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How Does AI Social Listening Work? Tools for 2024

Discover how AI social listening tools make it faster and easier to learn what people are saying—and feeling—about the topics that matter to your brand.

Ric Mazereeuw June 20, 2024
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Social listening helps marketers gain priceless audience insights. Now—with the added power of AI—it’s becoming even more valuable. But what exactly is AI social listening? How does it work, and why is it such a game-changer?

Read on for our introduction to AI for social listening, and a rundown of the top 5 tools that will help you get the most out of AI in your listening strategy.

Bonus: Download this free cheat sheet with 250 professionally engineered ChatGPT prompts that will help you be more productive at work and in your daily life. We’ve included specific prompts for over 25 industries and professions!

What is AI social listening?

AI social listening is the process of using artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor social media channels for mentions of specific topics, such as your brand or products. AI social listening tools then analyze those conversations to unearth insights about brand reputation, industry trends, and consumer behavior patterns.

Of course, social listening isn’t new. Trying to understand what people are saying about you has been a key marketing strategy since the very beginnings of social media.

Back then, social listening took a lot of manual work, starting with searching platforms one at a time for the topics you wanted to track. Then you’d have to painstakingly compile and sort through the results to try and understand what your target audience was saying online (spreadsheets, anyone?).

Eventually, social media management platforms like Hootsuite made social listening easier by letting you work with a range of social networks in a single dashboard, and by automating the collection and analysis of online conversations.

AI lets social listening solutions search millions of posts more quickly than before. Next-generation AI tools can also understand language well enough that they can not only track what people are saying about a topic, but also determine how they’re feeling about it.

Finally, AI is great at surfacing trends and patterns at super-human speed, helping social media managers understand why people are saying what they’re saying. Plus, the “smartest” AI listening tools offer predictive analytics—giving you an advanced look at future topic volumes, trends, and even risks to your brand.

Today’s AI takes social listening to a whole new level. But how does it work?

How does AI social listening work?

AI social media listening uses artificial intelligence and related tech to help you filter through the vast amount of content generated on social platforms. That lets you track mentions of your brand and topics that matter to you, faster than ever before.

Wait, isn’t that what normal social listening software has been doing all this time?

Not quite.

Unlike conventional marketing tools, AI can actually teach itself to understand the meaning of language and analyze it, well, intelligently. The more it learns, the smarter it gets—and at an astonishing rate.

Let’s break down how it works in the three basic steps in social listening: Listening, analyzing, and reporting.

AI listening

First comes the listening part: AI combs through social networks and other online media, looking for uses of specific phrases or words. Thanks to its ability to process vast amounts of data quickly, AI makes finding millions of mentions a breeze. It can find more needles in a bigger haystack, so to speak.

Beyond speed, it’s also super accurate. It does that by using what’s called natural language processing (NLP), which is a part of AI. But don’t worry about the acronym: if you’ve played around with ChatGPT, you’ve already seen first-hand how AI can understand and respond in plain, relatively natural language.

That ability to understand subtle nuances of language helps AI identify brand references even when the brand name isn’t specifically used.

The best AI algorithms can learn to recognize text, logos, and even objects in images and videos—a kind of visual listening.

AI analysis

Analysis is where AI social listening really shines. Once all of this data is collected, it can sort through a colossal volume of data in near real-time, spotting trends and identifying patterns that help make sense of the online noise.

Using its natural language processing skills, AI can sort through the collected data and accurately understand the sentiment of the mentions and even the context. Is it positive, negative, or neutral? Some AI tools can even understand specific emotions, like anger or sadness.

And—unlike your Aunt Aretha—AI can even understand sarcasm and slang.

AI reporting

Finally, AI can present the results of all this data-crunching and analysis in simple, clear language that’s easy to understand—and act on.

It’s smart enough to go beyond just telling you what people are saying online and provide insight into why they’re saying it.

Traditional social listening techniques can detect a spike in brand mentions. But the best AI social listening tools can also provide insight into what might be causing that spike in the first place, and even predict future spikes.

Why do marketers need AI for social listening?

Adding the power of AI to your social listening efforts offers a ton of benefits, including efficiency, speed, scale, and accuracy.

But AI social listening makes the fundamentals of social media management better in a bunch of really important ways:

  • Building brand awareness: AI social listening lets you find (and join) conversations about your brand more efficiently than ever. If your product shows up in a video, your brand gets mentioned in a podcast, or your logo pops up in a meme, the best AI listening tools create more engagement opportunities.
  • Managing a crisis: AI’s machine magic tracks online chatter in real time so you’re never caught out. AI can even learn to predict trouble before it happens (spidey sense!). Crisis averted, job saved.
  • Spotting new opportunities: By listening more closely to more channels, AI lets you quickly discover new product ideas, potential collaborators, and market opportunities.
  • Tracking competitors: Get alerted to competitors’ new campaigns and product launches as they happen, wherever they happen.

6 best AI social listening tools for 2024

OK, now that you know what AI social listening is and what it can do for you, here’s our take on the best AI-powered social listening tools.

1. Hootsuite Listening

Every Hootsuite plan includes everything you need to get started with social listening.

Use Quick Search to discover trending hashtags, brands and events anywhere in the world, or dive deeper for personalized insights on your brand.

You can track what people are saying about you, your top competitors, your products — up to two keywords tracking anything at all over the last 7 days.

Hootsuite Listening - Quick Search Key Metrics graph of

Plus, you can use Quick Search to analyze things like:

  • Key metrics. Are more people talking about you this week? What’s the vibe of their posts? Hootsuite Listening doesn’t just track what people are saying — it uses enhanced sentiment analysis to tell you how they really feel.
  • Top themes. How are people talking about you? What are the most popular positive and negative posts about? Which other conversations are you showing up in?
  • Results. Ready to get into specifics? The results tab will show you a selection of popular posts related to your search terms — you can filter by sentiment, channel, and more.

2. Talkwalker by Hootsuite

If you need a more advanced solution, Talkwalker is your best bet.

Talkwalker’s AI listening monitors 30 social networks and 150 million websites globally, across 239 countries and regions. This includes blogs, forums, videos, news sites, and review sites. It can also dig back into up to five years of historical data.

Of course, text mentions are just a small part of the conversation happening around your brand. So Talkwalker also “listens” visually to track any time your brand, logo, and even product appears in images, videos, memes, or GIFs.

Talkwalker is also one of the few AI social listening tools that literally listens—monitoring audio content in videos and podcasts for mentions and references to your hot topics.

Using the natural language processing capabilities of AI, Talkwalker can interpret human emotions—including irony and sarcasm—and include them into tangible metrics.

Talkwalker also uses AI to spot social influencers who have solid engagement, reach and relevance to your brand.

While most AI listening tools rely on third-party technology, Talkwalker has developed a proprietary AI engine (named BlueSilk™) and trained it on over 3 trillion data points (nerd translation: that’s a lot!).

So if your organization has enhanced needs, you can tap into Talkwalker through its API, letting you directly integrate its data and insights with other systems. You can even build and train your own custom AI models, tailored to your specific needs, industry, and goals.

Finally, Talkwalker’s AI-driven crisis management tools can spot trouble early, by paying attention to anomalies in social data, helping brands put out fires quickly.

Talkwalker dashboard explaining in plain language what is causing a spike in brand mentions

Source: Talkwalker

3. Brandwatch

Brandwatch’s strength as an AI social listening tool lies in its depth of data. They claim to add more than 500 million new conversations every day.

Brandwatch relies on industry-standard OpenAI to help search through and analyze 100 million sites and billions of sources.

That range of sources makes Brandwatch an option for big brands in need of broad consumer research. Like most AI social listening tools, Brandwatch also uses AI to identify “visual mentions” like objects, words, and logos in images.

Brandwatch integrates with Hootsuite, making it easy to take action based on its insights and recommendations right away.

Brandwatch social listening tool dashboard

Source: Brandwatch

4. Sprinklr

Sprinklr provides AI-powered social listening as part of a much broader offering as a comprehensive customer experience management platform. That makes it a consideration for enterprises also looking for call center and live chat support solutions, for example.

Sprinklr monitors 30+ social and digital channels in real-time, including news sites, Reddit, Blogs, websites, forums, podcasts, videos, WordPress, and even reviews and classifieds.

Using AI, Sprinklr can also detect logos and text in GIFs, images, videos, and other media formats, for a wider understanding of the conversation.

Sprinklr social listening tool dashboard

Source: Sprinklr

5. Brand24

Brand24 provides AI-powered listening across all major social media platforms, including Facebook, X, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Telegram, Twitch, Reddit, and Quora.

It can also “listen” to blogs, news and review sites, podcasts, newsletters, and forums. Overall, Brand24 claims to monitor more than 25 million online sources in real time. This breadth makes it an option for bigger brands that need blanket coverage of online conversations—and who have the budget to pay for it.

While standard listening tools can categorize sentiment as positive or negative, Brand24 can sense specific emotions, like sadness, happiness, or anger.

Brand24 harnesses AI to track trends in real-time and flag anomalies. It also lets you set a range of customer alerts, to catch spikes in mentions, key events, or important changes in the sentiment of the conversations around your brand.

Brand24’s dashboard mentions and reach

Source: Brand24

6. Sprout Social

Sprout’s basic social media management platform can be a good fit for small teams and beginners.

Sprout monitors Facebook, X, Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr, and the web to track your keywords, hashtags, and brand mentions—including in multimedia content.

Sprout Social’s AI can automatically segment your audiences into separate personas, based on their interests, activities, and engagement patterns.

To make benchmarking easier, Sprout’s AI compares your social media performance—including share of voice (SOV)—with your competitors.

Finally, Sprout’s predictive analytics can anticipate potential problems based on historical patterns and trends.

Sprout Social create a new topic query builder

Source: Sprout Social

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By Ric Mazereeuw

Ric Mazereeuw went from covering the tech industry as a business journalist to working in it in 2000 when he launched one of the first social networks. He used that experience to publish a guide to starting niche social networks in 2009. When he’s not at his keyboard working as a copywriter, you’ll find him riding his motorcycle near his hometown of Vancouver.

Read more by Ric Mazereeuw

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