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How to Create a Social Media Listening Strategy

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Nov 28, 2016 8:30:00 AM

This is a 14 minute read.

How to Create a Social Media Listening StrategyHave you created a social media listening strategy for your business?

If not, here's perspective on why you should and how to get started.

What is Social Media Listening?

Social listening is more than looking at a few tweets or some Google alerts on a sporadic basis. Rather, it's a systematic approach to monitoring what's being said online on social networks by real people about your company, your brand, your people, and your industry and listening carefully from the perspective of your customers so as to make your business better informed about what matters to them.

You need both monitoring and listening for an effective strategy. That's so you can truly draw insights from what you observe and hear. And, whereas monitoring can be done by those with less experience, listening requires deeper knowledge of your business and industry.

As you develop your strategy, you'll want to make sure you include that higher level of business knowledge on your team, as well as someone nimble and curious who's willing and able to monitor social networks and explore the conversations that happen.

Monitoring sees the trees; listening views the forest.

Social media listening matters people are talking about you. You can't stop them. Ignoring them doesn't mean they won't talking about you. So, even if you don't like what people are saying, it's important to be listening so you can do something about what you hear.

A listening strategy takes into account reviews and complaints. It provides you with context for the solutions you provide and may help you identify thought leaders. Furthermore, 

  • It helps you refine what you know about your buyer personas.
  • It enables you to gather insights.
  • You can validate content ideas for your web pages, blog articles and valuable offers.
  • You have the opportunity to take part in conversations and truly be social.

This is the richness of social networks and beauty of online listening. Talking has always happened. So now, instead of having to physically locate the millions of real-life water cooler conversations taking place, you can monitor and listen virtually based on social conversations.

How to Create a Social Media Listening Strategy?

You'll need to have social accounts set up, including a Twitter account at a minimum. Then, follow these 8 steps.

1. Determine your goal for listening online

As with any business activity, it's important to identify your goal or purpose. Otherwise, how can you determine that the resources spent - which can involve a lot of time - deliver value? How can you evaluate progress and determine what to modify? How can you ensure that the right people are involved and that the right decisions are made?

If your goal is thought-leadership, can you identify someone within the organization with a strong passion and deep knowledge relevant to the industry to participate in outreach?

If it's customer service, do you understand what your current customer service resolution practices are? Have you identified members of the team who can respond quickly if and when they are needed? In the early days of social media, vocal social customers benefited from inconsistent practices because of the lack of coordination between online and offline conversations.

If you're trying to engage with a specific audience, do you have team members with knowledge of the space to become active and lend advice?

Determine your goal for listening online

2. Find relevant conversations online

There are two aspects to finding conversations online. One has to do with where people hang out digitally and the other with the terms that generate relevant conversations.

Where do your constituents hang out online?

  • It's important to figure out where your constituents spend time online. Perhaps this is something you know because of the work you've done developing personas. If you aren't sure, ask your customer facing associates what comes up in their conversations. 
  • When it comes to 'constituents,' don't necessarily only think of customers. Consider all of the groups in the marketplace that are important to your business. This may include suppliers, specifiers as well as influencers and fans. Each group may have different social habits and hangouts.
  • This will vary depending on your business and industry. 

>> Read  Developing Personas for Content Marketing

>> Read The Case for Personas in Business: Connecting With Customers

>> Read How To Develop a Buyer Persona for Content Marketing

If you aren't sure, go and explore and experiment by listening intensely, lurking more than actively participating in social network conversations. 

What are the right conversation or search terms to explore with?

Finding the right conversation terms can be difficult depending on how noisy your industry is.

For example, real estate is noisy with many shout-outs about properties for sale, rather than insightful observations about markets.

Marketing is noisy, too, mostly because there are so many passionate marketers sharing sharing too much valuable content.

On the other hand, (non-profit) causes tend to be findable and consistent in their content topics, making connecting with online constituents more straightforward.

>> See 2015 Social Media Benchmarks Report from HubSpot

To find meaning, you'll need to figure out how to exclude information that isn't helpful, and hone in on what's particularly meaningful to you.

To start with, though, search your category and industry, look for #hashtags and Twitter chats, list important trade shows and professional organizations and list any #hashtags they use. Explore what terms competitors use and be on the lookout for influencers.

>> See What’s A #Hashtag & Why Should You Care About Using Hashtags?

>> See Bathroom Blogfest Twitter Chat: #kbtribechat

>> See Tile Industry at Coverings 2012 via Tweetup, Twitter Chat, Trends

Find relevant conversations online


Search terms range from specific to broad

As you establish your listening strategy baseline, pay attention to the range of terms used. As with search engines, the more specific the social search term (i.e., company or brand names), the more likely it is that those talking about you know you (i.e., customers). The broader the terms (i.e., problem statements, category observations), the less likely the conversation has to do with you and the more insightful it may be about your greater industry.

If you think of the buyer journey or customer lifecycle stages, this makes sense.

>> See Website Content and Your Buyer's Purchase Process

You'll want to create social search streams for both extremes and possibly even some in between, especially if you are in social conversations with new prospects as well as more qualified ones.

Be aware that many terms in social networks have multiple meanings. For example, 'steam' has to do with the vapor form of water, as well as STEM which became STEAM with the addition of Art, steampunk, steam engines, steam ovens, steam showers and even online gaming.

As you discover those other irrelevant meanings for your social listening, keep track of negative terms you can use (e.g., jobs) to refine the search.

3. What to do when you find relevant online conversations?

As you get going with your social media listening strategy, you'll have the opportunity to get further immersed by following the profiles of interesting social voices, perhaps even favoriting their updates and engaging with them by saying 'thank you' or asking a question. Ideally, you'll have fresh content and ideas to contribute in addition to interacting with followers and fans.

In fact, that involvement is what takes a listening strategy to another level, transforming it into a valuable, living, interactive source of insights and perspectives.

As you develop your strategy, determine what you're willing to do.

4. Prepare for the unexpected online

It's really important as part of developing your social listening strategy to do some scenario planning so you know what to do when the unexpected happens. This is the equivalent of PR101 so you are prepared to respond regardless of the situation.

The first is to decide what level of engagement you are willing to do on an ongoing basis. I recommend that you consider doing more than just passively monitor; that allows you to smoothly take action if necessary.

Although there have been plenty of headlines touting horror stories (e.g., 12 Shocking Social Media Horror Stories), you'll find far more success stories (e.g., 10 Top Social Media Marketing Success Stories) and feel good stories (10 Times Social Media Made the World Better in 2014) happening. That said, it's important to be ready for the worst in case it happens - for example, Internet trolls or others who aren't reasonable, especially when it's a full moon.

Remember what your goals are. If there's a chance that customer service issues can come up on social networks, then include your customer service associates in your strategy development so the listening teams knows how to respond and take the conversation offline and direct it to the experts.  

Here's how the AirForce visually depicted in a flow chart how to respond to blog comments back in 2008. Imagine creating something as visual and easy to share internally as this chart.

>> See The US Air Force: Armed with social media

5. Can you involve others in your organization in your social media listening?

When you think how every person in your organization is an ambassador for your brand and your business and regularly interacts with people via his or her own social networks offline and online, why not involve all of them socially and digitally on your company's behalf?

It's more social for everyone, it makes your business more nimble and it offers you better insights.

If you're concerned about how to ensure everyone represents your company, consider including in your code of conduct social media guidelines that you review regularly with employees. It sets the stage for discussions, how to refer to customers, permissions needed, etc.

For an excellent example, see what IBM developed back in 2005.

>> See How Do I Start With Social Media Guidelines?

6. Establish a listening process

Next, you want to establish a process for your listening.

Decide on search terms to get started with, ideally single words or tight combinations of words.

Conduct general searches to identify influencers to follow and relevant #hashtags.

Create search streams to monitor those influencers and #hashtags, as well as Twitter lists - either public or private. Depending on the tool you use, you may even be able to easily monitor prospects and customers.

Develop a schedule for regular monitoring, interaction, content sharing, and to acknowledge new followers.

7. Identify tools for listening and monitoring social conversations online

Identify tools for listening and monitoring social conversations online

When you get started with your strategy, you'll want explore the individual social networks directly so you get a feel for how each differs from the other. This also provides you with perspective on the dynamics of the individual network, how people interact with one another, what the rhythm of the interactions is, whether there are special terms or ways of communicating, ... 

Look at groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, check Google+, Instagram and Pinterest, the question-based social network, Quora, YouTube and any others that might be relevant to your business.

>> See Social Listening and Trend Gazing: What Pinterest Offers

In many ways, each network is akin to visiting a foreign country; before immersing yourself completely, you want to get a feel for the lay of the land.

In addition, you'll want to use some general social search tools to research your terms and identify people, terms and hashtags of possible interest.

  • For example, Social Mention and Twazzup, and FollowerWonk to search through Twitter bios.
  • To search specifically for hashtags, explore Tagboard which is very visual and looks across several networks (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google+...).
  • It's a good idea to check Board Reader in case some of your constituents are active in forums.

Twitter Chats can be a gold mine of valuable insights, and invaluable opportunities to connect with influencers and others who care passionately about the topics being discussed. Be sure to check through the Twitter Chat Schedule in case a chat relevant to your business exists.

Tools to Make Social Listening More Efficient

Be sure to calibrate your results from one search tool to another. This will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each one.

As you get more sophisticated and knowledgeable, you will want to evaluate paid tools that make listening and monitoring more efficient. My favorite is HubSpot's Social Monitoring Tool. I also use Hootsuite.

If you are looking for a social CRM, try Nimble.

A calendar makes social listening more efficient

Bonus Tip: Check Social Referrals in Google Analytics 

As you do your research, don't forget to regularly check your website analytics social referrals. It's both confirmation and validation that what you are doing with your social networks is generating results and traffic to your website.

  • Check that you recognize the networks generating traffic
  • Review how qualified the traffic is (i.e., bounce rate, time on site, pageviews...)
  • Integrate that information into your social listening strategy 

Bonus Tip: Benchmark Your Business in Google Search

Be sure to review what listings come up in a Google search on your business name. If you notice directly listings, check them out; claim them if you haven't already, add relevant information about your business. 

If review sites appear (e.g., Yelp, Google+ Local/Google My Business) with reviews, look them over. Acknowledge them publicly or privately depending on the network, get to the bottom of bad reviews, and start to encourage customers to leave reviews.

>> See Get Found Online Locally Using Google Places

Although not purely social listening, if you don't take care of this, you may get blind-sided. 

8. Develop a routine for your social media listening strategy

Ideally, you will want to develop a daily routine and schedule to regularly monitor, observe, listen, participate. Planning for this means that you show up regularly and consistently as you would in real life for networking and interaction. 

Here is the presentation on social media listening shared during DigitalSummit FocusOn: Social Media (see Whittemore Discusses Social Media Listening Strategies During DigitalSummit Virtual Event).


Cool Social Media Listening Resources

These are articles I've come across that discuss listening and monitoring on social media:

About Strategy


About Social Listening and Monitoring Tools


Have you developed a social media listening strategy? How has it helped you? Which tools do you find most valuable? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

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Topics: B2B Social Media, How Do I Get Started?, hashtags

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