Social listening what why and how

The process of capturing, aggregating and analyzing social data requires a bit of explanation, as does how to implement that insight, so we’re sharing an overarching view of the social listening landscape to inform your efforts. So, if your brand seeks to capture ‘social insight’ to start implementing accurate and actionable insight in its strategy right away, you’re found the post to guide you! We’ll share what social listening is exactly, and what can you do with it to help you capture your brand’s piece of the global marketplace!


One common misconception is the belief that social listening and social monitoring are the same thing – interchangeable terms for one process. In truth, social listening and social monitoring – though often used together – have distinct jobs to do, much like your CEO and CFO.

Social monitoring is about recognizing or being alerted to certain key events as they happen – such as a customer complaint getting a lot of attention. It’s establishing a baseline and monitoring for when things deviate from it, using social listening to understand why.

What, then, is social listening? And how does social listening work?

This article will answer that question in detail, with specific attention to its multifaceted functions (which you can click ahead to, depending on your needs), including:

But first, a bit more about social listening . . .


Social listening works in conjunction with social monitoring to provide an overall and all-the-time baseline for your brand to work from. It’s a detailed analysis of your audience, what they care about, and where they discuss such things. It’s about uncovering and aggregating all the information you’re missing if you only count likes and mentions.

Social listening takes a broader look at the overall social landscape – taking in the typical shapes and sounds, so anomalies become easier to spot.

Or think of it this way: Social monitoring is like getting a flu shot when everyone around you is getting sick, whereas social listening is like eating an apple a day so your immune system is healthy and strong no matter what you’re exposed to.

In today’s hyper-competitive climate, it has never been more important to understand your market. And with a proliferation of data, the time has come for all companies, large and small, to be making decisions utilizing powerful data analytics. The Complete Guide to Media and Market Intelligence shows brands and agencies how to do this!

Why is social listening important?

Monitoring is an important preventative, but nothing beats a consistent, proactive approach. Just like a healthy immune system is important to prevent the body from being easily susceptible to illness, social listening keeps your brand aware of the bigger picture. Instead of focusing on individual tweets and issues, you get an aggregated view that highlights trends and themes you can use to direct brand strategy.

Unlike social monitoring – alerting you to a single problem that you solve in the moment – social listening shines a light on ongoing issues. Perhaps you have the same issue popping up regularly on the same day, or in a certain geographical area. Instead of offering a quick fix to satisfy a single customer, you can solve the problem at the root and eliminate it going forward.

But it’s not just about solving problems. Social listening offers information you can apply to any aspect of brand operations.

Let’s look at each in turn

Understand sentiment to track brand health

Social sentiment is actually the core of all social analytics – but tracking brand health in general is its broadest application.

When NetBase measures sentiment we use two combined metrics to calculate overall Brand Passion:

  • Net Sentiment – whether consumer emotions are positive or negative from +100 to -100
  • Passion Intensity – the strength of consumer emotions from +100 to -100

Why does Passion Intensity matter? Because a small contingent of consumers who love or hate your brand is most vocal – thus socially more powerful – than a large contingent of consumers who are ambivalent. Just ask any brand who has gone viral – in a good or bad way.

With sentiment analysis, it’s crucial to know where your brand stands typically, but also to look at spikes in sentiment to understand what’s happening during specific events.

Whether it’s a new campaign or product, or a crisis about to erupt, look at sentiment values before, during and after to assess whether the impact is ongoing, or isolated to a specific event, etc. If you haven’t solved the problem, sentiment will tell you.

Peleton offers a stark warning for brands around that!

Peloton Paces the Floor

Everything was looking up for Peloton, until it suddenly wasn’t. Pelton beat revenue estimates and delivered a positive outlook for the holidays, with connected fitness subscribers jumping 103% year over year, and a total revenue increase to $228 million. 

And then the parody hit.  

A comedian created a shocking and hilarious take on the maker’s exercise bike commercial and it resulted in folks comparing the brand to a domestic violence situation. And instead of attempting to listen to critiques and accept the ribbing in stride, the brand went on the offense and made itself look awful: 

“Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey. While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by — and grateful for — the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate.” 

Its stock took a dive:

Peloton stock nose dive which could have been prevented with social listening 

And brand mentions spiraled, showing Net Sentiment of 4% (on a scale that goes to 100): 

And it was all avoidable.

This could have been another win for the exercise bike brand, had they played their cards right. But they didn’t. Be sure to not follow their example and respect the intel that social listening offers!


  • Establish a baseline using sentiment analysis
  • Look at any spikes in sentiment and find out what’s driving them
  • Continue following sentiment to create an appropriate response and ensure brand health

Identify and optimize content to meet your engagement goals

Social content isn’t simply about “being on social.” Content is crucial to engagement and conversion – so you want to get it right. This is where social listening tools like NetBase come in super handy – because they eliminate a lot of trial and error.

Searching on your brand shows you which content is resonating – and on which channels. That helps you plan the type of content you need.

Let’s imagine you’ve realized most of your engagement is on Instagram, so you know visual content is most important. Or, if blogs are getting you the most traction, you know text is clearly your audience’s preference.

But what about the focus of your content? That’s where sentiment comes back in. You can look at hashtags, topics and keywords to see what people talk about most passionately, and how that relates to the content they interact with and share. This also helps you optimize for search.

Or you can look to NetBase’s first-to-market artificial intelligence platform, AI Studio, which automatically discovers themes for you, based on millions of data points emerging from topic conversations you’re wanting to understand. This amplifies listening efforts dramatically on its own.  And can help you identify hashtags you may have missed otherwise.

Instagram is very hashtag oriented, so knowing which hashtags are popular and relevant to your topic area is key. On other channels, you’ll shift focus to the proper keywords/terms. The terms people use when searching for whatever your brand offers are important so AI-powered, automated discovery is a real game changer. The last thing you want is one of your competitors discovering this hashtag and making it their own before you do! Coming up first in hashtag search results can be a huge brand awareness boost.

But what do you do once you know where to find your audience? How do you connect meaningfully with them? That’s where the true power of social listening comes in, as it helps you humanize your brand.

Humanizing Your Brand

According to Chris Malone in the book he co-authored, The HUMAN Brand: How We Relate to People, Products & Companiesthe social psychology behind why consumers choose companies and brands is the same as the psychology around who we like, as people. These choices depend on things we unconsciously perceive, judge, and the ways we behave toward one another. So, brands must tap into these unconscious – and sometimes conscious – estimations to understand, and potentially reframe, consumer perception.

Brands need to create a warm, engaging relationship with target audiences – and that leads to brand loyalty:

Using social listening to understand consumer loyalty and creating a human brand

How is this done? My listening to what consumers have to say about your brand and its overarching category on the social web. With it, brands can pinpoint indicators that are most important to/for them and create products and promotions that resonate with them on a personal level.


  • Identify the content and channels meeting your brand’s engagement goals
  • Look at sentiment in correlation with content
  • Create meaningful connections with consumers by understanding what they value most

Design campaigns that will succeed from the outset

The beauty of social listening is that information you glean from one area – like content – spills into others. After all, content is the backbone of promotional campaigns – but that’s not the only consideration.

Social listening is something you want to apply to your entire category – not just your brand. When you do, you will spot trends you can leverage in a number of ways – like ad campaigns.

What does your audience want and how can you use those insights? Should you run a contest? Offer a special? Ask for user generated content? Your social listening will tell you. And this is where real-time really helps as well. You want to know what your audience is into NOW.

You also want to identify influencers – but be sure they’re helping keep the conversation positive. And that they’re telling a story that will help you, in turn, share winning insight with key stakeholders and brand sponsors (assuming you have those as well, as many do!). Music Festivals and contests offer ready examples of this in action . . .

Monitoring Music Fans

Hatel, EVP of Smart Audio Insights & Analytics at iHeartMedia Inc shared recently, social listening is an essential component during their marquee events, like the iHeartRadio Awards Show and the iHeartRadio Music Festival. Specifically, they use it to capture fan activity and to monitor sentiment around sponsorships. It allows them to have powerful proof points to share.

iHeartRadio fan army monitored using social listening

Though even iHeartMedia understands that success is never guaranteed with any campaign. But stacking the deck in your favor as much as you can, speaking to audiences on social sites, blogs and forums where they’re participating, beyond the top spots, is always wise. And it helps drive engagement. As is creating promotions that cater to your up and coming audiences, not only those already solidly established.

iHeartMedia expertly applies user generated content (UGC) tactics with its iHeartRadio’s Awards Show. It has a social voting category that’s extremely popular, called Fan Army:

Any brand can create their own UGC campaign and then follow along in real-time to make any course corrections – or product launches – as dictated by your social listening.


  • Identify topics/trends consumers care most about for the meat of your campaign
  • Share your campaign via the medium and channels your audience loves most
  • Get your audience engaged in the process, but creating a UGC campaign, contest or promotion
  • Follow progress in real-time and adjust as needed

Create an authentic, personalized experience at every touch point

Social isn’t just about communicating about your brand – it’s about learning what consumers want, hence the “listening” part of social listening. It’s also a key part of your customer experience. Sometimes it’s where the experience starts, i.e., brand awareness, or where it ends, i.e., social customer care.

And in between it informs what that experience should be.

Consumers constantly share information on social – and that information is what brands must use to create and hone their customer experience.

Everything from your marketing campaigns, to product quality, to in-store service, to how your social care team interacts with customers shapes the customer experience. Use social insights to learn what your customers love, and to find ways to improve on what they don’t love. We can see this in action with an agency’s work with a cosmetics company . . .

Capturing Consumer Love

FullScreen, a social content agency, was able to help a cosmetics client use social insights to learn what their customers love. It was gearing up to launch a social campaign to celebrate the anniversary of their bold lipstick. Using NetBase Quid, they found answers to the following questions:

  • How did wearing a bold lip make these women feel?
  • Why did she wear a bold lip?
  • And was she interacting online about it using any of the brand hashtags – or other related hashtags?

Capturing company, consumer and cultural insight, they created a campaign that spoke to Millennial females who were prioritizing self-care, or on a wellness journey. To many of these women, rocking a bold lip came with a set of dated societal “rules” around when it was appropriate – rules that these ladies were ready to smash

Further, Fullscreen found that consumers had a strong affinity for the product on social and realized there was an opportunity to create a community where these women could celebrate confidence. So they did:

Understanding consumer affinities


  • Analyze for terms and sentiment about your customer experience
  • Look for needs that aren’t being met, as well as those that are
  • Create a sense of community when possible, as building brand love requires many hands.

Whether seeking to capture consumer love, understand competitive threats or ideate and launch new products in a space, The Complete Guide to Media and Market Intelligence shows brands and agencies what to watch out for and why they must have this data intelligence informing every decision!

Conceive and launch new products to an audience ready to love them

With overcrowded markets, digital shopping overtaking in-store, and other modern brand challenges, most brands literally cannot afford to fail when they launch new products and services. Social listening is an always-on survey that lets you find out what features and products your audience wants – and which they absolutely don’t.

You may even find a great idea for a brand partnership.

Pamela Mittoo, Manager of Technical Consumer Research at The Coca-Cola Company partnered with Anupam Singh, co-founder of 113 Industries, a consumer research agency, for product innovation activities.

Social listening helped Coke identify a new frontier of business and product innovation by listening to what consumers were saying on social media. As Anupam explains, the NetBase platform gives their teams a deeper look into social analytics, powered by artificial intelligence which helps brands discover what consumers crave and identify key behaviors in the food and beverage industry.

And those behaviors are being shared about every product in every vertical – and they’re all online right now. Using a tool able to harness and analyze structured and unstructured data at scale is the key differentiator for these major players. And it can be for your brand as well!


  • Identify consumer wishes on social, and use sentiment to assess value
  • Look for opportunities to partner with other successful brands
  • Poll your audience about potential new products before spending. They’re happy to tell you what they think!


As you can see, social listening is not limited to marketing endeavors. The data you collect can be applied to any area of operations, and should be.

Though social monitoring is important for alerting you to potential problems, you need social listening to avoid being caught off guard.

You don’t want to wait until there’s a problem to take your audience’s temperature. You want to know how they feel every step of the way, and be able to anticipate and avoid problems as a result.

Additionally, the better you know your audience, the better you’re able to serve them – and that’s what keeps them coming back.

So invest in social listening tools now, if you haven’t already. Every second you wait just gives your competitors the advantage.

Be sure to check out the other parts of this comprehensive series, starting with What Is Social Media Monitoring?

And when you’re ready to see our social listening tools in action reach out for a custom demo!

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