The complete guide to social listening for marketers: What you need to know


If you want to understand what’s going on across social media and what type of content is likely to perform best for your brand, a good social listening strategy is essential. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is social listening and why is it important?

No business today can afford to ignore social media as part of its marketing mix. With over five billion users across the globe connecting on these channels – that’s almost two-thirds of the world’s population – it’s almost a certainty that the customers you’re trying to reach are active on social media – it’s just a matter of finding them.

However, with so many users out there, this is easier said than done and it can sometimes be difficult to see the wood for the trees. Actually cutting through all these billions of conversations and making sure you’re putting the right messages in front of the right people is essential to ensure your time and budget are being utilised effectively. To do this, you need to know what people are talking about and what they are most likely to respond positively to. And this is where social listening comes in.

What is meant by social listening?

Essentially, social listening refers to the monitoring of social media channels to identify what conversations are taking place in order to track trends and determine what the sentiment of users is. Often, firms do this with a focus specifically on your brand, looking out for mentions of your company, even when they aren’t speaking to you directly or tagging you in their posts. 

To be most effective, however, it can be used more widely to keep track of what topics your target audience are talking about. You may also look to analyse what your competitors are doing – or not doing – or identify which keywords tend to get the most engagement. This insight can then be used to tailor your own social media marketing to tap into these conversations. 

How does social listening differ from social monitoring?

Sometimes you might see social listening referred to as social media monitoring, but this is not entirely accurate. While both involve keeping a close eye on key social channels for trends and mentions, an effective social listening strategy is a much more in-depth approach to informing your marketing activities.

Generally, social media monitoring is a customer service-oriented activity that focuses primarily on your brand. This involves finding customers who are talking about your company – especially if they are asking questions or making a complaint – and then engaging with them directly to assist. This ensures you can respond quickly to any issues and help build relationships with potential and existing customers.

Social listening, on the other hand, is much more proactive. As well as seeking out mentions of your brand across all types of social media, it extends its reach further to look at industry trends, competitor activity and much more. It’s a more holistic approach to social media marketing that gives you a complete 360-degree picture or your audience’s drivers and interests.

While social media monitoring can tell you what your customers are talking about, especially in relation to your brand directly, social listening gives you insight into why they are having certain conversations. In turn, this means you’ll know exactly what techniques you need to adopt as part of your own social marketing strategy in order to increase engagement, deliver higher return on investment and meet your marketing goals.

How does social listening work?

While there are a range of different techniques that brands can employ in order to conduct social media listening, the process essentially breaks down into three key stages: monitoring, analysis and action. Let’s look at these a little more closely.

  • Monitoring: This stage is where you look closely at conversations across social media. This involves tracking mentions of your brand, your competitors and any highly relevant keywords to see what type of activity is taking place and where it’s happening.
  • Analysis: Being able to turn the data you gather during the monitoring stage into useful insight is critical to the success of social listening. To do this, you need to identify key performance metrics to review, such as engagement rates, response times and whether user sentiment is positive or negative.
  • Action: The most important part of any social listening strategy is how you implement the findings. As such, it should be closely linked to your content ideation strategy and campaign planning to make sure you’re responding effectively to any emerging trends. In order to get this right, it’s important to have clearly-defined goals for your social listening. There are a range of applications for these strategies – more on these below.

How can a social listening strategy help your business?

As noted above, social listening can offer a range of benefits to a business. Therefore, it’s important when starting out on such activities to have a clear idea in your mind of what you hope to achieve. For example, do you want to focus closely on your brand to gain a deep understanding of how you’re perceived by customers or wider audiences? Are you looking to draft an up-to-date content strategy that taps into fast-evolving trends? Or improve your relationship with existing customers by positioning yourself as a fast-responding partner that genuinely understands users’ concerns and issues? 

All this and more is possible with an effective social listening strategy, so here are a few of the key questions you can answer with these techniques.

How can social listening be used for lead generation?

Many firms may think of social listening primarily as a market research or customer service tool, but did you know it can also be used as a part of your lead generation activities? There are numerous ways this can be achieved, with one of the simplest being to reach out directly to people who are already showing interest in your brand or key topics of expertise. 

This can help transform your outbound marketing efforts to focus on those with the highest chances of success. Moreover, social listening can also ensure you’re engaging in the right conversations or using the most relevant hashtags, as well as ensuring you’re publishing the most insightful content to nurture leads and drive them further down the sales funnel.

How can social listening be used for market research?

Market research is one of the most common use cases for social listening tools. By collecting data from your most relevant platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter/X or LinkedIn, you can better understand customer behaviour, preferences and trends, or keep track of what your key competitors are doing to assess their strengths and weaknesses. By tracking specific keywords, for example, you can see the tone of online conversation and how people perceive you.

In turn, this should feed directly into your decision-making for how you market your products or services to potential customers in order to address their needs or concerns, or take advantage of gaps in the market where other brands aren’t taking part in the conversation. You can even feed this info back to R&D teams to facilitate future improvements to your offerings based on what customers are saying.

How can social media listening increase customer advocacy?

Another frequent application for social listening is to reach out to customers to boost loyalty and turn passive users into advocates. By maintaining a constant watch for conversations about your brand, you can step in as early as possible to answer questions or address any complaints – often before an individual has contacted you directly.

Taking a proactive approach can earn the appreciation of customers and make them champions for the brand. This type of earned word-of-mouth can be invaluable to firms. What’s more, as these interactions take place on public forums, it also demonstrates to other potential customers that you’re a brand that pays attention to what its consumers think. 

What are the implications of social listening for SEO?

Improving direct interactions with users is far from the only use for social listening. These techniques can also be used to give a boost to your search engine optimisation (SEO) activities, both on social networking sites and beyond. An effective strategy in this area can give you great insight into which keywords are performing well, which ones are likely to be the most competitive and where opportunities lie.

It’s not all about keywords either. Social listening learnings can filter into a range of SEO activities such as link building, by turning brand mentions into connections back to your website, or even finding potential partnerships for guest content or influencer team-ups to give your brand a boost.

How does sentiment analysis work in social listening?

Many social listening techniques depend on having a clear understanding of the sentiment behind what people are saying about your brand, industry or products. This involves gaining a picture of what percentage of relevant conversations are positive, negative or neutral in tone. 

However, this can often be difficult to quantify objectively, which is why it helps to have a specialist social listening tool on hand. These can use techniques such as natural language processing to look for key terms and determine their context. However, with this technology in place, you can identify areas for improvement in customer service or product development or tweak any marketing messaging to focus more on the areas people respond well to and avoid campaigns that generate negative feedback.

Your audience and target is talking on social media – but which platform?

It’s important to remember that none of your social media marketing will be effective if the audience you’re chasing aren’t active on your chosen platforms. Most firms won’t have either the time or budget to market across every social media platform – and nor should they, as much of this would be wasted effort. Therefore, another critical aspect of social listening is to identify where your customers are online.

Social listening can greatly help narrow this down and go beyond the basics. It can tell you more about who your audience are and the types of conversations they have across multiple platforms. This may be especially important for B2B firms who may find their target buyers are active across several social media services and have both personal and business accounts.

How to build your social listening strategy

Now you know what social listening is and some of the potential applications for this strategy, it’s time to go about putting it into action. However, this can prove a significant challenge for firms that are engaging with this for the first time.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to assist with this, from dedicated special listening tools to expert marketing agency partners that can take on the heavy lifting for you and talk you through the results. Here are a few things to know to help you get started.

What are the best practices for social listening?

When setting up your social listening activities, it pays to bear in mind a few key best practices in order to ensure you’re making the most of these efforts. Among the most important things to remember are the following.

  • Define your objectives. The first steps must be to determine exactly what you hope to get out of social  listening. This can be a better awareness of what customers think of your brand, keeping on top of key trends or staying ahead of industry developments, to name just a few. However, it’s important not to try to do everything at once, as this will reduce the focus and effectiveness of your efforts.
  • Identify target keywords and topics. Taking the time to define exactly which keywords, hashtags and topics you’ll focus on is another key step. This should include both brand-related keywords and wider industry topics, and should be regularly reviewed to keep on top of an evolving market. A good keyword research strategy can help with this.
  • Set out a workflow. Identifying who will be responsible for setting up social listening data, how often you will review the results and what format you should be presenting your analysis results in helps ensure that you can put the findings to good use as quickly and effectively as possible. Be sure to schedule regular reviews and don’t be afraid to make changes as you go along in order to refine your strategy.
  • Don’t ignore competitors. It can be easy to focus all your attention on what people are saying about your brand, but good competitor analysis is a key part of social listening. This isn’t all about learning what they’re doing well so you can emulate successful efforts. It can also help spot any areas they’re not talking about, allowing you to step in to fill these gaps with your own content.
  • Share your findings. The insights you gain from social listening will have value throughout your organisation. It’s not just about creating relevant marketing content – sales, customer support and product development teams will all benefit from deeper knowledge of consumer sentiment and emerging trends. Make sure these analytics are presented in a clear, concise way and come with recommendations for next steps in order to stand the best chance of success.

What are the best tools for social listening?

One of the best ways to conduct social listening is to use some of the many dedicated tools that are available to help monitor and analyse social media performance. Choosing the right solutions for your business can be challenging, but here are some of the most popular options and what they can offer to businesses.


Hootsuite provides a comprehensive set of social media management tools, including the ability to monitor keywords, mentions and hashtags, as well as managing your own special campaign. Its optional analytics tools also let you keep an eye on your competitors’ social strategies.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is another full-service social media management platform that also offers a range of social listening tools. These allow firms to track brand-specific conversations and provide visibility into what people are saying. The ability to set up custom alerts lets firms respond quickly to any potential problems.


HubSpot’s social listening tools allow you to monitor the performance of chosen keywords and set email alerts for specific mentions. As the platform also includes a CRM, you can link social conversations directly with customer data. It is particularly well-tailored for use with Twitter/X, but does have more limited functionality for other platforms, especially smaller social media services.


Brandwatch is a consumer intelligence platform that can analyse both historical and real-time conversations from millions of sources to identify current trends and how they change over time. With tools like sentiment analysis and AI-powered image recognition tools, as well as a suite of data visualisation capabilities, it can provide comprehensive reporting into wider social activity.


If you’re looking for insight into the latest trends in order to inspire your own content creation, Buzzsumo may be an ideal choice. It specialises in content discovery and research, letting you keep on top of the hottest conversations. It keeps track of all the biggest services, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit and its dashboard lets users filter content by format, domain, social network, or author, as well as providing direct access to the key trending topics.


Another platform with powerful analytics functionality, TalkWalker offers more than 50 filters to segment social data and identify the most relevant audiences for social monitoring. This can help you understand the performance of your social activities by measuring engagement volume, reach, sentiment and more.


Brand24 is focused on measuring brand awareness and reach, using data from 25 million online sources to track conversations and gather consumer insights. This lets you gain a clear insight into what aspects of your brand people like or dislike, measure brand sentiment and identify potential reputational risks.


How do you know if your listening strategy is working or not?

Social listening is just one part of a holistic content marketing effort, not an end in itself. It should be viewed as a first step in strategising and content ideation and as such, the real results come later in the process with more effective social media marketing, improved brand awareness, better lead generation and more loyal customers.

However, there are a few key performance metrics you should be looking at to determine the success of your activities and where improvements can be made.

What are the key metrics to track in social listening?

There are several key metrics you should be tracking as part of your social listening activities that can give you an indication of the overall effectiveness of your efforts on these platforms. Exactly which ones you choose to focus on will depend on your previously-established objectives, but here are a few that you should always be aware of.

  • Brand mentions – One of the simplest metrics to keep track of, this simply records how often your brand is being talked about online. However, there is more to this than just a headline figure. For instance, you can look at the reach of your mentions (eg. how many followers people who are talking about you have) and what is the ratio of positive to negative. This can be used to build a Net Promoter Score that illustrates how excited customers are about your brand and how likely they are to recommend you.
  • Engagement – This covers a range of aspects but essentially comes down to how many people are interacting directly with you. This can be follows, likes, comments, or clickthroughs from your social channels to your website. However, as part of social listening, you should also be looking more widely at engagement rates for key topics or hashtags to determine which  areas are gaining the most traction among social media users.
  • Share of voice – A slightly more in-depth approach than looking simply at mentions is to find out how much of the conversation your company, products or keywords are responsible for. For example, working out what percentage of relevant mentions refer specifically to you as opposed to competitors or more generic terms can tell you how strong your brand is. Measuring how this changes over time is a great way to illustrate the overall effectiveness of your social media marketing.
  • Demographics – It’s important when conducting social listening not only to understand what is being talked about, but who is doing the talking. Therefore, analytics tools that are capable of gathering critical demographic data, including age, gender, occupation, location, interests and more, are vital. Without this information, you won’t be able to effectively segment your customers or create personas that you can tailor your own content marketing efforts to.

What are the best ways to analyse social listening data?

Once you’ve gathered all the relevant data from social listening activities, it’s important you know how to present this in a clear way, and what key areas you need to look at.

For example, are there any spikes in activity around certain keywords? And if so, how do you determine the cause of this? While there may be predictable seasonality to certain topics, on other occasions the causality of peaks and troughs of interest may be harder to spot.

If you’re struggling to make sense of your social listening results, it pays to turn to an expert partner with a strong track record of interpreting data and turning this into actionable insight that can be applied throughout your digital marketing. 

Axonn offers a comprehensive set of services, including social listening tools, content creation and social media management to ensure that you can not only gain insight into your brand and your position within the wider market, but turn this into action to improve your overall social media strategy and deliver a better return on investment for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter/X and more.

14 Minute Read

By Emma Dodd | Updated

Emma is a senior member of Axonn’s editorial team, with more than 12 years’ experience in writing engaging content for a wide range of audiences.

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