Social Listening - How and Why?

Social listening is more than just googling your brand name to see what's been said about you. In fact, social listening is a more active approach to social monitoring. Being aware that you're being talked about online is useless nowadays - what matters is knowing what those social conversations around your brand are, where they reside, what's causing them, who's influencing them (believe it or not, you're not the influencer!).

Now, social listening can be about anything - ideally you'd like to have a regular report around your brand and what you do, just as a 'health-check' report. Besides that, you can also have social listening reports on your competitors, on your new products and services, or perhaps on your latest PR disaster - you choose the subject, but your audience chooses what's being said.

Think About Your Audience

Once you've identified the subject of your listening, the first step in doing Social Listening is this - think about your audience. This involves some research on your part. To do that, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Where is your audience?
  • How does your audience talk about you?

Where is your audience?

Identifying the location of your audience is mainly so you're fishing where the fish are. If you're a consumer brand, there's a big chance that people are talking about you on forums, big or small (look out for MoneySavingExpert and the like). If you're a telecom brand, then on top of forums you'll also be talked about on comparison websites, such as If you're an agency, perhaps you'll be mentioned in LinkedIn groups and other professional groups on and Eventbrite. You'll need a tool specifically built to listen for mentions of your brand on the web (not just a search engine). Some great tols you could use are:

  • Synthesio
  • Radian 6
  • Brandwatch
  • Sysomos
  • Crimson Hexagon

To see which tool works best for you, check out G2Crowd, a great corporate tool comparison website (it's free to use and you have unbiased reviews from the people who have used those tools).

How does your audience talk about you?

Ask yourself this question - how would you talk about a brand? Sometimes you'll do so directly, mentioning the brand, perhaps to draw their attention. Other times, you'll mention the brand indirectly, maybe just to voice a quick opinion. You need to keep this in mind when you're thinking about what keywords to use in your search parameters.

Next Step: Listening

Now that you've found where your audience is and how they talk about you, it's time to listen to those mentions.

Most tools require you to input a search string in Boolean language, using logical operators such as AND, OR, and NOT.

  • For direct mentions on Twitter, a search string like (BrandNameOnTwitter) will be ok to begin with;
  • For all mentions, regardless of whether direct or indirect and regardless of source (e.g. Social platform, mainstream news), use your brand name, usernames on social profiles, and variations of it. So, for instance, if your brand is British Telecom, consider using the "BT" abbreviation and "britishtelecom" as the hashtag. Include abbreviations, common misspellings of your brand, and if your brand consists of two words, consider using the brand name as one name without spaces, as that's how it'll be referred to if used in a hashtag.
    • If your brand name can be easily used in other connotations, weed out unnecessary mentions using the NOT operator. This is useful if your brand name is Virgin (e.g. Virgin NOT (hair OR sex)...), Orange (e.g. Orange NOT (fruit OR colour)...), Apple (e.g. Apple NOT (fruit)...), or use the AND operator to link theb brand name to terms that will only bring mentions related to it, unequivocably (e.g. Apple AND (phone OR iphone OR ipad)).

The Problem with Links

While you might be listening to verbatim that mention you directly or indirectly, you also need to listen to verbatim about you that don't mention you at all. A perfect example is a link to your site - oftentimes, people who share links pointing to your site won't even mention you. An example is a tweet like "check out this great article: link". It could be a link pointing to your blog, but your blog or brand aren't mentioned in the post, just a link to it.

Most social listening tools are great at finding mentions based on what you feed it with Boolean searches, but most of them aren't programmed to search for links to your blog or, even better, your blog's domain.

Surprisingly enough, there are quite a few free tools that let you find links to your domain. TweetDeck, HootSuite and TweetBinder are two examples of really great free tools that can give you just that - mentions of your domain.

URL Search vs. Domain Search

What you're looking for are links to your domain, not just a URL. If you search for a URL, you'll only find people who have mentioned that specific page; on the other hand, if you search for your domain (or subdomain if you wish), you'll find all posts that contain links to anywhere within your site, even links that have been shortened with services like and (the HootSuite default).

I've Listened - Now What Do I Do?

While social listening is important, the mentions (or verbatim, as some tools call it) you get out of it is useless if you don't do anything about it. In fact, social listening gives you the dots that human intervention needs to connect.

Once you have your mentions you can take one of the following 3 actions:

  • Respond: respond to those mentions on that platform; so, for instance, if it's a customer service query, let your customer service reply to those queries, taking that proactive approach instead of waiting for people to ask you questions directly. You don't have to have an answer ready - saying that you'll get back to them as soon as you get the answer is better than ignoring that mention altogether only because you're not sure what the answer is.
  • Act up: whether it's feedback on your products and services, or a complaint on usability of your website or application, when you put social listening as part of your brand strategy you'll soon find that change is customer-driven. Maybe you need to make changes to your product, maybe you need to start taking a different approach to your application or business in general - it's your responsibility to determine the gravity and volume of such mentions, and whether they need you to take actions as a consequence.
  • Archive: some mentions don't require immediate response or a direct action, in which case it's best to archive those mentions. Don't ignore those mentions - you might need them in the future when you least expect it.

One last word of advice - getting stuck doing several reports on social listening is very, very easy. However, make sure that those reports are relevant and actionable. Be balanced in the time you spend doing your social listening - you shouldn't spend more time doing social listening reports than the time you spend taking actions from such reports.

APT and the #APTtweetup

Reach, Audience and Impressions - on Twitter and Beyond

Reach, Audience and Impressions - on Twitter and Beyond