From mighty IBM to smaller, social-first vendors too numerous to name, there is a massive industry within the greater martech umbrella devoted to collecting and interpreting social media data. Considering today’s political and social climate, people use a variety of platforms to share their opinions on issues, products, services, sports and a million other topics. The question becomes: how can organizations, advocacy groups, and brands take in (or listen to) all of this incoming data to inform an effective engagement strategy?

A lot of thought leadership has been put towards demonstrating the value of social listening for organizations. However, social insights don’t come in silver bullet form, and shouldn’t be considered an instant panacea.

The truth is: there are different ways each organization can use listening. It’s key for brands to understand these varying degrees and identify which fit best for their needs. There are certainly other schools of thought on this, but ISL has its own point of view on how organizations can collect and use conversational insights.

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The five levels outlined below build upon the previous one, requiring increasing levels of depth of analysis.

Social Listening Style Breakdown



An organization doesn’t see the value in social insights. Since you’re reading this article, we can move on.



This is the most surface-level use of social listening. Organizations within this bracket are aware of some of the benefits of social insights and are doing entry-level work in the field. This generally means using simple share of voice (SOV) calculations, or out-of-the-box sentiment to estimate consumer awareness and opinions.

Even with these high-level metrics, this information is useful to brands for the purposes of observation and benchmarking. This reporting is scratching the surface of deeper understanding of campaign performance or competitor white space.

Consider this scenario: Going into next year’s planning, the Widget Company wants to understand how Product A is doing. By looking at volume and sentiment of online conversation of Product A and competitors within its vertical, the Widget Company finds that no one is owning the conversation, giving Product A an opportunity to be a leader in the vertical. They decide to increase marketing efforts and budget to propel Product A in 2018.

Recommended toolsSprinklrSysomos MAP, and Talkwalker




Social listening tools enable brands to capitalize on the unique conversational nature of social media. Effective use of keyword listening helps brands find current, prospective or disillusioned consumers to interact with.

In this case, queries are more carefully considered; specific queries should be constructed for each key conversation point. Human community managers are needed to verify the authenticity of users and craft personalized messages. Responding to users can be an effective way to perform customer service, advocate, and spread the love.

Consider this scenario: Cell carrier A has a big, if disgruntled, user base. Carrier B sees a chance to convert some of those customers with their lower prices. Carrier B sets up specific queries to capture people saying “hate,” “want to cancel” or “expensive” in regards to their current carrier. Using human community managers to conversationally engage, Carrier B links to its lower fares and conquests some customers.

Recommended toolsSprinklrHootsuite, Spredfast and Sprout Social




With the constant competition for consumers’ mindshare, key marketing events or announcements are critical to make brands top-of-mind. Another effect of these events is often an increase in online conversation. Reactive organizations harness insights gained from social listening to adapt their strategies.

Although being ‘reactive’ is generally perceived as negative, that’s not the case for this type of social listening. There are immensely valuable insights that can be drawn from reacting to user conversations. When it’s fresh in their mind and users have something to react to in real time, they will be honest in their feedback.

Consider this scenario: Product A’s first TV spot aired during last night’s episode of everyone’s favorite network show, and now lots of people are talking about Product A. The Widget Company certainly intends to continue promoting Product A, so they look to see what they can learn from reactions. After compiling a report, they find that the emotional payoff at the end of the spot resonated with fans, who laughed at the joke in the first 15 seconds. They also find that a handful of people didn’t know what product was being advertised.

The Widget Marketing and Creative teams love this kind of information. They can make a cutdown trailer for pre-roll that features the same joke they already know people love. For future spots, they also have two valuable pieces of feedback: viewers connect with the emotional arc, and any future ads should share the same sentimental feel, but they know the product, a title card or logo needs to appear quicker to dispel any confusion.

Recommended toolsNetbaseBrandwatch, and Sprinklr




This is the most evolved and in-depth type of social listening. In addition to the previous types of research outlined, Proactive organizations take it a step further and view social data with a scientific lens. These companies actively seek to intertwine social research, just like they would focus group or third-party research, into everything they do.

In addition to more passive examples, the owners of the social listening products are actively testing theories against the data that’s already out there. This is especially applicable for new ideas. With this type of social listening, no one is waiting for a reason to collect information, planners know that gathering the most robust data set available is key to setting the table before concepting even begins. The most informed idea is the strongest, that’s the power of using this data in a proactive manner.

Consider this scenario: XYZ, Inc. is making Service X a priority for its 2018 budget after a year of middling performance. This means a large mid-summer promotional campaign supported by media will promote the benefits of Service X. Before XYZ begins the concepting process, they trust social listening to provide initial guidance.

XYZ initially positioned Service X around price, but they know they need to test their ideas. Do consumers look to Service X for price? By looking at volume, sentiment and topics of user conversation, they discover that price isn’t mentioned that frequently, it’s the client service of their account reps that people really love. Combining this valuable nugget of information with an understanding of Service X’s closest competitors, XYZ doubles down on its reputation for outstanding customer service, an area that competitors are weak in. This context informs the creative brainstorming session and means the campaign idea is borne out of user perception.

Recommended toolsNetbaseBrandwatch, and Crimson Hexagon




The scenarios above should be relatable to many organizations, and outlining our different levels of social listening will have the gears turning for many leaders. The first step in the immediate term is to define your organization’s most pressing need. Matching that need with the type of listening is a good start, and we’ve already made tool recommendations for you!

There is no one right answer, and its possible that several types of listening may fit within an organization to meet different needs. In our opinion, the more, the better. What we know for sure is that there’s a deep well of information out there, and every company has the opportunity to tap into it.

Want to talk? Contact us!