Social Listening: Map the Landscape to Drive Smart Strategy

Most people in the communications industry are probably familiar with social listening by now, but many are limiting its usefulness.

Some companies only use social listening for monitoring, which basically means turning on a listening tool and waiting for something bad to happen.

That’s smart to do. Many PR pros who have been burned before can attest to the damage one moment in time can cause when an issue blows up and they’re not there to throw water on it. Monitoring allows us to inform our clients of an issue and react to it before it spins into a full-blown crisis.

However, social listening offers significant value in several other areas that a growing number of companies are benefiting from, and getting a leg up on the competition by doing so. Some of these include:

My favorite part of my job is that last one. It’s where the magic happens. Where thoughtful research informs impactful insight and is leveraged to drive smart strategy and breakthrough creative.

In this case, social listening becomes affordable consumer research. Whereas in the past, our only choice was focus groups or surveys, which I do recommend in appropriate situations, social listening now allows us a window into the consumer psyche in “the wild,” where they’re sharing honest opinions with their friends and families (click to tweet).

My team loves conducting these social listening audits, and our clients love the results. As we analyze all of these posts – often looking back a year or more – we’re identifying the key topics that are driving the conversation and then overlaying those topics with sentiment. In this way, we’re able to determine what proportion of conversation is driven by each topic, as well as which topics are driving the greatest positive (and negative) sentiment.

This is powerful stuff because even though one topic might drive the majority of discussion, it may also be the most dispassionate area of discussion. By identifying the most passionate conversations, we can advise our clients to increase the focus of their creative to amplify the positive aspects and potentially correct any misconceptions that are driving the negative.

While this is valuable when looking at a single business, it becomes even more powerful when we do the same with conversations about a brand’s competitors. By comparing and contrasting, we are able to identify areas of greatest opportunity as well as areas where competitors may already be entrenched and therefore not worth our effort to focus on.

Finally, when we analyze unbranded industry conversations – where consumers are talking but brands aren’t mentioned – we add an extremely important layer to determine where the emerging trends live that no brand has yet laid claim to. This is the all-important white space where we can get a jump on competitors and look to own an area on the forward edge of the industry.

With all of these components in place, we can effectively map a landscape of the industry that we can use to establish smart strategy to build creative programming around.

And because we’ve compiled all of this data with historical context, we are now able to establish benchmarks and set goals for future performance based on the forward-thinking strategy created, allowing us to measure and improve; measure and improve; measure and improve.

These are exciting times. How can you not be enthusiastic about this stuff?!

About Dan Hindin

Dan Hindin is Vice President, Global Digital Research & Analytics at Ketchum, where he leads a team of researchers and analysts to drive social insights and measurement for a wide range of clients in the consumer, corporate, technology and healthcare spaces and beyond. Dan holds a Master's Degree in Integrated Marketing Communication from Northwestern University's Medill School, where he participated in the Media Management crossover program at the Kellogg School of Management and served as Managing Director of the student-run blog. Earlier in his career, Dan also worked as a newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist and was named an inaugural board member of Social Media Club Chicago, where he served as Communications Director.