Why Social Listening Works Better Than Surveys to Reveal Cultural Shifts

Carol Feigenbaum |
 04/14/21 |
6 min read

Why Social Listening Works Better Than Surveys to Reveal Cultural Shifts

Surveys are how modern market research got its start nearly a century ago. A lot has changed in business since then. Now that we’re firmly rooted in the digital era, standard practices for acquiring consumer intelligence have changed along with it.

Methods for conducting surveys have changed too, and they still have a place in today’s market research. However, they’re no longer the king of the hill when it comes to finding the voice of the customer (VoC) – not even close. In today’s ‘always on’ society, social listening works better than surveys to reveal cultural shifts.

We’ll assess why that is with a few key focal points:

  • The trouble with surveys
  • Social listening going above and beyond for insight
  • Tips to maximize your social listening efforts

And here are a few stats to keep in mind that will underline the importance of striking the right balance between social listening and surveys for your VoC intel.

  • Attention spans are getting shorter, including those of your customers whom you are trying to reach with a survey. The average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. By 2015 the average had fallen to 8. A goldfish clocks in at 9 seconds.
  • The response rate for an online survey is 7.8%, meaning you need to send it out to 13 times your intended response count. So, to capture feedback from 1k people, you will have to target 13k.
  • Social media listening opens the window on VoC fast, so brands can shift to address their customer experience (CX) issues. 89% of brands win or lose against competitors based on CX strategy. Those that outclass their rivals at CX increase revenues between 4-8% comparatively.

Now that we’re squared away, let’s examine a few survey pitfalls.

The Trouble with Surveys

Like we mentioned above, surveys have their place. They’re capable of providing very targeted insight into your brand’s products or services. However, surveys have several drawbacks, which means they need to take a backseat to social listening for real-time VoC intel.

Primarily, gaining insight from a survey is a slow endeavor, even if you’re doing it online. You have to design your questions, roll it out, and wait for results to come in before you can begin your analysis. That can be a deal-breaker in examining cultural shifts – and result in madness when attempting to decipher the cause of a crisis.

Attention spans online are negligible, so getting enough respondents can be tricky unless you cast a very wide net. Even then, it’s still going to take time to receive actionable insight. When you capture a customer’s attention, if the answers don’t align with their feelings, they’ll be disinclined to even finish the survey. Additionally, a majority of would-be respondents will give up if they feel the survey takes too long.

There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel here, so we’ll let social listening do the talking. We ran a social media analysis in NetBase Quid targeting survey recipients, and we didn’t find a big fan club. Here’s a look at the top keywords from the conversation colored by sentiment.414 surveys

As you can see, time is one of the most significant factors for people dealing with surveys, and it’s split nearly in thirds on sentiment. The keyword with the most negativity centered on the questions themselves.

Surveys, in many cases, should be seen as bonus footage to your social listening insights. And when they’re used, they need to be well-built, incentivized and implemented with laser-specific insights in mind. Nevertheless, they’re not the most fantastic option for detecting emerging trends or cultural shifts.

That said, let’s see how social listening can help us out.

Social Listening Offers Untold Insight

Social media listening throws open the windows on the cultural landscape for a top-down view of consumer attitudes, beliefs, wants and needs. There is no substitute for the real-time capabilities that social listening offers for catching insight into developing stories, emerging trends, and subtle cultural shifts that can impact your brand.

People spend a lot of time online researching purchases and are vocal about their favorites as well as their letdowns. Not only that, since the pandemic started, they’ve gotten very familiar with the brands they purchase from to ensure they align with their values.

All of this intel is freely available. Accessing it in the moment of need means that social listening is invaluable to quickly discern the consumer’s voice. Additionally, consumers shoot from the hip when they’re talking about their experience with a brand. If they hate your product or that of a competitor, they’re not going to go easy on the language just to make you feel better. But that’s great because then you know exactly where you need to pivot if enough consumers feel the same way. And you can find these conversations as they happen.

For example, in late March, Netflix released a revelatory documentary entitled Seaspiracy that highlighted the commercial fishing industry’s downsides. Suffice it to say, it was an eye-opener to many, and they got online to talk about it.


Hypothetically speaking, if you are the world’s biggest supplier of artisanal fish sticks, you need to know what these people think and if it’s going to affect your brand in any way. That said, you don’t have time to send out a survey. Your social listening should have already made you aware that sustainability, dolphin-safe fishing and the environment are huge concerns for consumers these days.

These topics were addressed in the movie and naturally showed up in online discussions right off the bat. Armed with the knowledge of today’s emerging trends, here are a few of the glaring clusters from the Seaspiracy conversation that track closely. Almost all of it carries negative emotion regarding the fishing industry, so you can see the CPG implications straight away.


Many times, social listening is the closest thing that brands get to an early warning system. It gives you the lowdown on shifting cultural perspectives so you can get out front with your messaging in a hurry. And, of course, it works swimmingly for your day-to-day VoC intel too.

Tips to Maximize Your Social Listening Efforts

To ensure that your social listening is put to the best use, all of your brand insight must be held up to the light of current cultural trends. Brands that go astray generally end up taking a backseat to a competitor that takes them seriously.

Additionally, your brand metrics need to be on point so your social KPIs are calibrated correctly. Suppose you haven’t done it in a while. In that case, it’s never a bad idea to perform a social media audit to accurately assess where you are as opposed to where you’ve been. Now that waves of people are getting vaccinated, we’ll likely see a boost in the travel and hospitality industries. A reassessment will leave you in a great position to measure incoming shifts this year as they occur.

The main thing to remember in your social listening endeavors is not to limit yourself. Don’t be afraid to start broad and go from there. When hikers are reported missing, search parties start from a perimeter formed from how far the person could have traveled in the time they’ve been gone. The search parties begin from there and move inward. That’s precisely how you should think of your social listening. That’s because social media’s ubiquity means that conversations can transcend vast demographic groups, geolocations, and platforms. Plus, restricting your search topics from the start with an unfamiliar topic means you might accidentally miss key talking points. You can always drill down and cut away noise as you see it.

For instance, if you want the broadest view possible on global conversational volume, you can simply do an analysis on the word ‘the’ and then fine-tune it from there based on the curiosities you uncover. Here we did a simple analysis on the word ‘buy’ with no other filters. So, if you’re a retailer, you can dive in and gain insight from the topic clusters of interest as we did here with the gaming topic for gender and source type.


Gaming topic cluster filtered by gender and source type.

Social media listening allows you to perform aerial reconnaissance on the global conversation and then lock in on topical coordinates for a deeper dive. In terms of speed, scale and reliability, surveys don’t hold a candle to it.

Could your social listening performance use a boost? Reach out for a demo, and we’ll get you tuned in to cultural shifts as they happen.

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