What is social listening?

For those unfamiliar, social listening is just what it sounds like: the process of listening to the online conversations of your customers and potential buyers, primarily within the social media realm. Through this practice, organizations are able to collect vast amounts of valuable data around specific topics, industries, or even brands.


Social listening vs. monitoring: Isn’t it the same?

One of the biggest misconceptions marketers make about social listening is to assume the practice is the same thing as social media monitoring. Not sure what the difference is? Let us break it down for you.

Though similar, social media monitoring is simply the process of watching @mentions and comments pour in via your social profiles, mobile apps or blogs. However, not all conversations relevant to your brand will appear in your notifications

In fact, according to one recent study, only 9% of Tweets that impact your company are actually directed at your brand (source) – meaning, most conversations about your brand are happening without you. In short, social media monitoring merely scratches the surface of valuable social information.

Social listening on the other hand dives deeper. By tracking relevant keywords, phrases, and events, organizations that implement a social listening strategy are in active pursuit of the conversations that provide meaning and context to their brand.

When executed effectively, this practice paints a clearer picture of a brand’s entire social media presence, and provides teams with many valuable brand and industry insights.  Armed with this information, an organization is able to take action and engage with their audience in a more meaningful way.



Benefits of social listening

Considering the data it provides, it’s really no wonder that your marketing team can benefit from implementing a social listening strategy. However, in case you’re in need of a little extra convincing, we’ve compiled a few key benefits you can expect from implementing this practice:

  • Strategy measurement: Successful social media marketing is often a trial and error process. To drive success, your team must be vigilant when determining which tactics work and which don’t.

Social listening allows you to identify strategic wins and losses in real time – from the posts that garner the most social engagement, to the time of day they’re most active. This information can be used to tailor nearly every aspect of your social media strategy, including content types and post cadence, to ensure optimal results.

  • Content marketing: Any seasoned marketer will tell you, business success lies in your ability to deliver content that resonates deeply with your audience. However, this cannot be accomplished without a true understanding of who your audience is.

As discussed above, social listening provides access to valuable insights about your target audience, delivered straight from the source. Better insights can not only help determine what topics your prospects care about most, but can effectively uncover significant buying motivators you may not have previously recognized, including any pain points, concerns and questions they share.

Use these insights to guide your content strategy, from the subject matter you focus on, to the format you choose. The end result is content that not only speaks directly to your prospect, but can successfully move them through the buyers’ cycle.

  • Lead generation: Since its inception, social media has quickly become a major source of leads for many organizations. In fact, according to one recent report, revenue increased for 24% of businesses when they utilized social media for lead generation. (source)

Social listening boosts lead generation by allowing your organization to track social conversations that are relevant to your business or industry. When executed effectively, social listening can uncover new potential prospects your team can then nurture with meaningful conversations and interactions.

  • Reputation & crisis management: Social media makes it easier than ever for current customers to provide transparent feedback about their experience with your company. Social listening allows you to track and analyze patterns of sentiment amongst your current customers, be it good or bad.

While positive mentions are ideal, not all your customers and prospects are going to sing your brand’s praises. Social listening allows a business to stay on top of negative sentiment and tackle potential crises while they’re still small.

  • Influencer marketing: Unless you’ve lived under a rock the last few years, you’re probably familiar with influencer marketing –the process of leveraging the popularity of social media influencers to promote your brand. This innovative strategy has taken the marketing world by storm for good reason: Recent studies show that it can produce 11X higher ROI than traditional forms of advertising annually (source).

However, successful influencer marketing depends on one major factor: Choosing the right individual to support your brand. Luckily, social listening can once again aid in your efforts. Through strategic analysis of industry related conversations, your team can effectively identify which influencers and industry celebrities resonate most with your target audience.

  • Competitive Analysis: Social listening not only provides insights into your own company, but it allows you to keep tabs on your competition. While it’s important to listen to your consumer, it’s equally important to listen to your competitors. Are your biggest competitors beating you when it comes to social media and if so, how? Social listening can provide you with these answers.

Obviously, social listening can aid your marketing team in a number of vital functions – but the benefits don’t stop there. When executed effectively, social listening can help your brand beyond marketing—here’s how:

  • Product Development: While you may think your organization offers a top notch product or service, in reality, your customers – the individuals who actually use your solution – may think otherwise. And for better or for worse, they’re probably sharing these opinions on the internet.

Social listening can uncover your customer’s true opinions of your product or service. This information is not only helpful in immediate situations (i.e. uncovering/fixing bugs or defective features), but can guide future product development to deliver solutions that exceed your customers’ needs and expectations.

  • Customer service: For the most part, many of your prospects and customers will be connected with your brand on social media for one specific reason – customer service. In fact, according to a recent survey, 31% of consumers interact with brands on social media to gain direct access to customer services and product experts. Of that same demographic, 81% of Twitter users expect a same-day response to questions and complaints, whilst 3% expect an answer within 30 minutes (source).


With strategic social listening practices in place, your organization will be able to create a more streamlined effort to track these requests and provide accurate assistance. Timely, appropriate, and helpful responses not only ensure customer loyalty, but show prospective clients how great your company is to work with.


How to get started

We know what you’re thinking: Sure, social listening can produce a ton of valuable insights and opportunities – but how do you go about obtaining it all in an effective manner? Worry not, we’ve got just the solution you’ll need. Keep reading for our tips, tricks and best practices for establishing an effective social listening strategy.

  1. Define goals for your social listening strategy:

The first step in your social listening strategy should be to identify specific goals. In other words, what would you like to get out of this process?

Goals not only ensure that your time and resources are not wasted, but they can also lay the foundation for the rest of your strategy; from determining which insights will provide value, to which keywords you should track to find them.

Obviously, the goals you set will differ depending on what’s important to your organization. A good rule of thumb is to correlate your social listening goals with the overall goals of your marketing department – i.e. lead generation, engagement, etc.

Once your goals are set, you’re ready to move on to the next phase: creating a keyword strategy.

  1. Develop a keyword strategy:

Develop a keyword strategy to help you sort meaningful conversations from the rest of the noise happening on social media. There is no exact formula to determine which keywords will serve your efforts best. However, there are a few general ideas that can start you in the right direction:

  • Your brand name, social handles, product/service names, and slogan.
  • Your competitors’ names, product names, slogan, and handles.
  • Popular industry topics and buzzwords.
  • Names of key people in your company and your competitors’ companies (executives, spokespeople, etc.)
  • Campaign names or keywords.
  • Your branded hashtags and those of your competitors.
  • Unbranded hashtags related to your industry.

Hint: If you know that certain keywords are often misspelled, or abbreviated, be sure to include these in your strategy.

Social listening is often a trial and error process. Don’t get discouraged if your first go doesn’t produce exactly the results you were looking for. As you begin to better understand the language your audience uses, your keyword strategy will evolve. The trick is to learn from your mistakes and then fine tune your strategy for success.

  1. Invest in the right tool:

If you haven’t already figured it out, social listening is a pretty involved process. Luckily, there are now a number of different tools marketers can use to improve and ease their efforts. These tools often come with advanced tracking capabilities that not only allow you to listen to customers and track competitors, but are also often able to make tedious tasks, like sorting meaningful data from the noise, much simpler. As an added bonus, many tools can even automate reports to prove ROI of your efforts.

For the most part, these tools will look relatively similar to one another at first glance. However, it is important to note that no two tools are exactly the same. That being said, not every single tool will work for your organization.

For more information on what you should be looking for in a tool, check out these blog posts:


  1. Make it a collaborative effort:

Remember, the impact of social listening extends beyond the social media manager.  The insights you glean can provide value to a slew of other departments, from customer success, to product development, to HR. However, what provides value to your customer success team, may have little meaning to the marketing department.

Think about it this way: Would you trust a marketing team member to take over the customer success phones for the day? Probably not. So, why would you let them provide assistance on social media?

Social listening produces too much diverse information for one person or department to process and handle effectively. To ensure these valuable data points aren’t wasted, it’s important that your organization gets the right individuals involved in the social listening process.

  1. Don’t forget to take action:

Above all, it’s important to remember that social listening is more than simply tracking metrics – it requires you to take action with the information you’ve garnered.

Today’s buyers expect more from organizations than ever before. They aren’t simply looking for a transaction, but an experience. They want to know that the organizations they purchase from don’t just care about their money, but about them as individuals.

When executed effectively, social listening can do just that by signaling to your audience that they’ve been heard. Keeping track of insights is a great start, but until you’ve done something with that information, you aren’t effectively listening.

Contributed by Krysta Williams, Marketing Content Specialist at ZoomInfo. ZoomInfo offers the most accurate and actionable B2B data to help organizations accelerate growth and profitability. The continuously updated database enables sales and marketing teams to execute more effective marketing campaigns and improve sales prospecting efforts.