With all of the conversations happening in real time around the globe, companies and brands who wish to understand how people are interacting with and converging around their products need help. The internet of today is a veritable patchwork of overlapping groups, cultures, and languages spread out on a vast amount of social platforms and websites. Tapping into these conversations is not as easy as searching for hashtags. Luckily for us there is help.

social listening
Yay stock photos!

Why listen?

The social web is an enormous opportunity for marketers to understand how people view their products: who is pushing them and who is trashing them. Potential international problems can be quickly identified and resolved. Customer service can become anticipatory. Positive behavior can be constantly reinforced and encouraged.

But maybe the most important part is simply understanding. Companies spend tons of cash on market studies, consumer testing, and predictive analysis. There is a constant stream of real-time information at their fingertips!

A company or brand that is not listening to social channels is voluntarily making their life more difficult. They are passing up on real feedback and engagement. They are essentially saying that they don’t care what people think. That might be mistaken for confidence or nonchalance. But the real reason is probably that a company or brand simply doesn’t know how to execute social listening. Because all brands are like teenagers, they are desperately seeking the high opinion of those around them.

Fortunately for you, I’m going to outline what the challenges are to social listening, how to overcome them, and the tools you can use to gain the broadest possible view. In the end, you should be able make the case for why and how to use social listening to achieve your business goals.

Social listening, defined

Social listening is putting your ear to the constant buzz of posts, publications, comments, photos and all other social content that is being produced every day, and filtering out everything that does not concern your product. In its raw sense, social listening would be like a stream of all relevant content coming to you in real-time. Many of you reading this are groaning already, “who wants to wade through all of that?” Others of you are probably more enthusiastic, but wondering how it works.

It’s important to understand that so much effort is put into creating engaging content for digital channels, and so much of it is made without knowing what the target audience is interacting with!

Let’s start with the challenges.

Challenges to Social Listening

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are global platforms that were originally developed for what can be considered the “English-speaking web”. The English-speaking web covers all countries and continents but is skewed towards a younger, technologically literate demographic that has the means to access technology in the first place. When most brands open global Facebook or Twitter pages, the content is often in English.

But as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, it starts to open up to people of different socio-economic groups, groups that probably have more limited access to international culture and may speak no English at all.

This makes following conversations of brands particularly difficult. Now that the major platforms like Facebook increasingly support other alphabets, the ability to listen gets even more complex.

Larger, international brands are going to have conversations in different languages. Unless you’re the human version of the tower of Babel, you are not going to be able to understand those conversations. In this case, it’s best for the social listening to happen at a regional level, by employees of your company that are fluent in those languages. You can try to concentrate the conversations but it doesn’t make sense if the person analyzing the data can’t do anything with it.

The other major challenge is qualifying your data. This can be broken down into multiple categories. First, people spell things wrong. And with mobile phones, typing with our thumbs, and auto-correct, it’s remarkably easy for someone to misspell a company’s name and thus a bit of conversation would not be captured. People retweet that same post and the problem is multiplied.

Then, there is differentiation. Wikipedia does a good job of centralizing when there is the same word for multiple different things. If you are trying to do social listening for Apple, how do you exclude people talking about granny smith, red delicious or adam’s? If you are working for a fashion brand, how do you exclude information about people selling products?

These are all questions that are difficult to answer, and instead of using lists or following hashtags or exporting CSVs, you are best off using a tool. Not the former high school football player who is now selling used cars. A different type of tool.

Tools for social listening

Each tool will do the same basic things, letting you search for keywords or phrases, giving you a running feed of content in real time, and giving you basic social analytics around conversations.

But a good social listening tool will take you further, letting you examine correlations, such as the most talked about brands and topics among your followers, or temporal information like trending topics. Using these tools you can identify opportunities to engage with your audience by producing relevant content, and better anticipate future product launches, affinity marketing strategies, and more!

Radarly – by the team at Linkfluence, radarly is a robust (and expensive) social listening suite that lets you dig into the people who are most actively talking about your brand or products.

Synthesio – another enterprise software that captures social intelligence and is vouched for by major research outfits like Gartner.

Socialmention – a light version for quick searches.

Icerocket – focuses on blogs.

Hootsuite – social management platform that lets you follow certain topics and hashtags to create multiple monitoring streams. A free version gets you started.

Respond – by the team at Buffer, a social listening app to help you better engage with the people talking about you.

Keyhole – real-time tracking, add in people and topics to track and let it bring the information to you.

Brandwatch – tracks over 80 million sources so you don’t have to, but you do have to pay a pretty penny for it.


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