Social Media Listening: A Must-Have Tool for Brands

Niraj Sharma |
 06/10/21 |
12 min read

Social Media Listening: A Must-Have Tool for Brands 

Slowly but surely, brands that aren’t using social media listening will lose more and more market share to brands that are. There’s simply no other tool right now that comes close to providing brands with market intelligence that yields actionable results.

The use cases of social media listening are expansive. From tracking emerging trends to accurately measuring the voice of the consumer, social media listening covers it all. And let’s not forget that we can turn our social media listening tools towards our competitor’s social conversations for the ultimate in competitive intelligence.

Whether your brand has never used social media listening or you were an early adopter, there’s something here for everyone. After all, the technology behind social media listening is evolving at a rapid pace.

Here we’ll explore what social media listening is and how it works. We’ll also dive into specific ways that brands can use it to stay connected with their audience, find new markets, identify and manage potential crises or PR issues, gather gamer feedback, track KOLs, and influencers and more. We’ll also touch on what tools are in your best interest for your social media listening needs and why.

Specifically, we’ll explore the social media listening landscape by answering the following questions:

  • What is social media listening?
  • How does social media listening work?
  • What are the specific ways brands can use it?

Brands using the social media listening edge for their competitive, consumer and market intelligence are a slim but growing majority. The following statistics highlight a few examples of how social media listening can strengthen your bottom line:

  • In a recent survey of 200 top brands, only 51% engage in social media listening in any capacity.
  • 79% of consumers expect to elicit a response from brands within a day after raising their issue on social media. Unfortunately, many brands are missing the opportunity to leverage their social media listening to answer consumer concerns. The average response rate over all industries is lower than 25%.
  • Brands that aren’t using social media listening to engage with these consumer concerns are leaving money on the table. Consumers that brands engage with over social media spend up to 40% more than average consumers.

Simply put, social media listening is the industry standard for observing emerging trends and listening to the voice of the consumer. And there are so many ways to slice and dice the data to find the conversations relevant to your brand.

Want to see what brands social media users are loving this week? You can do that – and simply too. For example, we ran an analysis on the word “love” filtered through a personal narrative theme to capture only “I love …” conversations. Here’s a one-week glimpse showing YouTube and Pinterest driving a lot of consumer love.

favorite trending brands

Social media analysis filtered for users discussing brands they love, showing YouTube and Pinterest trending highly. 5/21/21-5/28/21

The opportunity cost for getting your hands on world-class social media listening tools pales in comparison to the value they provide your brand. Let’s dive in and take a look around!

What is Social Media Listening?

Social media listening is the method for scouring social media conversations for competitive, consumer and market intelligence to bolster your brand health. It gives you a detailed look into your audience, what they care about and where they’re talking. Not only that, but you can also perform a social listening analysis on your competition’s audience in precisely the same way.

As such, social media listening illuminates consumer conversations around your brand, your competitors, and industry, which shows you how your brand stacks up against the competition.

And it does this by providing remarkable details about the conversation such as user sentiment, mentions, impressions, demographics, geo-locations, and much more, so you are left with a rich understanding of your brand’s social environment.

Tracking specific conversations over time is one of the hallmark capabilities of social media listening. Emerging trends wax and wane, and it’s critical for today’s brands to follow along with the discussion. When you know how the conversation around an emerging trend is evolving, you are best prepared to insert your brand into the conversation.

That means you know exactly how to leverage the conversation to tweak your messaging and products for the best reception possible.

For instance, here’s a snapshot of social media users talking about the sustainability trend over the past month. It’s exceptionally positive, too, at 72% net sentiment on a scale of -100 to 100.


Sustainability Discussion. Social media volume of users talking about sustainability over the past month. 4/28/21-5/28/21

The sustainability conversation is one of the biggest trends affecting the world of business right now. Social media listening empowers you to dig into it to see where your brand can align with the conversation.

After all, there are over 32 billion potential impressions in this one-month conversation alone. If you can position your brand for a fraction of these mentions, you can significantly raise your brand visibility.

To put it in the simplest terms, social media listening tools are the thermometer that takes the internet’s temperature. So, whether you’re investigating trends or establishing brand health baselines, social media listening has you covered.

Additionally, you can take a relevant analysis that you’ve built and replicate it at critical points throughout the year in a process known as social media monitoring. That allows you to track changes to trends and brand health metrics over time, so you know when to pivot and which direction to turn. And keep in mind, you can do the exact thing with your competitors to see when they’re dropping the ball so you can capitalize on every opportunity.

We’ll cover a few more use cases further on, but now that we’ve gotten an overview, let’s see how social media listening works.

How Does Social Media Listening Work?

The online world moves fast – impossibly so. There’s simply no way that brands could possibly keep up with brand mentions and shifting narratives without powerful social listening tools at their disposal. They’d need an army of analysts to even attempt it. And you can imagine the threshold for error would be high.

Fortunately, technology has made the online world a manageable place through the power of artificial intelligence. Machine learning makes social media analytics a reality, and it’s getting better every day by design.

No matter your search terms or scope of analysis, next-generation artificial intelligence powers through social media mentions quickly and with unprecedented accuracy. That puts you back in control of the social media narrative so you can uncover deep insights from vast social media datasets.

In short, it allows you to discover the who, what, when, where and why of any topic discussed on social media.

Social media listening powered by AI works through a process called natural language processing (NLP). In layman’s terms, NLP is the marriage of linguistics, computer science, and AI to break down language into its component parts.

We’re not just talking about parts of speech like nouns and verbs, either. It goes much deeper than that to uncover the tone and meaning behind social media posts as they’d be understood by a human being.

AI assigns positive and negative sentiment to posts which allows analysts to measure and track consumer emotions. It also detects behaviors, attributes, hashtags, people and brand mentions, and emoji-based sentiment.

AI parsing

As icing on the cake, today’s world-class AI is even able to detect brand logos in photographs without an explicit brand mention in the post. And it can do it whether the logo is altered, upside-down, cut-off, or a mirror image.

Extrapolating data points in this manner allows analysts to filter their datasets down to a granular level. Social media listening tools use robust filtering mechanisms to clear away portions of the data so you can focus on areas of interest or anomalies that pique your curiosity.

As such, social media listening gives your brand unparalleled power to isolate and measure specific consumer groups discussing themes relevant to your brand.

Modern social media listening tools cast a broad net, scooping up every nugget of intel on themes that affect your brand performance. Accuracy and speed to insight are hallmarks of today’s top-tier AI, which allows your brand to understand what’s driving global narratives quickly.

In a nutshell, the insights available to brands investing in enterprise social listening were unheard of just a few short years ago. It’s a no-brainer that brands harnessing that power will make better decisions since they possess an accurate assessment of the social landscape.

Let’s look at a few ways brands are making social media listening work for them.

What are Specific Ways Brands Can Use It?

Social media listening opens the doors to a whole new world of extractable intel from online communities and social media platforms. Anything and everything is discussed online, which means social media listening covers a wide variety of use cases. Here are a few of the main ways brands are putting social media listening to good use:

  • Measuring and tracking brand health and consumer perception
  • Refining campaign strategy
  • Uncovering intel to maximize product innovation and launch success
  • Detecting and monitoring emerging trends through trend analytics
  • Drilling into conversations for merger and acquisition chatter
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Crisis management and PR insight
  • Robust voice of the customer (VoC) understanding
  • KOL identification and conversation monitoring
  • Influencer marketing
  • Technology scouting

As you can see, social media listening is the Swiss army knife of business intelligence tools. Let’s talk about a few of these in further detail.

Maintaining Audience Connections

With the wide variety of places that consumers talk online, it’s a common problem for brands to accurately detect the voice of the customer. With every passing day, more users are coming online and migrating to social media channels. As of now, there are already over 3.2 billion social media users, which translates to 42% of the world population.

As such, the growing tidal wave of social media data means that brands not using social media listening will have even more missed connections with their audience.

Depending on your category, your audience could be all over the map speaking in a variety of forums, blog comments and social media platforms. The sooner you identify where they are congregating, the better. That gives you the ability to measure the volume of the conversation by platform as a baseline metric.

That way, you will be ahead of the curve as new users come online and can track conversations as they ebb and flow to other platforms and back again. And knowing precisely where your audience is talking about your brand allows you to get in on the conversation.

Talking with your consumers in their digital environments humanizes your brand and fosters familiarity and the ever-elusive brand loyalty. Not enough brands do it, but they should. Even just an @ and emoji can show your fans that you’re listening.


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A post shared by Depop (@depop)

Since artificial intelligence takes note of every type of intel available from every post, you can explore your audience data by authors, channels, time of day, demographics and domains, so you know precisely how your audience conversations are evolving.

Often there are large chunks of brand-relevant conversation happening outside of your owned social media channels. If that’s the case with your brand, social media listening will show you where the discussions are the loudest.

Social media listening can also be used to help you strategize your entry into the conversation. So, if there’s a lot of your audience discussing your brand or products on Reddit, social media listening will show you where the pain and pleasure points are within those discussions. Then you can format your messaging to reach out and touch base with your audience.

Going off-channel to reach your audience is impossible without social media listening. Using it to your advantage gives you a massive leg up on the competition.

Finding New Markets

Exploring global conversations with social media listening is the surest way to detect emerging trends and markets. As you can imagine, this type of intel provides extreme competitive intelligence that gives you a head start as you strategize a move into new areas.

We are still in an extreme shifting period as the global digital transformation adjusts. As such, social media listening allows brands to keep tabs on consumer reception, attitudes, beliefs, wants, needs and dislikes.

And that’s an advantage because the intent is always expressed online, so brands can detect areas that are getting traction and those that are falling flat. Consumers have gotten used to spending time researching brands, products and their competitors online. This underscores the importance of monitoring these conversations in real-time. Since these ideas are expressed before a sale, sales figures aren’t quite the measure of success that they used to be.

What we mean is that though a brand’s products are well received today, the conversations that shift attitudes towards another competitor or away from the space entirely are happening under the radar. Catching them as they happen and monitoring their growth alerts you to the fact that you have an impending shift to make.

Brands that aren’t using social media listening don’t have the luxury of seeing changes to net sentiment as it happens. So, as a market dries up due to shifting trends or new technologies, they’re left sending out surveys trying to figure out why sales figures are heading into the basement.

Identifying Potential Crises or PR Issues

As we mentioned, social media moves fast. There’s a reason that the news cycle is jokingly referred to as the flavor of the day. It’s never been more critical for brands to stay on top of these shifts in consumer thought and innovate accordingly.

Social media listening to your brand health in concert with emerging trends allows you to comfortably stay ahead of where markets are heading. Last year place a magnifying glass on the importance of staying in tune with consumers’ wants and needs. Entire industries were crippled and limped towards solutions.

It’s almost like you could look around and tell which brands were using social media listening. They were the brands that were able to shift the fastest or had already positioned themselves for lateral solutions. Brands like Wal-Mart, Uber and Airbnb could have suffered exponentially. However, social media listening allowed them to detect their best moves and move quickly into those markets.

In hindsight, they made it look easy. However, shifting an international brand’s business model on a dime is no small task. It takes an up-to-the-minute understanding of the online conversations surrounding your industry and your brand’s positioning within it. It also takes a precise knowledge of consumer pain points and the movement of global trends.

Additionally, it takes the courage to leap in a timely manner as you see momentum building against you. Social media listening informs all of this and also illuminates the conversations surrounding your landing point.

Wal-Mart shifted more heavily to ecommerce at a lightning pace and brought their brick-and-mortar locations in line with consumer safety. Uber saw their rideshare business model dry up virtually overnight and pivoted laterally into Uber Eats to weather the storm. Airbnb could have gone belly up but caught the wave of virtual experiences and shifted their approach in that direction. They made it through the pandemic, seemingly without a scratch.

Just as social media listening provides brands with the insight to endure a global crisis, it can also help you sidestep a PR crisis with your brand. With your brand mentions established as a baseline measurement, you know what your typical volume is. Setting alerts so you are notified when mentions move outside of your parameters lets you know immediately when something is off.

Gamer Feedback

Social media listening allows you to ascertain social media user interests using psychographic data to measure and follow their conversations online. Of course, this illuminates what they like and dislike about your products and those of your competitors.

Naturally, this type of consumer intelligence is infinitely invaluable to your product research and development. It also shines a light on your areas of strength with consumers and where the competition has an edge.

Determining your audience’s interests allows you to craft messaging that speaks to them even if your product isn’t a primary player in the segment. It also allows you to see the auxiliary interests of your audience members so you can create messaging and campaigns that target those interests specifically.

Here, in the conversation surrounding Twitch, the streaming platform popular with gamers, you can see a few of the many interests that users have outside of gaming.

twitch user interests

Twitch mentions. Social media users talking about the popular streaming platform Twitch sorted by interests. 4/29/21-5/29/21

Twitch isn’t the first social media platform that most brands think of when it comes to brand positioning. But it’s infinitely popular with gamers and could be a gold mine of opportunity for brands willing to familiarize themselves with the platform. Many brands are already testing the waters, and social media listening is your best bet for success.

Here are a few ways brands are leveraging the platform in their favor:

  • Expanding brand awareness
  • Audience targeting
  • Lead generation
  • Influencer marketing
  • Paid advertising

Wendy’s is no slouch when it comes to marketing, and they’re active on Twitch too. For example, here’s a screenshot of them streaming gameplay with branded content surrounding the screen. They’re even engaged in the comment section, interacting with their trademark snark.

twitch wendys

It’s a fun way to connect with their audience in real-time. Additionally, all of the video commentary can be uploaded into your social media listening tools for analysis to best understand what your consumers resonate with.

And the real win for brands is using social media listening to find these niche audiences, to begin with. From there, you can analyze their conversations so you can position your brand to get in on the discussion.

NetBase Quid – Helping Brands Win with Social Media Listening

NetBase Quid is the market leader in enabling the world’s leading brands and agencies to build their business and connect with their consumers through social media listening analytics.

With two social media listening platforms under one roof, NetBase Quid works seamlessly to provide world-class social analytics insights for next-generation consumer and market intelligence. Our social media listening tools deliver contextual insights to reveal business trends, connect with consumers and understand the story behind competitors and market fluctuations.

Our platforms use top-tier artificial intelligence to process billions of indexed resources across all forms of structured and unstructured data, which empowers brands and agencies to make intelligent, data-driven decisions accurately and efficiently.

NetBase Quid is the trusted partner of many of the world’s top brands, including American Airlines, Coca-Cola, T-Mobile, United Airlines, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, The New York Times, and many more.

netbase quid customer shot

We’re in the business of helping brands put their best foot forward through actionable social media listening and data analytics. And we can do the same for you!

But you don’t have to take our word for it; check out this short video with Pamela Mittoo, manager of Coca-Cola North America Technical Consumer Research team, to see how they used NetBase Quid to develop their consumer behavior models.

Is your brand struggling on the social media listening front? Reach out for a demo, and we’ll get you plugged into the social media listening tools that top brands around the world rely on for the ultimate in competitive, consumer and market intelligence.

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