author seized the opportunity and asked the man what he thought of the book. He knew he’d get an honest opinion, as the man had no idea he was speaking to the book’s author.

That’s what social media listening can do for you. You’ll hear what real customers are saying about your brand while you’re not around. Or at least not visibly around. It’s called ethical eavesdropping because you’re only listening to conversations that are already public on social media. Users are free to post — or not post — whatever they like within certain boundaries, so if it’s out there, it’s fair game.

Don’t you want to know what others are saying about you?

5 Things You Need to Listen For

What you listen for on social media depends on your industry and products or services. It’s specific to your business. Here are five things you might listen for.

1. Keywords

Listen for your keywords or, better yet, key phrases. If you’re a florist, you might use the term wedding flowers, or flower arrangements, or, better yet, [insert your city here] wedding flowers, etc. The more specific the phrase, the better your leads will be, though you’ll get fewer. But if someone is searching for florists in your city, you want to know about it.

2. Competitors

Listen for your competitors’ brands in addition to your own. Their unhappy customers are your best prospects, and, even if mentions are positive, you’ll at least know what they are doing well and not so well.

3. Problems

Listen for specific problems that relate to your products and services. For our florist, a good social media listening term might be need a good florist or recommend a florist. Social media users often ask for advice and reviews online and they generally trust customer reviews more than your own brand communications.

4. Direct mentions

Social media users don’t always tag you when they talk about you. Listen for any mention of your brand name, and any variations or initialisms people might use. If you’re IBM, you’d want to include both IBM and Big Blue as search terms. If you’re Chevrolet, include Chevy. Even if it’s a term you don’t want to encourage the use of, include it if some refer to your brand with the term.

5. Hashtags

Listen to hashtags searches related to your brand or industry. Like regular search terms, hashtags can help you find mentions of your brand, products, services, or related products.

How to Do Social Media Listening Free

There are numerous excellent tools to help you listen online, but I’m going to focus on ways you can learn what you need to know without a big budget. This is how I do social listening on a solopreneur’s budget.

Google Alerts • Google.com/Alerts

Google Alerts are completely free. All you need is a Gmail account. Go to Google.com/Alerts. Enter your search term and enclose it in quotes if you want the entire phrase, or, as is the case with my Art Garfunkel search, the first and last name. You’ll receive an email to the address you sign up with. You can choose to search only in certain geographic regions, specific sources, how many results and how often you want to receive the emails. Set up an alert for each of your listening terms.

social listening with google alerts
Use quotes around multi-word terms to keep them together as a phrase
google alerts social listening
Set preferences for your Google Alerts
google alerts social listening
Include questions or requests that social media users might make.

Tweetdeck • Tweetdeck.Twitter.com

I’ve discussed Tweetdeck here and here, and here. You can set up columns for any search term or hashtag you like, which makes it a win for social media listening. Always include your full name and full brand name.

tweetdeck for social listening
Search for your brand name in Tweetdeck

Here I’ve set up columns for need marketing help, and for both Dunkin Donuts and “Dunkin” and you can see that the results are different. Bear in mind that you’ll also get unrelated searches, so keep your terms as specific as possible to minimize the noise.

Listen for different versions of your brand name: this search includes both “Dunkin’ Donuts” and “Dunkin”

Social Mention • SocialMention.com

Track your search term or phrase across blogs, microblogs, video, images, and more. You can also get email alerts or subscribe to an RSS feed of your mentions. Social Mention lets you select the time period of your search and sort results by date. It’s similar to Google Alerts, but often provides differing results and the left column gives you more insight into sentiment, the popularity of the word or phrase, and when it was last mentioned.

Valuable passion and sentiment information from Social Mention

followerwonk • followerwonk.com

This is a free, and somewhat limited, version of a paid app for Twitter, but you can compare yourself to your competition. Here’s a sample of how it works, comparing three celebrity accounts to one another. This can be valuable for information on your competitors.

Compare users and find new accounts to follow

You can also search Twitter bios and profiles for your terms to help you find online competitors. Here I’ve searched profiles for wedding florist and it gives me information about the number of followers and social authority for each account.

Search for your phrase in Twitter bios and profiles

Hootsuite • Hootsuite.com

Hootsuite works much like Tweetdeck for social media listening, but it allows access to other social networks. You set up searches and columns in a similar way to Tweetdeck, but you can listen for mentions on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Instagram allows you to add a hashtag search to Hootsuite, but you cannot add a mentions stream. For Google My Business, you can see questions and reviews.

Use Hootsuite to listen for Facebook mentions

boardreader • boardreader.com

Boardreader tracks mentions on discussion boards for any term. You can also see how the search term is trending.

Trend graph for the search term “wedding florist”

Seize the Opportunity for Candid Feedback

Like our flying author, jump on any opportunity to get candid feedback about your brand. Fortunately, the man with the book absolutely loved it and was reading it for the fourth time, otherwise that might have been an awkward flight.

You may hear conversations that suggest improvements, additional products, or spur promotional ideas. If you’re online, chances are someone is talking about you. Wouldn’t you rather know?

Social Media Listening: Why and How

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