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What Is Social Listening, Why It Matters + 14 Tools To Help

Learn how to use social listening to monitor social media channels for mentions of your brand, competitors, product, and more.

Christina Newberry, Hannah Macready December 1, 2022
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If you don’t have a social listening strategy, you’re missing out on some of the most valuable data available to help build your business.

In fact, nearly two-thirds of marketers agree that social listening has increased in value in the last year.

Social media listening tools allow you to build a solid understanding of exactly how customers and potential customers think about you by analyzing what they say on social channels. You can also learn what they think about the competition. This is incredible market research readily available in real-time, as long as you know how to access it.

Watch Hootsuite’s own social media expert, Nick Martin, explain the three steps of social listening in the video below:

Bonus: Discover the best way to gather insights and intel from your audience, competitors, industry, and favorite aspirational brands in our complete guide to advanced social listening.

What is social listening?

Social listening is the practice of monitoring social media channels for mentions of your brand, competitor brands, and related keywords.

Through social listening, you can track every mention of your brand on social media in real-time. This will give you valuable insights into how customers feel about your products or services, what their pain points are, and what they’d like to see from you in the future.

But social listening isn’t just about tracking mentions of your brand. You can also use it to track competing brands, trending content, and sentiment analysis on topics related to your business.

This intelligence can be used to inform everything from marketing and product strategy to customer service and support, helping you make smarter, data-driven decisions that will have a positive impact on your business’s bottom line.

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What’s the difference between social listening and social monitoring?

While social media listening is a proactive way to track, analyze, and respond to online conversations, social media monitoring is more reactive.

Social monitoring looks at specific brand mentions and sends alerts whenever your brand is mentioned online. It is sometimes referred to as brand monitoring. It can be useful for quickly responding to any negative sentiment or complaints, but it doesn’t give you a big-picture view of what people are saying about your brand or industry.

Social listening, on the other hand, gives you a complete overview of all online conversations related to your brand, products, industry, and competitors. This holistic approach provides valuable insights that can help you make strategic decisions about your marketing and social media strategy.

In short, if you want to stay on top of the latest trends and see what people are saying about your brand over time, you need a social listening strategy.

How can a social listening strategy help your business?

If you’re not using social media listening, you’re creating your business strategy with blinders on. Real people actively talk about your brand and your industry online. It’s in your best interest to know what they have to say.

Simply put, if you care about your customers, you care about the insights you can get from social listening. Here are some of the ways social listening can benefit your business.

Understand your audience

Social media listening helps you better understand what your audience wants from your brand.

For example, an existing customer might tweet about how much they love your product. Or, you might spot a conversation where people are looking for solutions your product or service could provide.

In both cases, you can use this valuable feedback to improve your offering and make your customers happier.

Spotify has built an entire Twitter account around this idea. @SpotifyCares actively listens and responds to users who have questions or concerns and offers daily tips, tricks, and feature updates to its followers.

This way, they can provide world-class customer service, build loyalty, and improve their product all at the same time.

Business and product intelligence

Monitoring conversations around the industry also uncovers a ton of insight about what’s working—and what’s not—for existing and potential customers.

This information is a gold mine for your customer service, product development, and marketing teams.

For example, Zappos’ social team gained some important information here to pass on to the UX team:

Why not tweak an existing product or add a feature to resolve problems people are talking about? Maybe what you learn will spur a new product idea.

Social listening can also help you learn about frustrations with your current products—and your competitors’ products. Can you modify products, shipments, or campaigns to help address customer concerns? If you do, tell people about it with a targeted marketing campaign.

Crisis management

Social listening allows you to track sentiment in real-time, so you can know right away if there’s a significant change in how much people are talking about you or the mood behind what they say.

It’s like an early warning system that alerts you to positive and negative changes in how your brand is perceived online.

If you’re getting more engagement than usual, look for the reasons behind it. Your audience shares loads of helpful information about what they like and what they don’t. Those lessons can help guide your strategy across channels.

If sentiment is down, review the social feedback to try to identify the source of the change. While you’re at it, look for lessons that could prevent a similar misstep in the future. This can help you address PR disasters before they get out of hand.

Customer relationships and acquisition

People generally love it when you offer to help solve their problems. But strangers on the Internet most certainly do NOT love it when brands jump into their social conversations with a hard sell.

While social listening can help you uncover questions and conversations about your industry on social platforms, it should not be seen as an opening to jump in and try to sell right off the bat.

Instead, view the conversation you join through social listening as an opportunity to develop relationships with potential customers in your industry who you can nurture into relationships for social selling.

Reach out, make a connection, and share helpful information. This will help establish your brand as the best resource when it comes time to make a purchase decision.

Collaboration opportunities

Monitoring social conversations about your industry will give you a sense of who the important creators and thought leaders are in your space. These are important people to connect with. They can have a huge influence on how people feel about you.

Remember: this is a two-way street. Supporting others in your industry makes it more likely they will support you in return. Rather than trying to barge into an existing community, connect through collaborations with people who already hold a meaningful place in the conversations you want to join.

Social listening will help you find ways to become a part of relevant online communities organically and in a way that’s perceived as helpful rather than sales-y.

You’ll also find people who already love your brand and are saying great things about you on social media platforms. These are natural brand advocates. Reach out to them and look for opportunities to collaborate in meaningful ways.

As stated in Hootsuite’s Trends Report:

“If people within the community see you as an active partner in supporting the creators they admire, they’ll be more likely to trust that you have their best interests at heart too.”

Competitor and industry trends

Social listening is more than understanding what people say about you. You also want to know what they say about your competitors and your industry in general. This gives you important insights into where you fit in the marketplace.

Social listening shows you what your competitors are up to in real-time. Are they launching new products? Developing new social media marketing campaigns?

For example, when Wendy’s made a play on the Facebook/Meta brand update, Arby’s was quick to jump in:

Maybe the conversations you find will reveal a gap in the marketplace you could step up to fill.

Discovering these new opportunities and threats as they happen allows you to plan and respond on the fly.

Uncover market trends

We all know how fast the social media landscape changes. What’s viral one day is passé the next. Staying on top of these trends is essential to ensure your content strategy is current—and that you’re not missing out on key conversations.

By tracking relevant keywords and hashtags that are related to your industry, you can get a pulse on the latest trends in your industry and make sure you’re always ahead of the curve.

You can also use social listening to predict future trends by analyzing not only what people are talking about now but also how those conversations have changed over time. This will give you a good idea of what topics are gaining momentum and which ones are losing steam.

These valuable insights can shape your content strategy, product development, and marketing campaigns.

Improve campaign targeting

Personalization is key to any social advertising campaign. Your audience wants to feel like you’re speaking to them directly and not just churning out generic content.

Social listening can help you gain a deep understanding of your target audience. You can figure out what issues they care about, what kind of language they use, and what content resonates with them. Think of it like a survey that’s always running in the background.

This understanding will inform every aspect of your campaign, from the copy to the visuals, and help you create content that speaks directly to your audience.

  • Customers talking about social burnout? Build a work-life balance guide to show you care.
  • People in your target region complaining about the weather? Create a short-term sale on season-appropriate items.
  • Seeing an uptick in small business for social media requests? Why not build an entire campaign to help them out?

14 social listening tools that will do the research for you

Once you know what you want to listen for, it’s time to start using some social listening platforms. Here are the best social media marketing tools for social listening you should be using.

1. Hootsuite

Example of social listening on Twitter with Hootsuite Streams

You can use Hootsuite to set up social media streams that monitor conversations, keywords, mentions, and hashtags. 

You can also monitor and respond to conversations or mentions immediately from your social media dashboard—instead of logging in and out of various social platforms.

Hootsuite also allows you to keep an ear to the ground in your industry by monitoring the competition and building relationships with social media creators (a.k.a. influencers) and potential brand advocates.

Social listening is one of the features that Hootsuite customers love best about our product.

“Game changer for marketers”

“…[with] streams, you can get any important activity from any and all platforms on all accounts with a quick glance, being freed from checking into every platform from every account; if somebody retweets or mentions you, you will know ASAP and be able to respond accordingly.”

– Aacini H., CFO & Marketing Director

2. Talkwalker

Social listening insights for Hootsuite on Talkwalker

Talkwalker offers robust social listening software features that analyze blogs, forums, videos, news sites, review sites, and social networks all in one dashboard.

Talkwalker draws data from more than 150 million sources to help you monitor conversations around your brand and measure engagement, potential reach, comments, and sentiment.

social listening word cloud for Hootsuite mentions on Talkwalker

Advanced filters let you segment your data, so you can focus on the messages and audience that matter most to you. You can also set up alerts to notify you of any spikes in mentions or keywords.

Talkwalker is especially useful to spot activity peaks in conversations about your brand. This can help you determine the best times for your brand to post on social media.

Psst: Hootsuite is set to acquire Talkwalker VERY SOON. This means that you will get access to Talkwalker social listening and analytics directly in your Hootsuite dashboard!

3. Hootsuite Insights

Social listening insights from Brandwatch

Want to get more advanced with your social media listening? Hootsuite Insights takes listening a step further by giving you data from 16 billion new social posts every month.

Boolean search logic can help you find meaningful trends and patterns you might miss by monitoring keywords and hashtags alone. You can then filter your searches by date, demographics, and location to find the conversations most relevant to you.

Insights also makes it easy to track brand sentiment with intuitive word clouds and meters that gauge your sentiment and brand awareness against the competition.

4. Adview

Ad View for social listening dashboard

Unlike most social listening platforms, Adview is used specifically for social listening on Facebook and Instagram ads. You can use it to monitor up to three Facebook Ad Accounts across unlimited pages.

When you add Adview to your Hootsuite dashboard, you can reply to comments on all your Facebook and Instagram ads in one place. Plus, you get detailed analytics on which ads are getting the most comments, so you can optimize your campaigns accordingly.

5. Synthesio

Social listening insights in the Synthesio dashboard in Hootsuite

Synthesio is a social media listening tool that tracks conversations on highly specific topics in carefully segmented audiences. It allows you to segment your social listening data by language, location, demographics, sentiment, gender, influence, and more.

The reports also come with a handy social reputation score, so you know exactly how you stack up against competitors.

6. Mentionlytics

Social listening insights in the Mentionlytics dashboard

Track mentions, keywords, and sentiment across multiple languages with this social media listening tool. The Mentionlytics social media monitoring tool combs through social platforms, along with blogs and news sites, for mentions. Since it’s integrated with Hootsuite, you’ll be able to easily view them on your dashboard.

Mentionlytics also lets you easily find influencers across social networks and other online sources. You can easily track who your top influencers are, monitor keywords in different languages, and even detect emotion in every mention.

7. Netbase Social Listening & Analytics

Social listening insights in the Netbase dashboard

NetBase uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to help you focus your social listening on key conversations. It collects data from hundreds of millions of social posts daily plus more than 100 billion historical posts across the social web.

With Netbase, you can create custom streams to focus on the topics that matter most to you. It’s also easy to moderate and engage in both owned and earned conversations.

Plus, Netbase can help you improve response times, curate content, amplify brand advocates, drive opportunities down the purchase funnel, and boost customer loyalty. And if you need help driving and resolving internal workflow issues, you can use NetBase’s Assignments feature.

8. Audiense

Social media listening insights in the Audiense dashboard

Audiense allows you to identify any audience—no matter the size.

The app creates reports that tell you what your audience is discussing, what they like, and even how they think and behave. This information can be used to create marketing personas, understand shifts in customer sentiment, and even drive product development.

Audiense’s social listening tool also provides automated organic and paid campaign tools, so you can quickly and easily connect with your audience on the channels they prefer. Its audience manager also helps you find and understand specific audiences to ensure you have the perfect match for your brand.

9. Digimind

Social media listening insights in the Digimind dashboard

Digimind sources data from more than 850 million sources in 200+ languages.

Using artificial intelligence, it analyzes mentions to monitor trends and sentiment, presenting them in useful data visualizations.

It also offers research services to help you understand your industry, competitors, and consumers. You can use the Digimind platform to track brand reputation and discover new customer personas.

10. ForSight by Crimson Hexagon

Social listening insights in the ForSight dashboard

ForSight by Crimson Hexagon allows you to filter your social listening streams by sentiment, opinion category, gender, geography, and influence score. With access to a data library of more than 400 billion social media posts, it allows you to engage with a large audience in real-time.

11. BrandMaxima Analytics

Social listening insights in the BrandMaxima analytics dashboard

BrandMaxima Analytics offers Twitter analytics that let you monitor any hashtag, brand campaign, keyword, or event all in real-time.

With 50+ actionable insights and audience analysis, it provides valuable data that can help improve the performance of any social media campaign.

You can also create stunning infographics within the app, so you’re always presentation-ready when it comes time for stakeholder buy-in.

12. Cloohawk

Social listening insights in the Cloohawk dashboard

Cloohawk is the social media listening tool you need to help grow and engage your target audience. By constantly analyzing your activities and target users, Cloohawk provides suggestions on how you can improve your social media engagement.

Cloohawk can help you track competitor profiles, identify opportunities for growth, and suggest ways to achieve your KPIs. Plus, the Cloohawk app integrates seamlessly with Hootsuite—so you don’t need to move out of one application to open another.

13. Crowd Analyzer

If you want to listen in on multiple social channels at once, Crowd Analyzer is your tool. Crowd Analyzer monitors sentiment across channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It also monitors online forums, news channels, and blogs, to ensure your brand is heard no matter where the chatter is.

With the Crowd Analyzer Hootsuite integration, you can Retweet, reply, or mention users right from your Hootsuite dashboard.

14. X (Twitter) search streams

Social listening insights in the Twitter Search Streams dashboard in Hootsuite

X (Twitter) advanced search streams in the Hootsuite dashboard allow you to quickly find and track important conversations, hashtags, keywords, or locations. You can also save your searches as streams to revisit later or share with team members.

Hootsuite’s social media listening expert Nick Martin says:

Twitter search streams is one of the most underrated features within the Hootsuite dashboard if you ask me. I have a number of streams set up with queries looking for specific keywords, phrases, or Tweets from accounts I want to keep an eye on.

It helps me quickly monitor what’s happening, discover engagement opportunities, or identify key customer feedback that I can share with the broader team.

I even have a stream that follows popular brand accounts so I can quickly identify trending content and get inspiration for our own channel.

7 pro social listening tips

Here are our top ten social listening tips, sourced from Hootsuite social media expert Nick Martin.

1. Listen for the right words and topics

Successful social listening is all about choosing the most relevant keywords for your brand.

The keywords and topics you monitor will likely evolve over time. Using social listening tools, you will learn what kinds of words people tend to use when they talk about your business and your industry. You’ll also start to get a sense of what kinds of insights are most useful for you.

That said, here’s a list of important keywords and topics to monitor right from the start:

  • Your brand name and handles
  • Your product name(s)
  • Your competitors’ brand names, product names, and handles
  • Industry buzzwords
  • Your slogan and those of your competitors
  • Names of key people in your company and your competitors’ companies (your CEO, spokesperson, etc.)
  • Campaign names or keywords
  • Your branded hashtags and those of your competitors
  • Unbranded hashtags related to your industry

You should also monitor common misspellings and abbreviations for all of the above.

For example, brands like Starbucks use social listening of their brand names to discover and respond to social posts even when they’re not tagged:

And KFC UK is clearly monitoring for a broad swath of keywords related to their business, jumping in here at the mere mention of gravy:

2. Listen in the right places

Part of finding out what your audience has to say about you is learning where they have their conversations. That means casting a wide net for your social listening program.

Conversations around your brand or industry on LinkedIn are likely to be much different than they are on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. And you might find that people talk about you all the time on Twitter, but not at all on Facebook.

You need to know where people are talking about you and your industry and how those conversations vary across networks. This will guide your strategy for joining the conversation through both organic engagement and paid advertising.

3. Narrow your search

Once you’ve nailed down what terms and networks are important for you to monitor, use more advanced search techniques to filter your results.

For example, depending on your market, you might want to limit your social listening efforts by geography. If you run a local business in Iowa, you might not be concerned about the conversation in Greece.

You can also use Boolean search logic to create more targeted search streams for social listening.

4. Learn from the competition

While you never want to copy someone else’s strategy, you can always learn something by listening closely to your competitors and what other people say about them online.

Social listening can give you a sense of what they’re doing right and what people love about them. But most importantly, you can see where they misstep and get it wrong, or when they’re facing criticism in the press or on social media.

For example, Coca-Cola went through a rough patch after Cristiano Ronaldo removed two bottles of Coke from view during a Euro 2020 press conference. Mike’s Hard Lemonade jumped at the chance to parody the moment.

Mike's Hard Lemonade Instagram post

It’s a lot less painful to learn a hard lesson by watching your competitors make mistakes than by making them yourself.

5. Share what you learn

Social listening provides a wide range of information that is useful for your whole company.

Maybe it’s a customer’s post that needs a response right away. Maybe it’s a great idea for a blog post. Or maybe it’s an idea for a new product or a new feature for an existing product.

The customer service, content marketing, and product development teams could all benefit from what you learn when you’re listening on social media. Make sure to communicate those learnings and seek input from those teams, too. They might have specific questions you could answer by tweaking your social listening setup, too.

6. Keep alert for changes

As you start to collect social information, you’ll develop a sense of the regular conversation and sentiment around your brand.

Once you know how much people talk about you on a regular basis, and what the overall sentiment level generally is, you’ll be able to spot change.

Major changes in engagement or sentiment can mean that the overall perception of your brand has changed. You need to understand why so you can adapt your strategy appropriately. That may mean riding a wave of positivity or correcting a misstep to get back on course.

Remember: If you don’t take action, you’re only engaged in social media monitoring, not social listening.

Social listening is not just about tracking metrics. It’s about gaining insights into what your customers and potential customers want from you, and how you can better address those needs.

Make sure to analyze patterns and trends over time, rather than just individual comments. These overall insights can have the most powerful effects in guiding your future strategy.

7. False positives are okay, within reason

When you set up a query to monitor for a specific keyword or phrase, some posts that might not be relevant will sneak into the results. We call these false positives.

It’s okay to see a few of these, within reason. Work to edit your search query so that the majority of your results are accurate to what you’re looking for, and that the false positives fall within a reasonable percentage of the results.

Nick Martin, from the Hootsuite Social Marketing team, always tries to get false positives below the 5% threshold. That way you get a better understanding of what is happening and the false positives (things that aren’t relevant to what you’re listening for) don’t muddle up the data.

Bottom line: A little bit of inaccuracy is okay, as long as it doesn’t skew the results too much.

Get started with social listening in 3 easy steps

Getting started with social listening is a three-step process.

Step 1: Monitor social media channels for mentions of your brand, competitors, products, and keywords related to your business using Hootsuite Streams or .

Step 2: Analyze the information for ways to put what you learn into action. That can be something as small as responding to a happy customer or something as big as shifting your entire brand positioning.

Step 3: Track industry-specific hashtags and keywords to get a pulse on what people are saying about your industry as a whole.

Hootsuite makes it easy to monitor keywords and conversations on social media, so you can focus on taking action on the insights available. Try it free today.

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By Christina Newberry

Christina Newberry is an award-winning writer and editor whose greatest passions include food, travel, urban gardening, and the Oxford comma—not necessarily in that order.

By Hannah Macready

Hannah Macready is a freelance writer with 12 years of experience in social media and digital marketing. Her work has appeared in publications such as Fast Company and The Globe & Mail, and has been used in global social media campaigns for brands like Grosvenor Americas and Intuit Mailchimp. In her spare time, Hannah likes exploring the outdoors with her two dogs, Soup and Salad.

Read more by Hannah Macready

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