Social Listening: The Window to Your Customer’s Soul
Sergio Oliveri |
 09/01/16 |
7 min read



You can’t read a thing about marketing without tripping over an article about the merits of social media analytics and monitoring. Before you turn a blind eye, are you sure you know what social listening really is, and why it’s important?

Here are 5 things you might not realize about social listening – and what it can do for your brand.

What is Social Listening? Why is it Important?

1. It smashes assumptions and provides context

Actually, let’s start with what social listening isn’t. It’s not about counting things like retweets and mentions and taking high numbers as a sign that “They like us! They really like us!”

Those numbers actually don’t mean much on their own. So the first thing social listening tools offer is context – something that can make or break your marketing strategy.

You might think you know what consumers think of you, but social listening provides bona fide proof. How? Using a combination of sentiment and language parsing. Those two things matter equally, and in fact go hand in hand. Let’s talk first about sentiment.

2. It shows you how consumers feel about… everything


Thinking about consumer emotion isn’t an alien concept to marketers. If you’ve ever found yourself welling up at a nostalgic Hallmark card commercial – or if you’ve ever created a campaign designed to elicit that reaction – you understand the connection between sentiment and sales.

There are a few differences at play now, however. Where before the idea was to inspire consumers to care about your brand, the goal now is for brands to understand consumers’ feelings and go from there.

Why the change in approach? Basically it’s because you’re playing in consumers’ sandbox on social.

Unlike television, newspapers, magazines and the like – where consumers are accustomed to being bombarded with commercials and ads – social media was conceived as a place where Internet users could connect with their friends and family, and network with others.

Marketers were quick to see the inherent opportunity, and rightfully so, but it’s easy for consumers to ignore them as they scan their newsfeeds for the posts they want to see. For your brand to make the cut, you’ve got to approach social users as people – not prospects.

For social users to engage and care about your brand you have to care about them first – and that’s where social listening comes in. Because you can’t assume you know what they care about – you have to actually find out, specifically.

This is where things change again. Where demographics used to lead the way – telling you men between the ages of 18 and 24 living in urban areas are your target for sporting equipment, for example – psychographic data is now what you want to understand.

Psychographics are about attitude, opinions, and behavior. They help you narrow your target audience into segments of “feel-alike” consumers. This is better than finding “look-alike” consumers because you can target these smaller segments with individualized messaging that makes them feel seen on a personal level. Which resonates more than being marketed “at.”

Here’s an example, using that same demographic of 18-24-year-old urban men. Using keywords as a starting point, you might discover these men are also enthusiastic about:

  • Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead
  • Gaming systems like PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo
  • Restaurants like Shake Shack and Wingstop
  • Rescuing animals like dogs or cats from their local animal shelter

All of these interests and passions should matter to your brand – they’re your invitation to the party. When you talk to people about the things they love, they are far more interested than when you blindly promote a 20% off sale, or some product feature you want to showcase.

But more than that, you can use this information to expand your reach to audiences you might otherwise not have considered. Are there others within these interest segments talking about sports and sporting equipment? If they’re outside your initial demographic of 18-24-year-olds you’ve just expanded your audience in a way demographic assumptions wouldn’t have allowed.


This is the tip of the sentiment iceberg. Sentiment analysis is part of every aspect of social listening, which you’ll see as we talk more below.


The second part of the social listening equation is about language. Language doesn’t refer only to the native language of varying regions – which for global brands is certainly important. When we refer to language within the context of social media intelligence we’re talking about three specific areas your social media monitoring tools must cover – sarcasm, slanguage, and emojis.

Sarcasm is important to detect, or your sentiment analysis will be way off. Consider the way consumers often say they love or hate something – when they actually mean the opposite. Accuracy is crucial for your brand to take the appropriate action based on social insights.

Slanguage, which includes everything from netspeak to pop culture references, is another major opportunity for confusion. Your social listening tools need to know that “Belieber” (a devoted fan of Justin Bieber) isn’t a typo, and that “ily” (I love you) is exactly how you want your followers to feel.

Emojis are visual representations of sentiment – so if your platform can’t detect and decipher them, you’ll miss a huge piece of the puzzle. Often the most passionate expressions of sentiment are shared via emojis – and it’s the most passionate emotions you want to know about most, so you have to be able to recognize and account for them.

3. It helps you identify influencers

What’s the big deal about passion? It’s what separates the casual fans from the loyal devotees. Imagine if Romeo had just “liked” Juliet. Who’s going to see that play? It’s the unbridled passion of the characters that makes them relatable and interesting to watch. This is what you want in an influencer.

Influencers aren’t just people sharing your promos because they get a raffle entry for retweeting you, or a 20% off code for “liking” your Facebook page. Those are basic quid-pro-quo actions that don’t really mean much.

Influencers are the consumers who love everything your brand stands for – from the quality of your merchandise, to the customer service you offer, to the way you run your company. Most importantly, they love the way you make them feel like they matter – both in store and online. This extends to the social realm, where your ability to talk to them about their passions and desires cements those feelings of being appreciated as a person. When they feel that, they share it – with all of their many followers.


And that’s a noteworthy distinction. You may have people passionate about your brand – but if they’re not hugely active on social media, and have only a handful of followers, they aren’t going to be much help. You want passionate users with 500 followers or more, who are actively engaged on social media. Give them a reason to love you and they’ll be moved to shout it from the rooftop – or at least their Twitter account.

4. It provides competitive intelligence

Social listening isn’t solely about consumer interaction – though many roads do lead back there. Using social media intelligence to guide business decisions is another huge advantage – and uncovering trends is just one way to do that.

Whether it’s to inform the direction of your marketing campaign, or to guide the creation of new products or services, identifying trends via social listening is a valuable use case.

Think about this summer’s biggest fad, Pokémon GO as one example. Some consumers love it, and others hate it. Either way, there’s an opportunity for your brand to connect with their audiences and share their enthusiasm, or their distaste.

But it’s not just your own audiences you want to monitor. When you look beyond your own brand mentions to include competitors and their followers you can spot overarching industry trends in their earliest stages. This is super beneficial to staying at the top of your category versus being left in the dust by more forward-thinking brands. And it’s why the data you collect should come in real-time – not via monthly or quarterly reports.

You don’t have to act on every trend, but you should at least know about them so you can make informed decisions. This is something Chipotle did when they realized consumers were interested in delivery of other popular fast casual brands similar to theirs.



Chipotle took a smart approach in partnering with a local delivery company to see how delivery worked for them – as opposed to going all in on an idea that might not have played out as expected. Luckily consumers on social loved the additional service – and Chipotle was able to know that right away.

But that’s not the only reason to look beyond your own brand as you’re surfacing insights. Competitive intelligence is an absolute bonus of social listening. You can easily see what competitors are doing, and – more importantly – how consumers are responding.

If they’re doing something consumers love, you can follow suit. If their customers have complaints, you can offer your brand as the solution. It’s just an extension of customer service, really.

5. Provides a new way to manage customer service issues and reputational threats

And customer service is now a social concern. Consumers take to social to air their complaints – and sometimes they don’t even address them to your brand. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know about them though.

You should always be quickly aware of posts with negative sentiment, so you can address any issues that require attention. And setting up keyword alerts so you know about particularly troublesome issues is wise.

Reputational threats can become full-blown crises in a matter of hours, so it’s critical to know about potential problems at the single-tweet level – so you can either defuse use the issue, or begin damage control strategies right away.

Sometimes you can’t stop a negative post from going viral, but you can control the spread of misinformation by being interactive throughout the crisis event. This can positively impact how sentiment is maintained when the dust settles again.

In a way, social media is a never-ending focus group – offering a constant stream of information for brands to put to use. Social listening is how brands gather this crucial data and make sense of it all.

It’s not just about “listening” – it’s about interacting and getting to know consumers on their level, and then applying that information to keep consumers happy, while maintaining brand health, and growing your business.

There’s literally no downside – so what are you waiting for?

Are you ready to see what social listening can do for your brand? Contact us today for a demo of the NetBase platform.

E-Book: The Importance of Social Analytics for Consumer Insights

Header image from Shawn Collins

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