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Guide | What is social media listening & why is it important?

Guide | What is social media listening & why is it important?

If you don’t listen to consumers, why should they listen to you? You won’t hear about consumers’ pain points. You'll ignore requests for help. You’ll miss feedback on your products. You’ll be out of the industry loop. If you don’t listen, you won’t know what's going on. This social listening guide is going to show you how to hear...

Try the best social listening tool!

As a consumer, I have some words of wisdom to share with brands. If I have a problem with your product – I won’t email and be ignored, nor phone and join a queue – I’ll leap onto the social media stage with my megaphone. Once on that stage - with my global audience waiting – I will share my opinion of your brand and lack of customer service.

Seriously, it’s time to shut up and start listening.

Talkwalker's virality map - social listening guide

Totino’s teams up with Call of Duty franchise press.
Talkwalker social listening virality map - how the PR spread off and online.

You're going to need a social media listening strategy. This social listening guide will walk you through all you need to do - what it is, what it can bring to your brand and business, and how to do it.

Expert opinions of our social listening guide

Lilach Bullock
"If you’re using social media marketing, but you’re not listening to your audience - it’s time to start. In this extremely in-depth guide, you’ll learn what social media listening is, why you should be listening to your audience and exactly how to it. And if there’s anyone who knows their stuff when it comes to social listening, it’s definitely Talkwalker!" Lilach Bullock | Lead Conversion Expert, Speaker, Social Media Specialist |
"Thanks to social media listening tools like Talkwalker, I’m able to get an edge on my competitors (by addressing their customers' pain points), find conversations about my industry/brand (based on keywords) and join in on that conversation, as well as capitalise on mentions of my brand by reaching out to those influencers and people who are talking about it and asking them to link to me, improving my rankings in Google and driving valuable referral traffic. Social listening helps me to build valuable relationships with people who are interested in what I do." Gareth Daine | Content Marketer & SEO, Specialising in Content Promotion Strategies |
Gareth Daine

Table of contents

1. What is social media listening?
2. Social media listening vs social media monitoring
3. Why is social media listening important?
4. How to use social media listening?
5. How social listening will drive your business advantage
6. What are social media listening tools?
7. Social listening tool features
8. What sites & social networks can I monitor?
9. Best social media listening tools
10. Brands using social media listening
11. Are you listening? Are you really listening?

1. What is social media listening?

Social media listening is about finding and tracking online conversations. Conversations around keywords, phrases, and events. Conversations about your brand and business, about your industry, and about your competitors. Listening to conversations will help you find patterns and trends you can use to your advantage.

It’s that simple.

Social listening began as an early warning system for communication teams, looking to avoid a crisis. Marketing quickly recognized the significance of social listening and began using social listening tools to pull out insights that would improve their marketing campaigns and find new ways to outreach and engage with consumers.

Customer service/support teams followed and the full potential of social listening was realized.

67% of customers use social media for customer care. Rather than grabbing the phone, they’ll post questions, opinions, recommendations, and complaints on the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

For marketers, monitoring this information will reveal new opportunities. Finding the words and phrases that consumers are using means content can be written that’ll resonate and talk their language. Brands can join conversations, and because they’ve listened, they can provide real help and advice, rather than thinly disguised sales messages. Brand visibility will improve, trust will increase, and this will lead to an increase in qualified leads.

2. Social media listening vs social media monitoring

Social media listening is often called social media monitoring - but, they’re not the same. I’m not going to waste words with an explanation, this expert’s description is perfect.

“Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.”
Dan Neely, CEO of Networked Insights

Okay, so I can’t resist… monitoring is the first step of a social listening strategy. You’re gathering all your social mentions and actions, i.e., likes, volume of buzz, sentiment, share of voice, shares, retweets, etc.

If you use social listening, you can identify and analyze. You’ll be able to look for patterns, track sentiment, analyze the individual comments, identify influencers, and view overall themes that are driving results.

3. Why is social media listening important?

Social media listening is not to be taken lightly, it’s more than checking your notifications every five minutes and monitoring your @mentions.

And, take note... 30% of tweets that mention a brand, neglect to use the brand’s Twitter handle. They forget or don’t bother to include the @ symbol. Bravo... you’ve been diligently checking your @mentions, whilst you let 30% of possible engagement opportunities slip through your fingers.

Don’t jump to the conclusion that consumers aren’t using your Twitter handle on purpose. They're not necessarily ignoring you. Plus, some consumers have fat fingers and will misstype your brand name. Brand name misspelled, consumers will still expect you to respond. Best track those spelling variations.

Hey, life’s not fair and consumers make up their own rules.

But beyond making sure you’re catching all mentions of your brand, think in terms of customer service, influencers, and performance opportunities for your brand.

Improve customer service – turning negative situations into positive

Your brand, products, and services are what count when it comes to social listening for customer service. You have to be aware of each time a consumer mentions your brand, and respond quickly. For example, on Twitter, 60% of customers expect brands to respond to their queries within an hour. The same study shows that a friendly customer service, could encourage 76% of customers to recommend a brand.

Oracle found that 43% of consumers interact with brands on social media. They’re looking for a direct response to a problem or question. Hard as it was in the past to track customer complaints, social listening tools mean that companies can now find these interactions and become more involved in the customer experience.

  • The survey also found that...
  • 31% of consumers interact with brands on social to gain direct access to customer services and product experts
  • 81% of Twitter users expect a same-day response to questions and complaints
  • 3% expect an answer within 30 minutes
  • 29% of consumers on Facebook expect a response within two hours when they ask a question

You really need to start listening!

Having a social media listening strategy will ensure that you don’t miss these attempts at interaction, that you can help existing customers whilst winning new ones.

A social media listening tool will track mentions of your brand, your product, your competitors, and your industry. You’ll learn what your target audience likes and dislikes.

Make sure you track all the variations of your brand name, with and without the @symbol, along with common misspellings, e.g. talkwaler, talkwater, tallwalker. Cover all your bases and you’ll never miss an opportunity to engage with a consumer.

Identifying influencers

Why are influencers so vital to your brand?

Simple as that, influencers’ opinions are highly rated, consumers listen to them. You need these guys on your side, talking about your brand and products - so engage with them.

Track hashtags, keywords, & phrases

Working on a new campaign? Find the best hashtags, keywords, and phrases to write better content. A social listening tool will also monitor all that’s being said about your campaign.

talkwalker statistics hashtag tracking  - social listening guide

Use social listening to find the best hashtags, keywords, and phrases to target your marketing content.

You can also track phrases and find potential consumer pain points. For instance, you could track the phrase, “brand X isn’t working”, and be notified if it appears. You’ll then be able to address the issue immediately.

A fast response demonstrates that you’re looking out for consumers, you’ve got their back.

Real-time feedback & business opportunities

Using social listening tools, you’ll have access to real-time feedback which will help to improve business processes and product development.

Rresearch company Clutch's - Why Businesses Should Perform Social Listening: 2017 Survey - states that 25% of respondents say the biggest benefit of social listening is to improve products and services.

Hilton Hotels listens to customers on Twitter: they track phrases like “where should I go on my next vacation”, and then respond directly with suggestions, dropping links to their destinations.

4. How to use social listening

Set your goals!

First up, decide your objectives. What do you want to get out of social listening? Set the terms to be monitored. These should include...

  • Mentions of your brand, products, services
  • Mentions of your brand or product, along with service-related words such as: not working, failure, help
  • Recognized phrases or criticism

Goals could include:

  • Improving your customer service
  • Identifying influencers
  • Improving hashtags and keywords
  • Managing online products and services by listening to real-time feedback

Going beyond vanity metrics

Social media listening IS NOT about tracking vanity metrics. Of course, it’s important to monitor your likes, shares, followers, downloads, and views – but that’s not social listening.

Social listening IS about monitoring keywords and phrases, products, and conversations about your brand, across websites, blogs, news sites, review sites, Q&A forums and social media networks.

You’re listening to consumers, your industry, and your competitors. You’ll discover how users feel with AI-powered sentiment analysis and you’ll hear what they’re saying. You then need to demonstrate that you’re listening by adding value in your responses.

Create alerts that track terms relevant to your brand. For instance, if you receive an alert notifying you of a question on Quora containing one of your keywords, you can publish an answer that links them to one of your resources. Your brand will demonstrate that it’s customer-oriented. Bonus point, you’ll have identified that people are confused about something related to your industry so you can then create additional content and target this audience segment.

5. How social listening will drive your business advantage

The stats and insights collected by social listening tools will help your company evaluate its activities and feed your overall social media strategy.

Audience segmentation and influencer analysis will identify the highest potential markets and groups to target. Insights will include the best time periods for engagement, stats about share, sentiment, reach, and impact. Tracking these insights means you can judge brand visibility and perception before and after your campaigns, so you can evaluate their effectiveness and adjust for future campaigns. You’ll also be able to identify trends and product development ideas.

Leading conversations & crisis management

There’re no two ways around it, you have to respond to questions and complaints; and, it has to be fast. By responding, you’re demonstrating to a global audience that your company is attentive to consumer needs, that you care about your customers and want to help. Brands should be prepared to tackle issues, put out fires. You can prepare statements in advance, but avoid automated responses – no one wants to talk to a robot.

Analysis of past performance

Before spending thousands on your latest promoted tweet, look at past stats, at the ROI on previous marketing campaigns. Your new campaign can be fine-tuned according to what worked and what didn’t.

Competitive benchmarking

Don’t restrict your listening to consumers, you should listen to what your competitors are talking about, and what’s being said about them by their customers. Are their marketing campaigns doing better than yours? Why? Consumers like your products, but they love those of your competitors. Why? Listen!

Crowdsourcing for better product development

Listen in real-time to what’s being said about your business and your products. Do consumers like them, use them, do they recommend them? Are they talking about ways they could be improved, products they’d like to see your brand implement? Jump into these conversations and don’t just sell - ask questions, engage.

Finding influencers

Consumers listen to influencers, they trust them. You can identify these brand advocates with social listening tools. How many followers they have, the metrics behind their engagement including likes, comments, and retweets. Engage with these influencers and build relationships.

talkwalker statistics top influencers - social listening guide

Talkwalker social listening tool - identifying influencers.

6. What are social media listening tools?

Social media listening tools identify all that’s being said about a company, individual, product, or brand on the Internet. They capture online conversations based on specific search queries and provide key insights through the analysis of those conversations.

All the conversations on the Internet produce huge amounts of unstructured data. That’s to say, data that isn’t held in a database or some type of data structure. The data can be textual or non-textual. Because there’s so much data, it’s imperative that goals are set before starting your social listening strategy. Depending on your goal, the best option might be a free tool like Talkwalker Alerts, or you could pay for a tool that provides a business intelligence process designed to answer specific questions.

Talkwalker Alerts - social listening guide

Talkwalker Alerts - social media listening tool.

7. Social listening tool features

You have to define your goals before you begin a social media listening initiative. Only once you’ve set your goals, should you make your choice. Take a look at these key features. They’re the vital components that make up the perfect social media listening tool.

Data coverage

Encompass your entire social presence online, in multiple languages, whether textual or with image recognition/visual listening.

Every day over one billion images are posted online and social networks, of these, 80% make no mention of brand names in the content. Most monitoring tools on the market simply scan the content published online, which means you’re missing all those images referencing your brand. The Talkwalker platform has fully integrated visual listening. Key features include a database of 30,000+ brand logos, along with scenery and objects, the ability to add logos, and AI-powered technology that learns over time.

image recognition user generated content - social listening guide

Talkwalker social media listening - image recognition.

Data latency – receive data in real-time. Not near-time, not some-time, but real-time. As previously mentioned, 60% of customers on Twitter expect a brand to respond to their queries within an hour. 76% of users are likely to recommend a brand if they’ve received friendly customer service on Twitter. If you were unhappy with a product and posted a question to the brand, how long would you be prepared to wait?

For crisis management, only a real-time social listening tool is worth considering. To stop a crisis escalating, it has to be identified and dealt with immediately.


Talkwalker Alerts (similar to Google Alerts, but in my humble and biased opinion, superior), will notify you by email when one of your search terms appears online. Whether on social media, a website, a blog post, news feed, or review site. You can also upgrade and create a report of your alerts which can be downloaded as HTML, Word, PPT, or PDF – and share across your company.

quick alert creation Talkwalker - social listening guide

Talkwalker Alerts - social media listening.

Automated reporting functions

Easily and quickly export data into downloadable reports to share across your enterprise.

API – the Talkwalker API allows you to integrate data streams into your CRM, business intelligence, or a custom-made solution. Plus, image recognition technology, intelligent alerts for crisis management, and enhanced sentiment analysis.

Sentiment analysis

Multiple languages, view results by country, language, or media type.

talkwalker statistics sentiment analysis - social listening guide

Talkwalker sentiment analysis social listening tool.

Influencer tracking and analysis

Filter results by country, language, media, reach, engagement rate, number of posts, and sentiment. Which hashtags they’re using, which channels they’re being picked up by. Team it up with a virality map and find the viral reach.

Trend analysis and historical data coverage

AI-powered social listening tools to detect trends. Trending score and trend prediction graphs so you know the ideal moment to jump on a trend. Quick Search - a real-time search engine - finds trending stories to create viral content. Talkwalker’s trend-focused social listening also offers two years of historical data access.

talkwalker statistics trend analysis - social listening guide

Talkwalker Quick Search - trend analysis.

Data visualization

Comprehensive data visualization tools will offer word clouds, emoji theme clouds, virality maps, time lapse graphs, crisis dashboards.

Competitive benchmarking

Discover how you rank compared to other brands in your industry - the competition. You’ll find key metrics on how they’re positioning their products, what messaging is working for them, plus feedback from their customers.

Predictive analytics

Social data used for predictive analytics to learn purchase-intent for products and advanced sentiment analysis that will help predict stock fluctuations.

Campaign management

Monitor up to two years of campaign buzz, engagement, and reach across all major social media networks, blogs, forums, news sites, and more. Find patterns and compare results, filter by language, location, and sentiment. Track in real-time so you can see the impact of your social marketing every day, hour, or minute.

Virality map

Track how your content spreads across the web and social. Why did a post cause such a stir? Who shared the story and where? Which PR outlet picked it up, which influencer helped it spread? Talkwalker’s virality map demonstrates exactly how a successful tweet, post, article, etc., spreads across different media platforms. How it went viral.

social media analytics virality map - social listening guide

Talkwalker virality map - social media listening tool.


You can see all the data and analytics that matter and get them sent to your inbox daily.

8. What sites & social networks can I monitor?

Choose your weapons wisely! Okay, we’re talking about social media listening tools but the rule still applies. The sites and social networks you can monitor, depends on which tools you’ve chosen to work with. Evaluate several tools and compare. How many websites do they crawl? How many social networks? How deep do they dig for stats? How many languages do they speak?

Select the right social listening tools and you’ll be able to track media across many different sites including forums, news feeds, blogs, review sites, and the major social media networks.

If, for instance, you choose to work with Talkwalker, you’ll be able to monitor social media channels, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Mixcloud, Flickr, Foursquare, Soundcloud, Vimeo. Plus, magazines, news agencies, newspapers, press releases, TV, radio, online news, blogs, and forums.

What about dark social? For those who don’t know what it is, it’s not the latest goth band to hit the charts. Dark social is when people share content through private channels like instant messaging, messaging apps, and email. This creates traffic that’s harder to track than traffic from your usual social media sites. Harder to track, but not impossible.

If you’d like to read more about this phenomenon and the tools that’ll help you measure this traffic, take a look at Liesa's blog post – Dark social: The Black Hole of Your Referral Traffic.

9. Best social media listening tools

With hundreds of social media listening tools on the market, choosing one can be an arduous task. If you’ve set your goals, you’re half way there. Are you looking to improve your customer service? Do you want to find influencers for your brand? Wondering how your competitors are performing? Ask yourself what you want to do, and then find the tool that can answer your questions.

Looking for the following?

  • Monitoring data comprehensiveness
  • Sentiment analysis
  • How influential are your customers?
  • Location or language requirements
  • Real-time monitoring for crisis management
  • Reporting capabilities for sharing across enterprise
  • Indication of how influential the customers are
  • How much can you afford?

Here’re some tools that you can try. Not all free, they do offer free trials so you can try before you buy. There are recommendations from experts in social media, just to prove how good they are.

Talkwalker’s Free Social Search

free social media search - social listening guide

Talkwalker Free Social Search.

Talkwalker is primarily a paid enterprise social listening platform but we have a free version. Take a look at what it offers.

  • Hashtag tracking - find the best fit for your content and monitor competitors’ hashtags.
  • Campaign tracking – identify where your campaign is making an impact on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, online news, blogs, and forum.
  • Event performance - real-time insights about your event, from what's being talked about to the most popular posts using your event hashtag.
  • Brand reputation - discover KPI metrics that include social mentions, sentiment, engagement, and reach over the last seven days, or even minute by minute.

Track your favorite hashtags Now!

"I have only recently started using Talkwalker but I’ve been impressed thus far. Talkwalker gives you a lot of features for a free tool and I love that you can look at different metrics such as sentiment, demographics, performance etc. I will be using the tool for researching other users as well as keeping an eye on my own Twitter account. I really like the visual layout as it provides a quick and easy way to check out various metrics without the need for working with complex data."

Kerry Butters (@kesbutters) - Founder and CEO of markITwrite Digital and a prolific tech and digital marketing writer and influencer


Buzzsumo social media monitoring tool

Includes features for monitoring your activity on social media, including the content virality search. Simply enter a keyword or topic, and find the top-performing blogs, articles, infographics. The trending tab reveals all the social media posts that are trending around a particular topic.

“I’m a huge fan. I use it to find the most shared content and key influencers in the topics that I’m most interested in. It’s super easy to use, and it has a great visual interface.”

Brandon Schaefer (@talk_w_brandon), CEO at Companeur


Agorapulse social media monitoring tool

Tool for social media marketing, monitoring, and management. It focuses on real-time monitoring of your brand and keywords in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You’ll receive alerts when mentions are found, reports on audience, engagement, management, and awareness. Stats can be downloaded to PowerPoint so you can share with your team.

“AgoraPulse is a competitively priced tool with some great functionality. One of the nicest parts of AgoraPulse is that it’s very simple to use.”

Ian Cleary (@IanCleary), Founder of RazorSocial, social media tools blogger

10. Brands using social media listening

I can keep telling you that your business needs social media listening, and how great the Talkwalker platform is, but I think you’re justifiably stop listening (ironic, no?).

So, here are some brand nanes you've heard of and have already realized the benefits; their ears are pinned back, and they’re listening.

Nescafé Dolce Gusto Feel The Love In Malaysia

Nescafe Dolce Gusto


A more efficient way to understand its target audience, become more customer centric. Understand what #CoffeeLovers share online so the marketing strategy targets them directly.


Nescafé Dolce Gusto overhauled their social media strategy based on insights identified by the Talkwalker platform about coffee lovers online and social networks. The brand quadrupled its engagement rates on Facebook and Instagram, as well as increasing its Instagram community by 500%. Nescafé moved away from hard-sell, and embraced a fan-focused marketing strategy.

Client reaction

“To say we are pleased is an understatement. The insights from social listening have allowed for a more thorough understanding or our customer – who they are, what they’re passionate about, and where key conversations are taking place – all of which have been integral in informing our social media strategy.”

Cyndi Chin – Senior Brand Manager of Nescafé

How Nescafé Used Social Listening & Improved Campaign Performance by 400%

Deutsche Telekom Address Crisis Management

Deutsche Telekom crisis management


Be able to listen to online conversations to ensure that its Situation Room could detect crisis signals across millions of social mentions online. At high speed, analyze large volumes of data in order to react quickly and effectively.


Deutsche Telekom has built a state of the art crisis centre that monitors buzz across the web. Team members can monitor the use of any keyword or sensitive hashtag related to a product or brand, and react immediately before a minor problem escalates and becomes a catastrophe. Sharing social insights to relevant departments quickly, is key during a potential crisis situation, and to do this effectively, they use Talkwalker’s intuitive reporting function

Client reaction

“Since the reports for different departments serve different purposes, it’s extremely important for us to be able to individualize them.”

Robert Schwerdtner - Former Crisis Manager Deutsche Telekom

How Deutsche Telekom Uses Social Listening For Real-Time Crisis Management

11. Are you listening? Are you really listening?

Stop using social media as your personal megaphone, shouting your marketing messages out to consumers – because, to be honest, they’re not listening to you anymore than you’re listening to them.

When you start using social media listening (and, I mean when), your brand, products, services, your business as a whole - will benefit. Customer service will be able to provide quick problem-solving, your R&D team can use consumer feedback to enhance product development, and you can monitor your competitors and learn from their successes and failures.

Once you’ve got yourself on the frontline - actively participating in online discussions - consumers will look out for you, engage with you and share their opinions. You will become an authority in your industry.

Staying at the forefront of your industry, whilst anticipating and exceeding what your customers’ want, is an achievable goal - with social media listening.

Remember… you don’t have to ask what people want, you just have to listen.

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Brandon Schaefer (@talk_w_brandon), CEO at Companeur