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Nov 26

Tips to Use Social Listening to Drive Business Goals, Plus 11 Free (or nearly free) Listening Tools

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Last week I had the opportunity to present at SMX Social Media Marketing Conference in Las Vegas. Honestly, it was a bit surreal to me to present on social listening because several years ago I worked as a contractor on an analytics and reporting team, which was my first exposure to social listening. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know the tool and I was overwhelmed by all of the data I needed to sift through and distill down to insights. I don’t think I was very good at it back then and I’d be scared to look back at those early reports.

But even then, I understood the value and importance of social listening. I was grateful for the opportunity I had to start learning more. I continued my education over the years and now I’m often the most knowledgeable person about social listening on my team. I’ve worked on numerous tools, evaluated tools for enterprise clients and I can build a query like a rock star! Okay, just kidding. I don’t think rock stars build queries. J Point is, I’ve come a long way, but I still remember that feeling of being overwhelmed. So I was thrilled to present at SMX and maybe help others who are feeling that way.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” But with social media, people are saying it and you CAN be in the room – if you take advantage of listening. People are talking. They’re talking about your brand, your products, your competitors and your industry. They’re talking about what they like, what they don’t like and even shedding light on their pain points. Are you taking advantage of these conversations and using it to better your company and your products?

The information you get from social listening can be helpful to more than just the marketing team. There are so many benefits that reach across your company.

  • Customer support and retention- listen to any issues customers are having with your products so you can solve those issues and be proactive with other customers
  • Competitive analysis – Social listening can give you a view into what your competitors are doing, and how well it’s working. You can find out what people like or dislike about your competition and take that knowledge to improve your own brand.
  • Product development – Are people asking for a new product, new feature or modification to your current offering?
  • Content marketing – Listen to how people talk about your company and the words they use. You can create content that answers frequently asked questions. You can also use the words your audience uses about your brand to create a stronger connection.
  • identify influencers and advocates – Listening can help you identify the people who love your brand and are already talking about you. You can build a relationship with them and empower them to be your brand advocate.
  • Market research – Social media can be a big focus group. Find out what people really think about your industry, marketing, products and services.
  • Crisis management – This is where most businesses focus their social listening efforts, just to make sure they know if there is a crisis brewing. However, in order to have this goal and be effective, you need to have a strong social listening tool and/or process in place. In order to keep something from becoming a full-blown crisis you have to act quickly. That won’t happen if you aren’t listening consistently and have a way to sift through all the noise.
  • Sales support – many brands want to use social listening in order to identify purchase signals and then go in for the kill. There are ways for brands to effectively engage someone who mentions they’re in the market to purchase, but it has to be done carefully and in a very human way. This can’t be robotic or automated. Social listening can also give your sales team great insights on potential customers pain points.
  • Monitor sentiment – With social listening you can get a sense of whether people like your brand or not. You might also find out why they feel that way, which is likely more useful information. However, I have a caveat on this. I’m not a fan of pretty much any automated sentiment analysis. Every tools says they do it, but in my experience no one does it well nor do they rate a high percentage of posts. I recommend doing sentiment analysis manually, at least with a sampling of posts.

Social listening can help many areas of your company reach their department goals. All of this can help drive your overall business goals.

  • Increase revenue – from gaining new customers, retaining customers, creating new products and services
  • Reduce customer service calls – solving issues on social media, creating content that proactively answers questions, fixing the issue
  • Improve products and services – better fit the needs of your customers and the market
  • Influence public opinion – In order to shift people’s thinking, you first need to know what they think

Before you start listening, think about what business goals you want to drive. Knowing this will help determine how you should set up and manage your listening efforts.

If you aren’t doing listening yet, you have to start somewhere. Most businesses don’t want to drop a bunch of cash on a tool right away. So, to get you going, here are a few free, or nearly free, tools:

However, you get what you pay for, as they say. Free isn’t really free. You have to spend more time pulling data, sifting through it and making sense of it. And there is a lot of noise to sort through. Half of the business data out there today was created in the last 2 years. Spending hours going through all of this with free tools might not be the most efficient use of your social or marketing team’s time.

There are many tools that can help you make sense of the noise on an ongoing, consistent basis, but they do cost money. However, as your efforts mature and grow, I recommend using a more advanced tool. Just make sure you do your research and find the right tool for you and your needs. Some things to consider:

  • What is your goal(s) with listening?
  • What your budget?
  • What are your ‘must haves’ for a tool?
  • Do you have an employee or employees who can manage listening? Do they already have experience?

One thing I find crucial when looking at a social listening tool is customer support and training from the vendor.

Yes, social listening can seem overwhelming. But if you educated yourself and arm yourself with the right tools, you have access to valuable information that can help you achieve your business goals.

2 comments

  1. Hannah

    Great post and very well written! I am going to check out a few of the tools you’ve mentioned right now. Thanks! In regards to your questions, my goal with social listening is to find common pain points from my prospects and customers. Budget is anything under $60 per month and MUST HAVE is an easy to use interface. Not so relative but for example, Sprout Social has an awesome interface which sold me right away.

    1. Karianne Stinson

      Thanks, Hannah, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Sprout Social is a great tool, especially when you’re on a budget. I didn’t find their listening to be robust enough for my needs, but listening is a tough one to get on a small budget. It depends on if you want to listen to the whole internet, or just what people are saying directly to you on social media.

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