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How to Build a Social Listening Strategy [4 Real Examples]

Find out how businesses are using social listening to get the insights that matter — and learn how to build your own winning social listening strategy.

Christina Newberry July 10, 2024
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A well-planned social listening strategy allows you to keep tabs on millions of conversations across the social web. It also helps you cut through the noise to find the most relevant insights for your brand.

It’s like having an unlimited number of detailed focus groups operating all at once, all around the world. And conveniently, they report their top findings directly to your inbox.

Social listening uncovers important strategic data like:

  • who your customers and competitors are,
  • what motivates people to engage with brands like yours,
  • what people really think about you, and
  • where your customers and competitors engage online.

This data helps you predict industry trends before they happen. And flag potential crises before they unfold.

In short, strategic use of social listening keeps you ahead of the game. It reveals deep insights that maximize your social efforts. It can even guide bigger-picture themes like brand positioning.

Bonus: Take action on customer insights and drive impact for your organization with our complete guide to social listening using Hootsuite x Talkwalker.

What is a social listening strategy?

A social listening strategy is a goal-based plan for using social listening to gather information that can help your business succeed.

Like any good strategy, a social media listening strategy starts with clear goals. From there it’s all about planning how to gather the right data to support those goals. You’ll also need to include a plan for analyzing your data and sharing your results and strategic recommendations.

How to set up a smart social listening strategy in 6 steps

1. Map out your purpose

Social media listening can support many different business goals. Without focus, it can provide an almost overwhelming amount of information. To use social listening strategically, you need a clear purpose for your social listening plan.

For instance, you could use social listening for:

  • reputation monitoring
  • crisis prevention and management
  • audience research (pain points, expectations, customer feedback)
  • lead generation
  • competitive intelligence
  • customer engagement
  • sourcing user-generated content (UGC)
  • identifying potential partners and influencers

You don’t have to limit all of your social listening activities to one goal. But you do need to pay attention to what’s most important. It’s about narrowing your focus, not excluding other possibilities.

It’s a good idea to start by reviewing your organization’s existing strategic goals and KPIs. Look for opportunities to provide social listening support. Don’t limit yourself to the social team’s goals here. Social listening has the potential to support strategic goals throughout the organization.

Then, map social listening capabilities directly to those organizational goals. Identify the priority areas where you can have the greatest impact. In the process, you’ll develop your own social listening KPIs. These are the backbone of your social listening strategy.

2. Identify priority keywords and topics

Once you’ve established your purpose, you can plan out the keywords and topics to monitor.

For instance, say you’re focused on reputation monitoring. You’ll want to monitor keywords related to your brand name, product names, and the names of your brand leaders.

Or, maybe you’re focused on competitive intelligence. In this case, you’ll want to watch all the same types of relevant keywords, but related to your top competitors. You will also want to follow conversations about the industry in general and your niche in particular.

Hootsuite Listening Quick Search Top Themes

You’ll also want to identify which channels are the priority for your social listening plan. With the right tools, you can monitor multiple social channels from one dashboard. But it’s still worth discussing where you’re most likely to gain useful information from social listening.

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3. Pick a social listening tool

As you can see, a well-planned social media listening strategy results in a ton of information. You need a social listening tool to help you collect, collate, filter, and analyze that data. Otherwise, you’re left with an overwhelming bowl of data soup.

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 or services — up to two keywords tracking anything at all over the last 7 days.

discover social and consumer data insights Hootsuite

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 much more.
Hootsuite Listening - Quick Search Key Metrics graph of results engagement and sentiment

And if you want to take social listening to the next level, our upgraded listening can show you sentiment over time, top influencers in your space, audience demographics, and much more. Interested in a free demo? Book one now.

We’re pretty excited about these industry-leading social listening capabilities. But we realize Hootsuite’s not the only social listening tool out there. We’ve got a whole post outlining 14 of the best social listening tools so you can choose the one that’s best for you. (We’ll forgive you if you choose someone else, we promise.)

4. Check in regularly

The cadence you choose for checking in on your social listening data will depend on the goals you chose.

Some social listening data requires (at least) daily check-in. For example, say you’re using social listening to identify priority customer engagements. Obviously, you’ve got to make them… a priority.

If you’re using social listening to gather data for longer-term strategy decisions, you can check in less often. It’s a good rule of thumb to align the cadence of your check-in with the timeframe of your goals.

You can also use alerts in your social listening tool to notify you of spikes in conversation or unexpected changes in social sentiment. This allows you to get ahead of upcoming challenges so you can be proactive rather than reactive.

5. React when necessary

The reactions required to the data gathered also vary based on your goals.

The first type of reaction to social listening is day-to-day engagement. This could be with customers, leads, or any other direct social interaction. Your social team should be empowered to manage these types of reactions on their own.

Next is the crisis-response reaction. This happens when your social listening strategy flags a potential PR or other brand crisis developing on social media channels. In this case, the social team should put the crisis response plan into action.

Finally, there’s the longer-term type of reaction. This is where the strategic component of social listening comes into play. You’ll soon identify patterns, trends, new competitors, and other big-picture data. These deep insights can guide social strategy and brand positioning at a higher level. Which leads us to…

6. Share strategic insights with stakeholders

More than half (56%) of social marketers say their organizations don’t understand social media. That means it’s your job to highlight the strategic value social listening brings to the brand.

A good social listening tool (like Hootsuite) includes reporting and analysis capabilities. You can create professional reports to share with various levels of stakeholders. From changing audience demographics to slow-rolling shifts within the industry, you’ve got the advanced data to inform ongoing strategic plans.

Not sure exactly how to interpret your data for the deepest insights? This is an area where AI can really help. It combs through mountains of data to highlight areas of greatest potential impact. The AI tools built into Talkwalker build custom data models using natural language processing to highlight tangible, actionable results.

4 real social listening strategy examples

Now that you understand the theory, let’s take a look at four social listening strategy examples. These case studies highlight how real brands use social listening strategies to guide business decisions on social channels and beyond.

1. A leading spirits brand: Contest inspiration and strategic shift

It’s tricky to market alcohol products on social media. A leading spirits brand wanted to better understand their target audience. They were looking to build lasting relationships and ongoing brand loyalty. At the same time, they faced cuts to the marketing budget.

They implemented a social listening strategy to identify new ways to forge customer connections. The data they gathered helped identify a group of relevant influencers to amplify their social content.

They also discovered that their audience liked contests and social media challenges. They crafted their own challenge-based contest. It brought in more than 18,000 registrations and a significant amount of user-generated content.

What about longer-term strategic insights? The brand realized the importance of a community manager to identify customer needs going forward. This was an important strategic shift.

2. Yves Rocher: Social listening to guide product development

Yves Rocher is a French beauty brand focused on natural cosmetics and personal care products. The brand must strike a balance between quality and price. At the same time, they want to be on the forefront of developments in the natural beauty industry. They implemented a social listening strategy with three key goals:

  1. Understand consumer behaviors related to beauty products and routines
  2. Gain insights from the scientific community to guide decisions about ingredients and packaging
  3. Track media coverage to understand public opinion on beauty and cosmetic topics

For instance, Yves Rocher uses social listening to monitor perception of specific ingredients. This allows the brand to identify changing expectations early. They then have time to adjust formulas or develop new products.

They also use social listening to learn about new materials that might make packaging more eco-friendly.

eco friendly packaging keywords

Source: Talkwalker by Hootsuite

The brand has identified some key insights to guide their marketing strategy. Consumers are no longer focused on using cosmetics to hide flaws. Instead, they now view beauty products as a component of self-care. They want an inclusive brand that embraces individuality. They’re over slick campaigns that suggest everyone should look the same.

3. Zoo Zurich: Sourcing visitor feedback and UGC

Here’s the thing about being a major tourist attraction. People will post a lot of social content about their experiences with your brand. But since they’re not specifically seeking an interaction with you, they won’t always tag you in their posts.

That was the case for Zoo Zurich, the most visited leisure attraction in Switzerland.

Brand reputation is especially important to Zoo Zurich. It is a nonprofit organization that relies on donor support. When the social team got serious about tracking mentions of the brand on social media, they soon realized that much of the online conversation about the institution was happening out of view. Visitors were not using tags or brand hashtags.

Identifying this visitor feedback became a driving purpose of Zoo Zurich’s social listening strategy. As did uncovering missed opportunities to engage with social media users. They now use a social listening tool to get daily reports of all new mentions (tagged or not). They also get a report on social sentiment.

Zoo Zurich’s social listening daily reporting top keywords

Source: Talkwalker by Hootsuite

They’ve developed a UGC campaign using the hashtag #FollowerFotoDerWoche (follower photo of the week).

4. Dubai TV Channels Network: Data-driven content production

It seems obvious that social listening data could guide social content creation. But what about brands whose main offering is content? For them, this data can steer production decisions, too.

Dubai TV Channels Network created a social listening strategy with two main goals in mind:

  1. Gauge audience sentiment. Understand overall satisfaction with the network and steer marketing campaigns.
  2. Get real-time feedback on individual shows as they air. Use this information to guide future production decisions.

Social listening gives Dubai TV Channels Network rich data about audience reactions to a show. They know how viewers feel about everything from plotlines to specific characters. They gather this data across multiple social media platforms in several languages.

results over time Dubai TV Channels Network graph

Source: Talkwalker by Hootsuite

We talked earlier about the importance of determining the right cadence for checking in on your social listening data. Dubai TV Channels Network’s social listening reports graph sentiment changes after each episode airs. The social team therefore set up reports to send automatically on a weekly basis to the relevant stakeholders. They also send monthly reports to departments that don’t need real-time data.

Based on the ability to gather such rich, actionable insights, the organization shifted its strategy to prioritize audience feedback in decisions about future seasons.

Get started with social listening with Hootsuite. From one intuitive dashboard, you can gather business insights AND schedule all your social content, engage with your audience, and report on your wins. See Hootsuite in action — start a free 30-day trial today. No strings attached.

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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.

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