If you’re a small business owner, you’ve probably heard that social media is one of the easiest ways for finding and connecting with fans, followers, and new customers online, but to be honest, that’s way easier said than done. And if you’re a social media manager, you know that you’re supposed to do “social media listening” as an effective way to monitor and analyze online conversations about a brand, industry, or topic.
Social listening is a branch on the competitive analysis tree, sometimes called white space analysis, or a gap analysis, where the intention is to get a lay of the land, see what “the other guys” are doing, and see if there’s any ideas worth using for your own business.
Doing this type of listening can provide businesses with valuable insights into customer sentiment, preferences, and behaviors, which can be used to inform strategic business decisions – but there’s a lot of bad advice out there for how to do it simply and ensure it’s a good use of your valuable time!
A lot of brands will look to track important keywords and topics like:
• Your brand's name, social media handles, slogans, taglines
• The names of your products
• Names of key people in your company
• News and words related to your competitors
• And popular, buzzy words related to your industry, at large
And with this intel, businesses can:
• Find out more about their audience
• Identify and assess what is being said about a company, individual, product, or brand on the Internet
• Uncover not only what customers think but why they think it
• Take a pulse on what's new in the industry to inform what would make good content
• Keep an eye on their competitors' products, audiences, and marketing tactics
And this is all super helpful data to have on hand to make data-driven decisions! But here’s the sneaky thing about that particular buzzword, data-driven decisions: The snobby side of marketing wants you to believe that if you can’t collect the cleanest, crispest, most reliable, triple distilled, reverse osmosis, sourced from the Swiss Alps data, then it can’t be trusted and you can’t make good decisions for your business.
For the scrappy founder and savvy social media manager, here’s a few strategies that don’t require fancy tools that will still deliver a LOT of helpful, actionable data about the ideal target persona for your business.
5 Social Media Listening Strategies That Don’t Require Fancy Tools
There are plentyyyyy of places you can go online that are ripe with customer insights that won’t cost you a fortune and can deliver the goods when it comes to learning more about your customer and industry.
• Prompt for active engagement: Straight up encourage your followers to share their thoughts and experiences. The more they engage, the more data you gather.
• Question prompts: Sometimes we call these “Comment Poppers,” where we use posts with specific questions to guide the conversation and reveal insights into customer preferences and pain points.
• Feedback reviews: Keep an ongoing document or spreadsheet tracking comments, reviews, and feedback so you can analyze people’s comments for common themes or recurring feedback to identify areas for improvement or potential opportunities
• Surveys and polls: Send out surveys or polls with targeted questions to gather detailed insights from the list you’ve worked so hard to build up. Polls are also built into a bunch of the platforms themselves these days: Stories on IG, and Polls on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok.
• Email analytics: No matter what platform you’re on, look at open rates and click-through rates to gauge interest in various topics or products, helping tailor future content, via email and otherwise.
• Customer stories: Invite subscribers to share their stories or experiences with your brand, providing a wealth of qualitative data. The single most responded to email I’ve ever sent was one with the subject line, “Check In 💚” and the simple message, “How are you? How can I support you? Do you want to see free trainings on recession-proofing your business? Chats on how to positively impact the causes you care about with your brand? Both? Something else? Hit reply and let me know.”
Your competitors comment section
• Trend spotting: See what their customers praise or complain about, and see if there's a gap your brand can fill.
• Engagement analysis: What lights up their comment sections the most? Note how competitors interact with their audience on these posts, note the type of content itself that generates the most engagement.
• Stan the brand: Does the competition have super-fans that stand up and deliver enthusiasm, wisdom, or helpful info on behalf of the brand? How do they do it? What words are they using?
Aspirational industry leaders comments section
• Benchmarking: Compare the conversations happening around industry leaders with your own to set comparative benchmarks for engagement and sentiment.
• Innovation clues: Industry leaders, influencers, and big personalities often set trends. Their comments sections can hint at emerging trends, customer expectations, and reactions to the new- new.
• Reputation management: Note how leaders handle their social media interactions for insights into effective communication and engagement strategies. When shit blows up, the comment section can either be a masterclass or a monstrosity for handling delicate customer issues.
Aligned influencer comment section
Fancy social media listening tools that you don’t need, but might want
Unless you’re Coca Cola, the NFL, Nike, or some other humongous company, you probably don’t need an enterprise-level tool to tune in online to find out what your customers are doing, talking about, and feeling online.
Their answer to the data dilemma? Fancy (read expensive) reporting and social media listening tools.
That being said, here’s a handful of tools that are all well reviewed, offer a lot of bells and whistles, most of which you don’t need.
A true 800 pound gorilla in the industry, Hootsuite lets you set up custom feeds (Streams) that alert you when someone mentions your brand name, username, or the hashtags and keywords you specify, can monitor and respond to conversations or mentions directly from the Hootsuite platform, track keywords, hashtags, and phrases, and set up notifications for new mentions or conversations related to your brand.
There’s a million tools inside Sprout Social, which all have slightly different, and super esoteric uses. You can listen in to conversations across platforms, analyze sentiment, uncover trends, get a comprehensive view of keywords, hashtags, brands, industries, and even multimedia content.
Used by a lot of agencies, Mention is a social listening and media monitoring solution that helps brands and agencies understand audience perception across social media and the web.
BuzzSumo is a content discovery tool that can be used for social media listening. It can track mentions and trends across social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and more. BuzzSumo can also track competitors, influencers, brand mentions, and industry updates.
SparkToro is an audience intelligence platform that can supplement information gained from social listening. It searches thousands of social media accounts, websites, podcasts, and other channels to find out where your audience is and classify the accounts in terms of which one is the most influential.
5 more rapid fire ideas for simple social media listening