Listen Carefully: Social Listening Reveals Deep Insights, Shapes Strategy

A good social listening program extends far beyond checking social to see what people are saying, or tallying vanity metrics to validate a particular approach to content.

January 30, 2018

There is little more critical to marketing success than the ability to listen. Reaching audiences, building trust and motivating action demand a keen awareness of the perceptions and conversations surrounding a brand. Because despite a brand’s carefully manicured messaging, slick materials and robust list of features, Marty Neumeier’s claim will always ring true: “Brand is not what you say it is, it is what they say it is.”

Conversations about brands happen in the digital space all the time, with or without the knowledge or input of the brand. For the brand manager or marketing, discovering these conversations is a bit like walking in on a juicy gossip session of which you’re the subject, only without the awkward pause and subsequent attempt to conceal the topic. It just keeps going, and will, whether you listen or not. So listen carefully.

You need to invest in social listening.

A good social listening program extends far beyond checking social to see what people are saying, or tallying vanity metrics to validate a particular approach to content. Social listening, when positioned as an essential element of brand and marketing strategy, can offer unmatched insights and find exceptional engagement opportunities. Here’s how.

The Brand Narrative

Although social media can sometimes seem like a collection of random conversation hot spots, every post, image, video, mention, share, engagement and call to action contributes to the brand narrative. Social listening tools provide the ability to capture conversations over time and across channels to provide analysis and a vast array of data around the “whole” conversation, offering a comprehensive look at a brand’s digital representation.

For example, the recently launched Campus Sonar provides data that can be enlightening, revealing patterns in content across different platforms. How often do your brand drivers show up in conversations you both own and earn? Are you mentioned frequently for the right things, or do conversations head in the wrong direction constantly putting you on the defensive? What are people affiliated with the brand talking about?

Missing Pieces

Understanding the complete picture gives new perspective to content, revealing areas that are over-represented, under-represented, high engagement, low engagement, on brand or off brand. It’s the kind of insight that, while humbling, offers a better view of the brand as “they” see it, not as you imagine it or hope it’s perceived and adjust accordingly. Social listening tools should allow you to extract specific types of conversations or topics for more dedicated analysis and monitoring to see how changes you make impact outcomes in the short and longer term. 


Constant monitoring and analysis of social channels helps brands stay on top of emerging issues (think crisis or reputational challenges). With the right tools, brands can establish issue-specific feeds to manage a crisis, ongoing issues, or unique campaigns. But the true power of social listening lies in the ability to identify engagement opportunities as they emerge and capitalize. Suppose a parent shares a photo of a nearby college visit, mentioning that your institution is next on the list—it’s a perfect opportunity to extend a welcome, offer a travel or dining recommendation, or invite the family to an on-campus event that that might not be on a visit schedule.

Social listening, when paired with a clear brand strategy and thoughtful content approach can lead to deep engagement opportunities and initiatives that change the shape of online conversations. Listen, and the conversation will respond. 

Tim Jones is the Chief Communications and Integrated Marketing Officer at Beloit College in Wisconsin.



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