If you’re marketing your business on Twitter or Instagram, you know there’s more to a successful social media campaign than likes and shares. You’re always looking for ways to target your audience more effectively. While you might be using analytical tools to monitor your brand mentions and measure the engagement on individual posts, you’re probably not seeing the whole picture.

Imagine you come down with a bad cold. Your head is stuffy, your throat feels like sandpaper, and you’re reaching for so many tissues, you wish you’d bought stock in Kleenex. A shot of Nyquil and a few cough drops make you feel slightly better, but all you can do is treat the symptoms until your body fights off the infection. In retrospect, it would’ve been a good idea to eat a healthy diet, take a supplement to boost your immune system, and wash your hands more often to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Monitoring social media is a lot like trying to treat the symptoms of sickly business practices. You can reduce the impact of individual customer complaints by responding to them promptly, and you can attempt to recover sales by making changes to your products based on bad reviews. However, you’re spending time and money to address problems you could have prevented.

Hubspot defines social listening as “the monitoring of your brand's social media channels for any customer feedback and direct mentions of your brand or discussions regarding specific keywords, topics, competitors, or industries, followed by an analysis to gain insights and act on those opportunities.” Social listening differs from social monitoring in that you’re analyzing data to find the root cause of the conversation and create a long-term action plan. 

Like the cold germs lurking on a doorknob, much of the conversation surrounding your brand is invisible if you don’t have the tools to identify it. Adespresso cites a study revealing the “96 percent problem.” 96 percent of consumers talking about your brand don’t follow your social media accounts, 96 percent of relevant conversation occurs outside official brand accounts, 96 percent of brand mentions go unnoticed because they’re untagged, and 96 percent of the online conversation related to your industry or niche doesn’t mention brands at all. 

Listening to the larger conversation is vital product research. For example, if you sell swimwear and notice your customers are complaining about the lack of waterproof fitness trackers, you can boost sales by adding a pool-friendly tracker to your online store. If one of your competitors sells a waterproof tracker but their customers rate it poorly because it only works in shallow water, you might get ahead of the game by inventing a more reliable aquatic model even deep-sea divers can use. 

Tools like TalkWalker have visual listening options you can use to find image-only brand mentions or related photos. If you sell rubber mats for warehouses, for example, and see a Pinterest DIY tutorial about turning a mat into an interactive dog toy, use it to tap into a new, lucrative market of pet lovers. 

One way to evaluate your overall brand health is through sentiment analysis. NetBase is a social analytics service that measures “Net Sentiment,” a score of positive consumer emotions minus negative emotions, and “Passion Intensity,” the strength of those positive or negative emotions. “Passion Intensity” is particularly important because consumers who love or hate your brand the most intensely tend to be the most vocal on social media.

NetBase measures not only your typical brand sentiment but also changes in consumer reactions following a particular post or event. For example, when two African-American men were arrested for trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend, the company’s Net Sentiment dropped by 69 percent. 

Keywords and phrases such as “racism at the ugliest level” and “issue apology” were the largest drivers of negative conversation, while “do better” and “implement more training” generated positive sentiment. The conversation demonstrated that addressing the problem as an isolated incident would have been insufficient, but consumers approved of Starbucks’ decision to close stores across the country to conduct employee training on racial bias. 

Business News Daily recommends using social listening tools to observe how your audience behaves on various social channels. For example, you might notice your customers engage more with infographics than lengthy blog posts, or they comment on short videos but scroll past longer videos interrupted by ads. You’ll know to make your content short, sweet, and visually appealing.

Listening in on conversations will also give you insight into the language your audience uses and how you can communicate with them more effectively. You might discover your audience is not as technically minded as you assumed, so you should avoid using industry jargon when responding to their questions and comments. If your audience is using or following certain hashtags, create content related to those topics.

How has social listening improved the precision of your marketing? Let us know in the comments.

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