Two Realities of Social Listening

Realities of Social Listening

Many times, when there is a new product category, the vendors in that category spend a lot of effort and budget trying to define it. For content marketers, this is a golden time of white papers and case studies, where the tender new product category is a huge piece of play dough just waiting to be molded into a hungry marketplace. For potential customers and everyone else, the resulting content overload can be overwhelming and confusing. That seems to be where Social Listening stands today. I have been reading the term a lot, but mostly from vendors who reach me through Twitter and online advertising.

What is Social Listening? For the purposes of this post, we’ll use a simplistic definition – Social Listening refers to tracking trends, topics, or brands across all social media networks. “Listening” for key messages that are relevant to your business and then using that information. In theory, you could do this manually by regularly checking Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, etc and searching for keywords relevant to your business, then compiling and analyzing that data. As you can imagine, many find that to be too time consuming and new tools are now available to automate that work.

Luck for us, Jim Dougherty’s recent post on the Cision Blog entitled 3 Things to Know About Social Listening (That No One Tells You) cuts through a lot of the vendor language and highlights some truths about the new tools that we all need to keep in mind. I have combined his thoughts with some of my own to identify two realities of Social Listening:

Reality 1: Every one is working with the same data set. Let that sink in for a minute… no matter which social listening tool you are working with, there are still only so many tweets, so many Facebook posts, and so many Instagram pics, etc in the world. The data set is the same for everyone. No social listening vendor can sell you new or unique data – they can only sell you on how they interpret that data. Dougherty explains this really well:

In other words, social listening isn’t the product of social data because everyone has access to the same information. Many of the advanced aspects of social listening are interpretative – the data is processed to make it meaningful. For example, a competitive sentiment analysis may assert that customers have a more positive view of a competitor than you. This conclusion is only valid if:

Social customers are a representative sample of the larger set of actual customers

Semantic interpretation of social posts accurately represents the sentiment of these customers

This should terrify you a little bit. You need to trust your social listening algorithms the same way you trust the statistical results of your market research department – with a clear understanding of the methodology and margin of error. It also tells us that not every tool will be right for every industry and every business model. To choose a social listening tool, you will need to understand how each tool interprets data, and most importantly, what information is the most important to your business.

Reality 2: Customer Service stands to benefit the most from social listening. Right now, some social listening vendors are trying to be everything to everyone… reputation management, market research, crisis management, trend tracking, product innovation, and customer service. Dougherty points out that of all the potential end users, social listening can provide the most tangible benefits to the customer service team.

A lot has been written (here and here, for example) about how customers often interact with brands on social media to address a specific issue or question. According to an April 2015 paper by Cognizant:

  • 63% of social users expect companies to offer customer service on social media
  • Inbound user engagement with brands on social networks is growing nine times faster than the social networks themselves

The beauty of using social media for customer service is that each online interaction is as tangible as a call into a customer service center. It can be recorded, filed, analyzed, tracked, etc. And even better, you know when you have made the customer happy – so in theory, it should be a win-win!

Yes, social listening tools will likely be used for a host of different purposes in the future. But if you are just getting started, start with customer service, track your results, and keep your customers happy.

Which tools have you tried? So far, I have signed up for a free trial with Mention, but I haven’t spent a ton of time with it yet. Share your recommendations!


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