The Top 10 Social Listening Mistakes of 2016

Carol Feigenbaum |
 01/05/17 |
7 min read


As brands strive to embrace constantly evolving social media listening best practices, inevitably they’ll make a mistake or two. To save your efforts, here are 10 social listening mistakes to avoid in 2017.

1. Discounting consumer emotions

Culprits: Birchbox and ClassPass


In business it’s counterintuitive to consider emotional perspectives – but when it comes to social media, emotion is the driving force behind every consumer interaction. And though it’s tempting to focus on volume of mentions or shares, the best application of your social listening tools is toward understanding consumer emotions.

Subscription services ClassPass and Birchbox realized too late what their customers loved about them, i.e., their price and loyalty points/discounts respectively. When ClassPass raised their monthly subscription rate, and Birchbox lowered the loyalty points customers could earn in a month, both brands heard about it on social.

For their part, Birchbox did try to smooth things over with their customers via a video from their CEO, Katia Beauchamp, and attentive social follow-up.


ClassPass, on the other hand, lost 10% of their customers after their price hike. Profitability is paramount – but it takes customers to achieve it.

The lesson? Marketing is no longer an exercise in touting your brand’s awesomeness – it’s dependent on building up trust through authentic relationships with consumers, who want it to be all about them. Your only hope at reaching them is to care about the things they care about – and social listening is how you uncover that information.

It’s not that difficult, really – because it’s all out there for the taking. You just need to know how to find it. With emotion it’s about two key factors:

  • Net Sentiment – whether emotions are positive or negative
  • Passion Intensity – the strength of those emotions

When you access details about what consumers are passionate about – whether for good or bad – you can relate to them on their level. What definitely doesn’t work is coming across as “salesy” or like you’re trying too hard – both easy traps to fall into when you assume you know what your audience wants instead of just listening to them.

2. Relying on demographics instead of psychographics

Culprit: Vera Bradley

vera bradley logo

Social users’ insistence on authentic, consumer-centric interactions is why demographics are no longer the end-all-be-all for marketers. Demographics are a great tool for putting you in the ballpark – but to get an actual homerun you need to unearth more specific intel.

Vera Bradley was criticized for missing the mark at the start of their #ItsGoodtoBeAGirl campaign, with some of the campaign’s published statements coming across as unappealingly old school. Fortunately with the smart use of influencers, Vera Bradley successfully rebranded themselves by letting their audience do the talking.

vera bradley

This illustrates why the goal now is psychographic information – the attitudes, opinions and behaviors of your audience. Instead of look-alike segments like “Millennial males in New York City,” you want to identify feel-alike segments of consumers – who may span several demographic segments.

This is where the above-mentioned passion comes in, giving you the means to create segments of consumers who care about the same things. Start with those in your presumed target audience, then expand to consumers who are passionate about the same things to find new people who might also love your brand.

Shift your focus to segments like “people who love dogs, Star Wars and pizza” or “people who play tennis, drive high-end cars, and watch Game of Thrones” – whatever your brand’s audience is into. Now you can offer up messaging that’s specific to each segment, instead of something generic – i.e., forgettable – or worse, something completely out of alignment with how your target audience sees themselves.

3. Ignoring your most important channels

Of course, it doesn’t matter how great your messaging is if no one hears it. Thus, part of your social listening has to be directed at identifying where your audience is most active online.

Facebook might be the largest social network in the world, with 1.71 billion monthly active users, but that doesn’t mean it’s the one your audience is using most. You might have a good chunk of consumers who are active on Snapchat or Tumblr, but don’t really engage on Facebook. The only way to know is to analyze all channels and find out.

At the same time, it’s important not to jump on every hot new channel merely because they’re hot and new. If your audience isn’t active on Snapchat, there’s no reason for you to be there. Use social data to inform your strategy so you don’t waste time on channels that don’t matter.

4. Not thinking through your content

Just as important as monitoring social conversations is paying attention to the types of content your audience responds to – and that may differ from channel to channel. Before you think you can simply replicate your efforts by sharing the same meme or blog post across every channel, remember those varying segments you’ve taken the trouble to get to know and offer them what you know they’ll love.

A short looping video might be just the thing on Instagram, whereas a funny meme or live video might be what gets engagement on Facebook. Meanwhile spotlighting user generated content on Tumblr might be better than sharing anything your brand could create.

Whatever you do, don’t treat all social networks as equal. A pithy tweet and clever hashtag can win the day on Twitter – even without an image – whereas Instagram requires quality, eye-catching images that can stand out in a hashtag search or against rapid scrolling. Each network has unique requirements which affect how your audience responds.


Taco Bell knows how to Instagram

Taco Bell knows how to Instagram

5. Not managing customer service via social channels

According to a 2013 J.D. Power study, 67% of consumers have reached out to companies on social to manage complaints, with 14% of Tweets to major retail brands coming from customers experiencing problems in-store.  Yet Twitter claims, “Leading B2C companies are responding to about 60% of Tweets directed at their service accounts.” That’s leaving a lot of consumers with unresolved issues – and the perfect excuse to knock your brand off their go-to list next time they shop.

Having a strategy in place for managing complaints on social media is no longer optional – and it will only become increasingly crucial as younger, digitally-dependent generations come of age.

6. Not tracking potential threats on the regular

But monitoring social media for customer issues is critical for another reason: Issues left unresolved can pick up traction from other consumers chiming in with fuel for the fire and even go viral. That’s the last thing you want.

Social listening must include attention to potential reputational threats – whether stemming from a disgruntled customer, former (or current) employee with an ax to grind, or bored troll looking to cause trouble. Because a full-blown brand crisis can start with a single tweet left unanswered.

Avoid this by setting alerts for particularly troublesome keywords, and monitoring negative sentiment in real-time to catch potential crises at the earliest possible stages. The alternative – damage control after the fact – is far riskier.

7. Forgetting all roads lead to social media

Culprit: StreetEasy


Obviously advertising isn’t limited to social media, but most discussion is still likely to happen there. So if you think you’re off the hook because your ads aren’t targeted at social consumers, think again. You need to track all marketing efforts via social channels to be sure you have a clear picture of consumer reaction.

StreetEasy learned this when one of their New York City subway ads was called out as sexist on Twitter.


“[It’s] a great reminder that every campaign (digital or not) should be run through the filter of, ‘How will the Twitterverse react?,'” says Mary Nice, social media strategist for Convince & Convert consultancy.

8. Ignoring your competitors

You also need to track competitors’ efforts to get a sense of where your shared audience stands. Their customers are your prospects, so knowing where they’re getting things right – and where they’re dropping the ball – is crucial intelligence you can take advantage of.

Use your sentiment analysis tools to identify what your competitors’ audience loves about them – and “borrow” any strategies you can. And where there’s vocal dissatisfaction? Play problem-solver and win the day.

But don’t stop there. Use competitive analysis to track your overall category and you could be first to jump on a new trend, or innovate a desired product.

9. Limiting social data to your marketing team

Speaking of innovative new products, that’s just one example in support of extending social data across business units instead of keeping it all in the marketing department. Everyone from R&D to Customer Care to Sales can benefit from understanding the conversation surrounding your brand on social.

Social media marketing expert and NetBase guest blogger Jason Falls shares, “As I was analyzing the online audience of a recent brand, I discovered that its Twitter audience and Facebook audience were incredibly different. Any good community manager could have called it, but the rest of brand team could not. They weren’t in the trenches having the conversations with the fans on both platforms every day.”

Jason is speaking of audience distinctions specifically, but the argument applies in a broader sense as well: Most of your company isn’t in the social media trenches every day. So that information has to be shared with them so they understand it as if they were. Otherwise you’re limiting your brand’s potential to offer up a customized consumer experience at every level.

10. Not learning from others’ mistakes

Culprit: Cinnabon


No brand is perfect, but if you’re paying attention you can at least avoid making the same mistakes other brands have made – and save yourself a little grief.

That’s something Cinnabon could have done with their tribute to the recently deceased Carrie Fisher. As perfect as it might have seemed to post an image of the Star Wars actress with Cinnabons in place of her iconic hair buns, fans found it in poor taste, leaving Cinnabon with no choice but to apologize for the move.


Too bad Cinnabon couldn’t have learned from Cheerios, who’d experienced the same backlash a few months earlier with their ill-received Prince tribute – they could have avoided their own negative press entirely.

Not repeating these 10 mistakes is a great way to start off the new year – which will inevitably bring its own challenges, and further evolution of the social media landscape. How will you know how to navigate these unpredictable waters? Social media listening will guide you – and of course, we’ve got your back. Bring your best, 2017.

Reach out to ensure your social media listening is on point this year!

NetBase Brand Passion Report 2016- Top 100 Global Brand Love List



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