Despite protests against essays and term papers in school, it turns out people actually love creating content, especially when it is broadcast in real time.

Ninety percent of the data humans have amassed from the first cave painting to the latest tweet emerged in the last two years, largely thanks to people’s passion for creating and sharing content.

In March, Facebook gambled this desire will continue, gobbling up Masquerade, an app that lets users create filters for their selfies.

Yes, the number of tweets has stagnated at 500 million per day, but emerging social platforms and tried-and-true media outlets and blogs have set us on a hockey stick-shaped trajectory in terms of content creation.

According to Mark Schaefer in 2014, 500 percent is a conservative estimate for how much the Web will grow by 2020. Sure people are sharing selfies and brunch pictures, but more and more they are engaging in intelligent, meaningful conversations that brands can harness from a reputation management or sales lead standpoint. 

“Earned media from a traditional or digital outlet is just the beginning of the intellectual value a piece of content can create,” says James Rubec, Cision Canada’s content marketing manager. “Conversation most certainly wafts out from a news article into the social space.

“If a brand isn’t monitoring social, it’s going to miss a majority of the conversation now and especially in the not-too-distant future. Millennials are poised to ratchet up social media volume, making it the primary means of content distribution and making real-time listening essential.”

The absurd volume of conversation may seem intimidating, but with the right strategies and robust social media listening tools,  you can harness real-time conversations and turn them into real business results.

So what is social media good for?SocialListening_WP-02

Brands that monitor social media benefit in myriad ways. Below we’ll take a look at how social listening helps you understand your:

  • Industry
  • Competitors
  • Target audience

But first let’s take a look at software’s role in this.

Why Social Media Listening Tools Are Essential

Let’s let the data do the talking.

  • A joint study between Conversocial and New York University found that one-third of all tweets to companies were about customer service issues, but only 9 percent of them incorporated the company’s Twitter username (e.g. @Cision_Canada).
  • On average, company names are mentioned in 273 tweets per week. The volume prompted Moz founder Rand Fishkin to say, “The quantity of interactions on Twitter may now rival many businesses’ interactions through their customer service teams.”
  • In 2015, 89 percent of communicators found social media listening effective but only 37 percent of communicators actively use the tactic.

SocialListening_WP-03No team, no matter how big, could sift through all of the millions of posts published each day to identify, not just brand references, but opportunities to learn more about its target audience and how to engage with them effectively.

Brands like Oreo, Arby’s, NASA and Smart Car have all leveraged real-time events and conversations to control a disproportionate amount of social media discussion, enthrall social users and generate the conversations and coverage that truly impact the bottom line.

Despite that success, two-thirds of brands don’t do social media listening. Their shortcoming is your opportunity to set yourself apart by owning the tactic.

The best social media management software allows you to shed disparate social media tools by combining monitoring, analytics and engagement in a single, intuitive platform. Once you have that, you can truly put the following best practices to use.

Better Understand Your Industry With Social Listening

There’s no such thing as a communication silver bullet, but there is communication gold, and that’s the insights and data you get from real-time social media listening.

“If you’re not listening in real time on social, you’re missing the most valuable information available, which is what your target audience feels about specific pieces of content, industry news and trends,” Rubec says.

Synthesizing these conversations enables you to identify what resonates with a particular audience and what doesn’t. From there you know when to engage with them in a particular moment or whether to pivot content strategies. 

Here are three steps to better understanding your industry through social listening:

SocialListening_WP-04Step 1: Plan monitoring in advance

The key to being able to react quickly to the insights from monitoring a real-time event involves taking time to think about and set up your social listening program to find the relevant, valuable conversations you need.

“It’s more difficult to backtrack when attempting to analyze social media in real time,” Rubec says. “The more time you take at the front end, the less time it will take at the back end.”

To make the data analysis easier, Rubec recommends structuring your listening on what you believe the conversation will include. 

Think of your search and listening as a funnel. At the top is the entire Internet, including social media. Further down are your filters, which segment the conversations you collect into the insights you need. To build those filters, speak with subject matter experts or third-party analysts who can help you foresee what will be discussed.

Step 2: Have a wide scopeSocialListening_WP-05

You need to monitor more than just what your target audience is saying. You need to understand and monitor all the surrounding factors that motivate the conversation. 

Remember, people may not mention your brand by name or use the hashtag you so carefully crafted. A broad scope, including misspellings and parodies of your brand’s name, will help you catch all that is relevant.

For example, if you were to monitor the voting around the presidential election, you don’t want to monitor only the candidates. You need to hear the discussion of all the policies by monitoring the constituents, uninvolved politicians, PACs and reporters.

“It’s never just a hashtag,” Rubec says of social listening. “It’s all the comments that go around the event or issue you’re tracking.”

SocialListening_WP-06Step 3: Monitor well before and well after

Just because an event or a campaign might last only days or weeks, if it’s successful, it will have ripples for days or weeks after.

“The resonance and impact might last a lot longer than you think,” Rubec says. “Monitor for at least two or three times that period. You might find the event or campaign you monitor gets new life well after you thought it ran its course.” 

Even if there isn’t a lot of buzz around the event long after its conclusion, you may be able to use the remaining chatter to pinpoint those who are truly engaged and cater future campaigns or messaging to them.

Better Understand Your Competitors With Social Listening

By listening to the conversation around your competitors, you will better understand your competitors’ actions, communication strategies and possibly even their product development.

At the most basic level, listening on social will show you what messages, content and tactics competitors use on which channels and how their audience responds. You can use these insights to inform your own communication strategy, whether it’s to directly compete with them or to simply pivot the strategies you’re using.

SocialListening_WP-07Step 1: Monitor competitors as you would yourself

When your competitor starts a campaign, you should listen. Identify the communication channels they used, research campaign hashtags and read the brand’s press releases.

This doesn’t just go for your big-name rivals.

“Monitor even the smallest competitors because the biggest innovation and disruptors could be coming from them and you need to know before it’s too late,” Rubec says.

The key is balance. To get the most from social listening, you can’t stretch yourself too thin.

SocialListening_WP-08Step 2: Listen to their leadership

Thought leadership doesn’t come from a brand. It comes from the managers, vice presidents and executives running those businesses.

By listening to these thought leaders, whether it’s directly from their accounts or tweeting about their latest speaking engagement, you can often see a competitor’s product roadmap. 

Before dropping a truly transformative product or idea on the landscape, brands have to prepare their audiences. Often, they will discuss their view of the future of an industry or new pain points their target audience has. Those are clues into what they will develop next.

For any brand, but especially those that aren’t as innovative or resource-filled, social listening provides an opportunity. Insights can help your product team develop a solution to head the competition off at the pass or mitigate the damage of a unique solution before they announce a release.

Step 3: Benchmark against competitorsSocialListening_WP-09

Understanding the performance of your campaigns and real-time interactions versus your competitors provides an idea of just how effective your communication truly is.

For example, if you are losing the battle for social share of voice, you can show the quantifiable impact of your efforts by reporting on how much ground you have made up in subsequent campaigns. You can also do the same to show how you have maintained or extended your lead.

Your analysis should include looks into how much your competitors share during an event, what they do that is most effective, how much ad spend they put behind their efforts, the type of voice they use, how they go about targeting audiences and an honest look at the quality of their content.

By understanding all of this, you can show how you fare against those same audiences and the estimated cost it takes to produce the results.

Step 4: Monitor similar brands in othSocialListening_WP-14er industries

Just as it is wise to examine competitors small and large, it is often useful to look at the strategies and tactics of similar brands in other industries.

If you are a leader in the financial industry, for example, you could look at a leading B2B software provider to see the type of content they produce and the technologies and platforms they use to disseminate it. You may uncover learnings that can apply to your own campaigns. This works well for real-time events, too. 

“If you sponsor an event that draws a number of sponsors from across industries, you may want to track your brand as well as the other sponsors to see what works and what gets push back from the public,” says Dave Cullen, a research analyst for Cision.

“This type of social listening allows brands to course correct in real time if another sponsor is performing well or poorly,” Cullen adds. “It also allows brands to protect themselves from a negative impact from the event itself.”

For example, at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, a lot of controversy swirled around LGBTQ rights. Brands that monitored the event saw the conversation about this controversy, how it impacted sponsor discussion, and how other sponsors reacted, enabling them to adjust their messaging while limiting risk.

Understand Your Target AudienceSocialListening_WP-15

The enormous amount of data available via social media listening makes it easier for brands to understand the demography and psychography of their audiences.

Demography will help you determine who comprises your target audience in terms of age, sex and location among many other variables. Psychography helps you understand that audience’s personality, values and interests among other things. Being in tune with both of these makes it easier for communicators to provide targeted messaging.

“For a long time in marketing and public relations, building personas was a time-consuming challenge,” Rubec says. “With social listening and the amount of data it provides, persona building becomes much less resource-intensive.”

In some instances, whether listening to a real-time event or just in general, you may find audiences you had never considered before. The maker of a hair removal product, for example, found that many in the cross-dressing and transgender communities discussed and recommended their products. 

“This was a group the brand had never considered before and through social listening were able to identify an entirely new group with a specific set of needs,” Cullen says.

“You can also use it to see if people are using your product in new or off-label ways. It may shed light on ways to expand an offering or fulfill a need that a brand was unaware of.”

SocialListening_WP-16Step 1: Separate by demography

Through social listening you can identify segments of your target audience by age, industry, geography and so much more. This enables you to better visualize their needs and speak to them with more targeted messages and content.

Cision recently monitored the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and broke down where the most conversation came from by state. California led the way in total volume of social mentions, but if you adjust for the population of each, you see that Washington, D.C., as one may guess, had a much more engaged audience.

Identifying the regions in which people have the most to say, for example, can help you provide targeted communication without bothering those likely less interested in an event with an extra touch. 

Step 2: Segment by psychography

SocialListening_WP-17A psychographic picture of your industry allows you to understand how your target audience feels about issues and reacts to the content you share.

Considering that 67 percent of B2Bs and 63 percent of B2Cs rate their content marketing as less than effective, most brands would stand to benefit. Even if you are in the minority, your brand can likely still find opportunities for improvement. 

“If you find that people are relatively disengaged from a conversation but are part of your target audience, this is your chance to test different types of content or messaging,” Rubec says. “While they may not be interested in engaging with the content you’re sharing today, you can identify what other content will grab their attention tomorrow.”

SocialListening_WP-18Step 3: Filter

“Filtering data enables brands to really sift through and find the needle in the haystack, which is the person most interested in your content,” Rubec says. “With the right social listening tools, you can automate that search and act as a magnet to find that needle, filtering through layers of data to find your target consumer.”

Retailers, for example, might want to have filters for mothers, fathers, millennials among many others, so you can identify the needs, wants and pain points of each group, especially as the calendar turns toward Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or graduation, and provide the messaging and content to introduce them to your brand and its offerings.

B2Bs can do something similar. For example, understanding the age of someone on social media will clue you into whether they have purchasing power. If they are below the manager level, your content will likely focus on resolving their day-to-day hassles. A purchaser, a manager or director, on the other hand, will want to know more about the overall business impact and pricing.

Social Media’s Importance Poised to Grow

SocialListening_WP-19Millennials are hell-bent on making social the primary means of communication, and for the most part, older generations are accepting social media as a necessary part of daily life, too. This will only become more and more the case, and many have already started to experiment.

Twitter recently signed a contract to broadcast 10 NFL games live on its platform at a cost of $1 million each. Comcast, long resistant to cord-cutters, recently raised its data cap to 1 terabyte, more than triple the previous cap of 300 gigabytes.

“Social listening is important today, but as we transition to a social-first world, it will become the most important thing,” Rubec says. “That’s not a far-off prognostication. It will happen in short order. Today more than 60 percent of North Americans use social media. In a generation, that will be closer to 100 percent.

“You need to invest in the right technology and commit to social listening now before competitors get a leg up on you in engaging with an underserved audience begging for targeted, valuable, social interactions.” 

Ready to turn tweets into insights? Take a demo of Cision Social Edition!

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