Are You Listening? The True Value of Broader Industry Listening


When you hear communication pros talk about “listening,” do you really know what they are referring to?

In the world of PR and marketing, listening is an everyday process that helps us stay on top of client mentions in social and traditional media. But it’s so much more. Odds are you understand it in theory, but the whats, whys, wheres, and hows might not be entirely clear.

We’ve outlined all four to help you get up to speed on the value of listening so you can capitalize on this valuable tool.

What Is Listening?

If you’re still confused by exactly what listening is, that may be in part because the industry often uses two terms interchangeably: listening and monitoring.

SproutSocial, a social media management platform, describes the difference like this: “Monitoring sees the trees; listening views the forest.” More specifically: “Monitoring takes a look at individual messages coming in across your channels, while listening assesses the meaning behind this data in the aggregate.” Other experts will tell you that monitoring is passive, whereas listening is active.

Simply put, listening goes beyond tracking mentions of your brand or industry terms to identify broader themes and trends that truly inform your content and strategy.

Why Should I Be Listening?

Before you even start listening, you need to answer one question: Why?

Whether you want to see what your competitors are doing, find industry experts, or identify key trends to capitalize on with content, listening is the tool you’re looking for. But if you’re at a loss for what your “why” is, some of the more common ones include:

Brand reputation and management: An influencer mentions your brand in a tweet and everything changes all at once. Your business is suddenly buoyed or boycotted, its stock price goes up or down, and your brand is making headlines. Of course, this is an extreme example, but it lays bare the reality that the internet and social media have changed the balance of who’s controlling the message.

The folks at HootSuite, a social media dashboard, liken listening to “an organic form of market research where the focus group was made up entirely of people already engaging with your brand or your industry.” In other words, who is talking about your brand? What are they saying? Is it good, bad, or neutral? What channels are they using?

Customer engagement: The opportunity to respond to feedback in real-time is not only a customer service dream come true, but a must do in the digital age. Feedback — good or bad — can be quickly amplified. By engaging quickly, your brand demonstrates a commitment to this person’s experience. Some problems are harder to resolve than others, but you greatly improve your chance of meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations when you engage with them directly and in real time.

Moreover, listening is key to understanding who your customers are, what they care about, and where they are talking about you — the marketer’s holy grail.

Competitive intelligence: Just as listening allows you to understand how your brand is perceived, it also gives you the ability to measure how your competitors are faring. But this isn’t just an exercise in voyeurism. Scoping out the competition can provide actionable insights that you would otherwise miss. What are they doing well that your brand can learn from? What mistakes are they making that you can avoid? Are there any unhappy customers that you can engage? What are the topics they focus on?

Identify trends and influencers: Not only can you identify topical trends relative to your market(s), listening also helps you identify the most influential people and the best times of day to reach them.

Where Should I Be Listening?

Now that we’ve discussed the why, let’s take a look at the what. You probably assume that all of this discussion is about social media — and a lot of it is — but not all. You can’t ignore other important sources like offline media or industry events. These can be harder to tap into because there isn’t a digital tool to do it for you, but the insights gleaned are worth the manual effort.

When reviewing both off and online channels, look for:

Anything you can use to impact marketing performance

Customers: who they are, what they are saying, where they hang out

Markets: what the trends are, what competitors are talking about, who has the most influence over these conversations

Opportunities to improve products 

Customers: what they want, how they feel about your product, inputs into product strategy

Markets: competitive feedback, trending features, changes to how people are using products, who is using them

Customer service and engagement opportunities

Customers: which customers are happy, who is unhappy, who is at risk, who is ready to engage with your brand

Markets: opportunities to provide education, share expertise, solve problems, establish new relationships

How Do I Listen?

At this point, you may be wondering just how you’re going to manage all this listening, how many tools you’ll need, and how much it will cost you to do it. Yes, some of the tools out there are expensive, but free tools also exist and they’re a solid place to start. (Hint: You’re probably already using them!)

  • Google Alerts is a great, non-social place to start. Go beyond alerts for mentions of your brand (which we assume you’ve had set up for a while) and add key industry terms to the mix. Doing so can help you identify not only breaking news but also new trends and themes to be aware of.
  • HootSuite offers a freemium version of its platform where you can set up simple streams to kickstart your social listening for brand mentions, competitor listening, keyword mentions, and more.

If you’re looking for a little more power, there is no shortage of other resources for social and traditional media. Cision, Brandwatch, Salesforce, Meltwater, Crimson Hexagon, Factiva, and Radian6 all offer incredibly powerful (but more costly) tools to boost your listening.

Whether you’re making it work with a collection of free tools or diving deeper with a data-heavy dashboard, ultimately it comes down to how you use that information. Daily monitoring and quick action will be key to make the most of your listening.

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