Compared to any other type of marketing, social media marketing yields the best results whether it’s through going viral for the right reasons or through influencer partnerships. It’s why social media listening has been optimized as a strategy for sales lead generation. Social media monitoring has a great impact on your relationship with customers.
But… What do we mean when we say social media monitoring or social media listening? Many do confuse the two terms and while they share a common DNA, they’re very much their own separate beasts. Used differently. Performed differently. Yielding different results.
This article is not meant to present an either/or scenario – a good marketing department ought to be performing both – but give some much-needed clarity.
Before we go any further into what qualities separate social media monitoring from social media listening, we have to define what these terms mean. It’s not uncommon for these terms to be used as synonyms to each other without much consideration, and that’s certainly not the way to proceed forward with your marketing strategy.
You need to know the meaning behind these terms. In its simplest explanation, we’re talking about a matter of what is monitored vs. why it’s monitored.
Social media monitoring is very much what brands already do day to day and therefore immediate to understand as a concept. You’re doing nothing more than monitoring your social media profiles for direct messages, tagged comments, tagged tweets and then responding in a timely manner. Without frills and bells, social media monitoring lays the foundation of meaningful customer care.
Not to mention, it’s online etiquette 101 – harness direct communication with your audience for a shared benefit. Customers feel heard and supported. Brands sow the seeds of customer loyalty and repeated purchase.
Therefore, it’s essential to manage information coming your way through social media profiles as a way to manage communications. Another layer is added, when you take into account discussions involving your brand and products without directly tagging you. As a brand, you should monitor mentions of brand and product names (alongside misspellings), main competitors and people who actively search for products in your geographical market.
Consider social media listening as the super-powered upgrade to social media monitoring as you're using conversations (direct or indirect) as a stepping stone towards a deeper understanding of your target audience.
Companies target campaigns and messaging based on templates for buyer personas. Yet even with prior research, these personas often lack specificity and detailing – an area social media listening greatly contributes to over time as marketers figure out customer psychology and shift their efforts to better position products and expand their customer base. Effective listening points you towards online spaces you’ve yet to penetrate, but are hubs for prospect customers, and secures knowledge of their values and consumer behavior.
Social media listening doesn’t forget to account for the greater transformative processes driving one’s industry forward. Keeping within step with industry trends, which always affect how one’s target audience behavior and reactions, smoothens brand transitions whether marketing needs to change or products need readjusting to better suit new needs.
As similar as the two terms sound, social media monitoring and social media listening differ on a number of key criteria. We’re going to examine these differences by goals, scale, time horizon and approach in greater detail, but we want to draw the line in the sand separating the two on a rather fundamental level.
Part of why these terms confuse people and led to their false use as synonyms lies in their naming convention. Both to monitor and to listen perform the role as a means of observation, which is true for sure, but observation done in categorically dissimilar ways.
It’s a matter of how one makes observations. Are you going to look at a seaside landscape and zero in on a single cliff washed over by the waves (monitoring) or are you going to capture the entire picture in your head (listening)?
Monitoring considers the minute details of the now – the rock and the waves hitting it. Listening takes in the whole picture over time – what is the weather, how does the wind affect the waves and how the waves affect the seashore.
Let’s talk about approach first, because it’s a very telling line of differentiation and helps reframe how you view either process. In short, it’s a matter of reacting to proactive decision making.
At the one end of the dichotomy we find social media monitoring, which is reactive. The customer is the trigger. They’re reaching out to you whether with appreciative messages or, usually, harsh criticism. It’s your responsibility as a brand to pay attention to social signals (direct or indirect) – every missed opportunity to engage, reward or diffuse a social situation feeds into uncontrolled public sentiment. Control over the narrative of your brand must be within your hands.
Social media listening provides control over time through researched, planned and implemented actions based on insights gained through customer behavior and market trends. You notice bigger trends within individual interactions and pivot in that direction through better marketing, better products and more engaging content.
The potential applications are many and we’re going to explore these in the subsequent section.
Social media monitoring pulls double duty in which it retains existing customers and courts new, potential customers through social selling. Never forget it takes a lot fewer resources to keep your current customer base returning to you time after time than generating new leads. Conscientious and well-timed social responses to customer queries earn you repeat sales, when convincing and done correctly. Through monitoring, you’re also able to identify potential customers ready to reach and make a purchase.
With social media listening, imagination is the final frontier. Insights generated through listening have wide applications. Do you want to raise brand awareness? Do you want to rebrand? Do you want to better target marketing campaigns? Do you want to reposition a product on the market as a reaction to competitor moves? Social media listening gives you the data sets to succeed in any of the above.
The stark contrast between monitoring and listening best comes to light in terms of scale.
Social media monitoring handles the here and now – so you’re on the customer’s level and work on a case by case. Marketers as well as customer care representatives operate through individual interactions and the goal is to complete the interaction and resolve any conflict. This would be a customer coming to your social profiles with a complaint. Though it’s pretty common to answer general queries as well. It’s a good practice to be courteous and approachable in every instance – even when you’re being yelled at, but also when you’re praised.
Then there’s social media listening. You soar high above ground level and observe the bigger and more layered conversation concerning not just your brand, but your industry as well. You gather individual data points and translate their cumulative meaning for your business. This stretches far beyond your brand reputation and product performance right up to monitoring competitors and the entire industry for bigger shifts.
The duration also clearly differentiates between the two even if both necessitate long-term practice to gain the most benefit from each.
Social media monitoring happens on a much faster, shorter time horizon and brands observe results instantaneously with each new customer interaction. As such, we classify it as a short-term solution – once an interaction is complete, that’s it. There’s no continuous process and monitoring can be picked up and dropped multiple times per day, and gets done day after day without any additional investment.
In order to see any results, brands should invest time into social media listening. The prerequisite to useful insight is a good, representative data set and it takes time to gather data. Brands need to widen their scope and accumulate data points until they have a rich-enough sample to analyze. At the shorter end, you can gather data for the duration of a campaign. On the longer end, it may take up to a year to perform a very deep market and industry trend research.
You’re not short for choice with social media listening, because it’s where marketing was headed back in the late 00s. Now, it’s just an accepted part of businesses – brands are virtual beings and what the Internet has to say about a brand has profound effects. 95% of 18 to 34-year-olds follow brands on social media, which confirms how important it is to exist online. Another statistic shows that nearly 70% of consumers base their purchases on online reviews, so you need to control social narrative.
Top contenders at your disposal are:
Don’t have the budget for a fancy tool? Good news. You can do without in most instances – all you need is to have an employee in charge of social media to monitor social media channels over the course of the work day. Every social media has a native search function, so you can discover indirect mentions online with ease.
RSS readers have become quite adept at handling social media monitoring functions, whether it’s to subscribe to social media feeds of your competitors, branded hashtags or even social searches. Twitter certainly gives RSS users means to turn any URL into an RSS feed and even so readers like Inoreader have built-in support for Twitter, which makes it indispensable.
In terms of tools – basically, every single tool we covered in the section for social media listening have the necessary features to adequately monitor your social media channels. Awario gives users a chronological feed of new mentions with instant notifications. Sprout Social has its Smart Inbox and Khoros connects users to their customer base through messaging, chat, social media, email and SMS.
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