Social media’s importance as a marketing channel has continued to grow as more people use social media platforms to connect with one another and the brands they care about.

Most brands are active on at least one social network, and larger brands will have entire teams dedicated to managing their social presence. Marketers have confidence in social media, and 73 percent of them believe their social media marketing efforts have been either “somewhat effective” or “very effective” for their business.

Twitter and LinkedIn have 330 million and 690 million active users respectively and are two of the most popular channels for brands to advertise and interact with customers.

Millions of conversations take place every day on social platforms, and chances are some of them are about your industry, no matter how niche it may be. By implementing a social listening strategy, you can take insights from these conversations and use them to learn more about your customers and make better marketing decisions.

Social listening vs. social monitoring

Social listening is a two-part process. It begins with social monitoring.

Social monitoring tracks mentions of your brand, competitors and relevant keywords on social media platforms and other communities, like blogs. That’s the easy part.

The second and most important part of social listening is taking the information gleaned from monitoring social channels and acting on it in a strategic way. Actions can range from simple customer appreciation posts to more substantial business decisions, such as introducing new products and services.

“There's a lot to be learned from what people are saying to one another, rather than what they’re saying directly to brands,” says Jason Woudsma, Social Media Specialist at Motum B2B. “When you monitor general conversations on social channels, you can get a lot more information and data points to work with.”

To sum up, think of social monitoring as the collection of the data and social listening as the process of analyzing, understanding and acting upon it. It’s easy to put numbers and statistics in a spreadsheet, but analysis is a whole other ball game.

What can I do with this information?

A strong social listening strategy helps create a customer-centric mindset and provides a clearer picture of your customer’s opinions, pain points, and their wants and needs.

“The goal of social listening comes down to being able to better understand customers and recognizing where your brand can improve,” says Woudsma.

There’s a lot that brands can do with the information gained by social listening, but the 5 most popular use-cases are brand health, industry insights, competitive analysis, campaign analysis and event monitoring.

Brand health uses sentiment analysis and monitoring tools to evaluate the public perception of your brand and its products.

Industry insights and competitive analysis examine discussions within your industry and competing brands and products to get a better idea of your brand’s presence in the social media landscape surrounding your industry.

Finally, campaign analysis and event monitoring look at marketing campaign performance and audience response to conferences and events.

Social listening in general gives your brand a stronger presence on social media, and customers generally like to see companies interacting with followers and answering their questions or concerns.

Brands that don’t incorporate a social listening strategy risk falling out of touch with their customers.

“The greatest consequence of ignoring social listening is ending up in your own echo chamber,” says Woudsma. “If you don't listen to public discussion outside of client feedback or people within the organization, there's a good chance that you might not be able to understand shifts in public and customer opinions about you or your products, competitors, or even the industry as a whole.”

B2B vs. B2C listening

While the goal of social listening is the same for B2B and B2C, the quantity of conversations available to analyze can be quite different. As you can imagine, there’s much more conversation surrounding consumer goods and services than more niche B2B offerings.

“Sometimes that means that we need to put more value on individual posts in the B2B space,” says Woudsma. “In comparison, we would usually have a large collection of B2C messages and posts before formulating a general idea. Usually if we have a couple of posts about a specific topic in B2B, we might elevate them further [in terms of analytical value].”

Due to the lower volume of conversations talking about B2B products and services, it’s often easier to target B2B decision-makers for sales and lead generation.

“We’re monitoring for specific tweets, blog posts and LinkedIn posts or messages in LinkedIn groups, so if someone's having a problem you know you can solve, then you can search for that,” says Woudsma. “You have the ability to reach out to those individuals.”

We’re not spying, just listening!

Amid growing concerns around privacy and the way corporations use our data, it’s important to ensure the social listening process doesn’t overstep boundaries or break privacy laws.

Some social networks already limit the amount of information accessible by application programming interfaces, or APIs, which access and consolidate the data used to power social monitoring and listening tools.

While most of the information on Twitter is easily accessible, content from private accounts won’t be visible to social media management tools.

“The average user is concerned about privacy, so I think it's important for clients to understand that we're not eavesdropping, we're developing insights rather than using data to do targeted ads or anything like that,” says Woudsma. “Customers can feel confident that the social listening we do for them doesn't cross that line or overstep privacy boundaries.”

There’s a lot to learn from what customers have to say on social media. That’s why it’s important to not only hear what they’re saying with social monitoring, but to observe and analyze their conversations with social listening.

Are you in need of a social listening strategy for your business, or do you just want some more insights on the conversation surrounding your industry? Get in touch, we can help.