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What Is Social Listening?

Many prominent companies — including Southwest Airlines, Microsoft and REI — are turning to social listening as a new model for audience research and customer service. Social listening focuses on solving problems and building relationships by recognizing that customer interactions and conversations can reveal the bigger picture of what's happening with a brand. Having this understanding enables businesses to fine-tune activities like customer service and marketing to be more effective.

Simply put, social listening is a specific way of paying attention. It entails hearing, speaking and responding to customers in a more nuanced fashion that reflects their own ideas, concerns and interests. It is also about understanding customer sentiment toward a brand, and how that may influence their positive or negative relationship with it.

Listening Is Good for Business

Social listening is most commonly practiced on social media. Given the number of negative customer service incidents that go viral online each year, it's clear that many businesses are still learning how to listen, and doing so the hard way. Social media multiplies the impact of all types of customer interactions, and businesses that are active listeners are better prepared to respond to complaints and sustain brand loyalty.

Social listening is more proactive than reactive, however. It often involves tracking online conversations that are happening around a brand, issue or industry — even down to the words, phrases, expressions and hashtags people use to communicate with each other — to get a bird's-eye view of brand health or satisfaction. Listening across social media platforms for trending keywords, topics related to a brand, or the types of information fans of the brand share and retweet can also help businesses stay ahead of the curve as they develop and market new products or services to meet emerging demand.

Here are some other examples of how companies are using social listening:

  • To gain insight on what consumers like or dislike about a brand
  • To seize opportunities for sharing user-generated content that features or relates to the brand
  • To assess and analyze common pain points in the brand's audience
  • To gauge audience interest in the competition, or sentiment toward it
  • To evaluate consumer interest in new products, or a product line expansion
  • To anticipate future customer needs and wants
  • To establish a bond with customers based on their location or cultural touchstones
  • To provide timely response to hot topics or trending issues
  • To enable quick turnaround on customer service issues
  • To collect ideas for marketing campaigns

Relationships Matter

When a business de-prioritizes the essential work of listening to the customer on social media or otherwise, it loses sight of its most important relationship and asset. Social listening can serve as a form of collaboration between businesses and their customers. It can also alleviate the need to delegate listening and response functions to the customer service escalation chain of the call center model.

The information social listening provides can also give businesses a competitive edge in building customer loyalty. A business that's truly listening can reflect back the care and attention a brand receives from its audience by communicating with customers on their own terms, even in their own language. In an age where consumers increasingly demand quick and professional customer service delivered via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the ability to personalize these interactions can make the difference between a customer for now and a customer forever. 

Learn more about Northwest Missouri State University's online MBA in Marketing program.


ABC News: Behind the Scenes With Southwest Airlines' Social Media 'Listening Center'

Sprout Social: What Is Social Listening & Why Is It Important?

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