March 18, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: How Social Listening Strengthens Your Content Marketing Strategy

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is how social listening strengthens your content marketing strategy, with guest Brooke B. Sellas.

“If you’re using social listening, you can easily find out how to create more content where you’re actually connecting with your audience and getting them to converse with you as the brand.”—Brooke Sellas

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Brooke Sellas, founder and CEO of B Squared Media, to discuss how social listening strengthens your content marketing strategy. They explain how you can start a social listening program to learn which topics your community is passionate about, including tools you can use, how to approach dark social, and more. 

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below. Download Brooke’s free social listening workbook for more background on how to get started with social listening. 

Q1: What is social listening? How does it relate to social media monitoring?

Social listening uses AI and machine learning to monitor open conversations around the web.

“Social listening is really just a software. It uses AI and machine learning. AI is just software that mimics human intelligence. Machine learning is where you’re giving the AI prompts, but it’s learning on its own how to write better code and better handle prompts. So it gets smarter and smarter the more you use it. Depending on the platform and the API the platform has—the easiest way to say that is one platform will talk to another—you can use social listening to listen for keywords on social media sites, blogs, forums—anything that has an open API.”—Brooke Sellas

“If we were listening in on Facebook, we would only be able to listen in on people who have their profiles completely open and public. In a conversation with me, who has an open profile, and Erika, who has a closed profile, you’d only get one side of that conversation.”—Brooke Sellas

Social media monitoring is reactive, whereas social listening is proactive.

“The difference between social listening and social monitoring is actually really big. Social media monitoring is what we’re all doing, it’s social 101. If somebody comments on your post or sends you a DM on social, that’s reactive. We’re waiting for people to come and ask us those questions or input those inquiries.”—Brooke Sellas

“Social media listening is proactive because we’re not just talking about when people tag us or comment on our post or DM us. We’re actually going out and listening to conversations on those forums for those keyword listeners that we’ve input into the software.”—Brooke Sellas

“By listening, you’re learning, and you’re waiting for the right opportunity to pop in and be exceedingly useful, helpful, fun, and engaging. Versus waiting patiently for somebody to call on you in class.”—Erika Heald

Q2: What is the value of social listening? 

Social listening ensures you are fully aware of the conversations happening about your brand or product.

“A quick example: Let’s say Erika was talking about Apple Music, and I’m talking about Apple Music. When I talk about Apple Music in my Tweet or post, I tag Apple Music, and it highlights when you do that so it’s clickable. If I do that, you would receive that notification in your inbox because I have tagged Apple Music. If Erika mentions Apple Music and does not tag them, you would not see that show up in your notifications unless you were using social listening and had your brand, Apple Music, as one of the listeners.”—Brooke Sellas

“Especially if there are a bunch of accounts with similar names to yours—which a lot of brands definitely have that problem—people aren’t going to try to figure out which the right handle is. They’re just going to put your name and not ‘at’ mention you. Also, let’s face it: too many brands have started not even responding unless you have a complaint. If you say something great, you’re lucky even to get a thumbs up.”—Erika Heald

Social listening helps you keep the ‘social’ in social media.

“If somebody took the time to say ‘thank you’ in real life, would you turn around and say ‘you’re welcome,’ or would you just stare at them and then walk away?”—Brooke Sellas

“If you’re using social and one of the goals of your social media strategy is having people buy from you, do not leave them hanging on any sort of comment or question.”—Brooke Sellas

A study found that brand conversations are just as important as reviews when buyers consider making a purchase.

“There was a study done a couple of years ago that looked at brand reviews and then brand conversations, where people were talking about a brand on social or mentioned the brand’s name or one of the stakeholders. The study found that brand conversations are weighted just as high as, if not higher than, brand reviews. So when shoppers are going online to research and potentially buy, they’re not only looking at the brand reviews that you might have on Yelp, Google My Business, Glassdoor, or Facebook. They’re also looking at the conversations that you are having as a brand with your online audiences.”—Brooke Sellas

“The report went on to say it doesn’t matter if the conversation was initiated by the brand or by a customer, those conversations happening online significantly impact the consideration for purchase. A lot of people say, ‘Well, nobody is talking about me, so I don’t have to use social’ and it’s like the record scratch. You better get to talking then or get people talking, because people are looking at these conversations to evaluate your brand and if you’re worthy of their purchase.”—Brooke Sellas

And social listening keeps you aware of brand reviews.

“Using social listening is a great way to keep on top of reviews and make sure that when something comes through, whether it’s negative or positive, you’re able to go and make a response.”—Brooke Sellas

“There are companies that have never looked at their Glassdoor profile, and you really need to. And that said, there are other brands—frequently when there are issues around toxic cultures—where someone thinks it’s a good idea to respond to criticism by throwing the person providing the criticism under the bus. If you’re treating people with no respect or if you’re being nasty to former employees giving you criticism that they felt strongly enough about to spend their own time to give you that feedback, it does not reflect well on your brand. I’m not saying you say thank you so much for the terrible comments here, but you need to figure out how you are, in a respectful manner, going to address that stuff.”—Erika Heald

“In the report I was talking about, they said that even if the conversation was negative, as long as the brand comes through and responds in a way that seems like they want to solve the problem, onlookers left feeling positive about the brand.”—Brooke Sellas

Brooke’s team promotes eight ways to use social listening: audience analysis, customer feedback, consumer research, influencer recognition, sentiment research, campaign analysis, competitor comparison, and trend identification. 

Q3: How can marketers use social listening to improve their content marketing strategy?

Content marketers don’t often realize that social listening can improve their strategy because they think it’s someone else’s job.

“Every organization has social living in a different place. In some companies, it’s part of the comms team and reports up to a completely different person than the CMO. As the head of content, I frequently have social as part of my team, because it’s such an important way to get to understand your audience. But not everybody who’s involved in content marketing even understands why they should be engaged in social listening, because they think it’s someone else’s job. But it can be really important and helpful.”—Erika Heald

Brooke champions the BIC social listening strategy: Brand, Industry, Competitor.

“I have the most simple strategy ever that you can use: The BIC method. [B is brand], which means you should have keyword listeners set up around your brand, stakeholders, and product names.”—Brooke Sellas 

“[I is] industry keywords. For Apple Music, ‘music’ would be an industry term, new artist releases, or you may put some of your most mentioned artists in because they have a huge army of fans.”—Brooke Sellas 

“C is competitor. I feel like this is where a lot fo people miss out on social listening. But one of the coolest ways to use social listening for competitor research is when you’re looking at the sentiment, which basically is a score that’s given by the AI that says this is a positive conversation, it’s neutral, or it’s negative. If you were to go look at the negative sentiment around your top competitors, you can find really interesting ways to create differentiation campaigns.”—Brooke Sellas

“If you were running a shoe brand and you looking at your top three competitors, you [might] notice that the biggest competitor had a lot of complaints. You dug into it and saw that it was because their laces break after three or so runs. Couldn’t you, as a competitor of that brand, run a campaign talking about how strong your laces are for runners and marathon runners and how they last through at least 100 runs?”—Brooke Sellas

Social listening helps decide which channels are most valuable to your content strategy.

“Social listening usually changes the perception at the leadership level about which channels we should be engaging with. An example I always like to use for that is Facebook. For years, people had this ridiculous idea that we all compartmentalize our lives and that we use LinkedIn for our business conversations, Twitter to complain about things, and Facebook to talk to our high school friends. While some of that is true, a lot of us were having really insightful, interesting conversations with strangers that had some sort of an interest, be it professional or regional. There are all of these groups that sprung up organically on Facebook around the time that LinkedIn was having challenges with their moderator tools. And the thing is, those communities did not migrate back to LinkedIn. Facebook has become this huge powerhouse.”—Erika Heald 

“Go look at each of your social platforms and look at all the conversations that are happening per platform. Tag or mark whether something is acquisition or retention. Is someone asking a sales support question? That would be acquisition. Is someone asking a troubleshooting customer service support question? That would be retention. As you start to mark that down, you’ll start to automatically see which platforms have the most conversations, as well as how much of that conversation is acquisition versus retention.”—Brooke Sellas

Social listening also helps you define a unique strategy for every channel.

“The big lesson people are still learning is it really is going to always be different on each platform. There are still brands that post the exact same message with the exact same image on all of their channels at the same time, and then wonder why they don’t get anywhere as though people only follow them on one channel. Every one of these platforms has a different personality. And social listening is the obvious way to understand what the personality is on that platform for the people you’re trying to reach.”—Erika Heald

Q4: How can a sales team use social listening?

Social listening helps sales teams understand competitor shortcomings and audience interests, which identifies features or use cases the sales team should mention in their conversations. 

“We use social listening at B Squared as part of sales enablement. I put out different words, especially about our competitors, and I try to understand the positive, neutral, and negative sentiment that’s happening. I’m constantly looking at the conversations around their services. I can literally see what people rave about with them, and I can [see] what we need to work on if it’s something that I feel we’re not good at.”—Brooke Sellas

“When I start to see negative conversations happening with our competitors, I want to produce content that addresses those pain points and shows their customers that I am doing those things they say they don’t like right or doing them better. I can also run advertising campaigns because you can literally target those companies, your competitors, in the advertising campaigns and do that differentiated campaign.”—Brooke Sellas

Encourage everyone at your organization to monitor for social conversations. Train them on how to engage in social listening and empower them to be brand advocates on social. 

“I put social listening and employee advocacy training as part of new hire onboarding. I think it’s so important to help everyone understand why you’re using social as a company, what your objectives are, how they can help, and give them really practical skills so they feel confident and have that be part of their toolkit regardless of what their job is in the organization.”—Erika Heald

“You want them to be connectors and amplifiers. If they see something that is relevant on social, you want them to feel like they can send you an email saying, ‘Hey, I saw this in a community I’m part of and thought you’d want to see it or be interested.’ Don’t limit it to just being a sales enablement focus, have it be employee-wide, because these are great skills that will help them connect with your customers, regardless of their job.”—Erika Heald

“It really shouldn’t be siloed. A lot of people ask which department does social listening help the most. Well, everyone. We’ve changed product packaging based on information we got back on social listening. I helped a jewelry brand open their next brick-and-mortar store based on where a lot of their listeners were really talking about them geographically.”—Brooke Sellas

Q5: What free and paid tools or methods can content marketers use to engage in social listening?

Disclaimer: Erika has worked with Meltwater and currently pays for Agorapulse and Feedly.

“As a disclaimer, I have worked with Meltwater over the years and I am currently an Agorapulse and a Feedly subscriber.”—Erika Heald

“If you have the paid Feedly, which is primarily used for keeping an eye on very specific publications and their feed, you can also set it up so that all of your Google Alerts go into a specific feed. So that way, instead of keeping an eye out for those emails, which even Gmail will sometimes mark as spam, you never miss one.”—Erika Heald

Brooke recommends you try tools like Brand24, Digimind, Emplifi, Google Alerts, Mention, Sprout Social, and Talkwalker to support your social listening.

“We are a Sprout Social user. Our clients who are on our tool, that is the tool that we use. Listening through Sprout Social, but for full disclaimer, it’s pricey.”—Brooke Sellas

“If you want to start free, Google Alerts is not really social listening in the way that we’re talking about here, but if you’re interested in putting your toes in the water, you could go into Google Alerts and set up a listener. It’s going to alert you more on PR type notices, not necessarily content or conversations.”—Brooke Sellas 

“Mention.com provides one free listener at a basic level. That’s another way to get in and use something free and get your feet wet.”—Brooke Sellas

“Brand24 is a very cost effective tool to use social listening with because they only charge you by the listener. You can have one keyword listening, but then have a Boolean search so you’re getting a lot of different keywords through one keyword listener or one search. It’s a lot when you get in there and start doing the Boolean search.”—Brooke Sellas

“There are sites like Sprout Social, Talkwalker, Meltwater, and Digimind. And these are tools that are going to be more in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars a month. And if you’re having a good time, you could obviously move to a Mention paid plan, or Brand24 might be your best bet.”—Brooke Sellas 

Sprout Social is especially helpful for social media customer care, which Brooke discusses below. 

“I have been a Sprout user since the platform came out. They didn’t offer social listening until later on, but the reason why we stuck with it is because we do a lot of what’s called social media customer care. This is where a brand that has a high volume of conversations coming through on their social media platform outsources their social care to our team. We’re always on essentially listening for complaints and troubleshooting, and we’re using social listening for crisis management, review management, and things like that.”—Brooke Sellas

“Over time, Sprout has really positioned themselves and their tool as a social media customer service tool. And a lot of the metrics that they’re measuring within the tool play into that, so things like response time and first touch response time. We can pull a team report and see how each team member is responding, how long their average response time is, etc., because we have SLAs around response time.”—Brooke Sellas

“It has what’s called a social CRM. So let’s say Erika is always engaging with the client’s content, we can go into the social CRM part, pull up Erika’s profile, and give her a star. So every time we see that bright star we know this is one of our advocates or our VIPs. And then we’ll have notes, like Erika is a VIP, she did X, or Erika is a high-value client.”—Brooke Sellas

“Especially when you have multiple people managing a social channel, it’s impossible for any one human to know all of the different people. So, to me, that was one of the things that was just so nice. You’re able to start building that institutional knowledge in a really scalable way.”—Erika Heald

Artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT can help you craft differentiated social media content, especially when responding to negative reviews or customer messages.

“What happens a lot in financial services is everything that goes out on a public channel needs to be approved and signed off by somebody with like a series of 24 people. Banks, in particular, have a one-sentence response that you will see over and over and over in response to every single comment on their social. That is the worst thing you could do! At a minimum, go to AI and have it write you 100 versions of that, and have your S24 stakeholders approve all of them so you can pick which one is the most friendly and appropriate for the tone that you’re getting.”—Erika Heald

Q6: How does dark social—such as email, private communities, etc.—impact your social listening strategy?

A lot of conversations happen that you cannot directly monitor. Create a robust keyword listening strategy that includes brand stakeholders to increase the likelihood of noticing when a conversation is taking off. 

“Typically what we see right before a crisis becomes public is little bubbling conversations that happen, mentioning the name of the stakeholder or the person who got fired or whatever it is.”—Brooke Sellas

“It’s really important to think through your brand strategy and not just think about the company name and the product or your service names. Think about who the key players are within your organization, who are in the spotlight, and make sure that you’re listening in on their names.”—Brooke Sellas

Google Analytics helps you monitor where people are coming to your site from, which could provide a hint about where conversations are happening about your brand. 

“As far as identifying some of the places where people are talking about you that you might not be aware of, Google Analytics is going to be your best friend. You can go in and see where you are getting those brand new users from. So if you’re seeing that there’s a really big spike in email as a referral chanel, and you only send out an every-other-week email newsletter, you might want to start digging into and figuring out what [email] it is of yours that people are forwarding around.”—Erika Heald

“Or if you’re getting a bunch of referrals from a Slack community, you might want to go join that community!”—Erika Heald

Q7: How can we create better social media content designed to elicit feedback from our communities?

Brooke’s book Conversations That Connect teaches you how to craft more compelling social content. Her team also offers several free courses on the topic. 

“Content that connects is so important. I go into this ad nauseam in my book. So if you are interested in the science behind this, the sociology and psychology behind content that connects, I urge you to check out my book.”—Brooke Sellas

Too often, brands share cliched content on social media.

“What brands are failing at is moving into those deeper disclosure-type conversations on social. They’re sharing cliche information, they’re sharing facts. We’re open today. Our new product is XYZ. Buy, buy, buy. Instead, what you should be doing is finding out what those top fears, and top best feelings, are. Base it off of opinions and feelings.”—Brooke Sellas

Use social listening to learn about which topics your audience talks about and is interested in.

“Look at social listening to see what people are saying about your industry or your brand or your competitors. And then start asking questions based on that.”—Brooke Sellas

Start Your Social Listening Journey With a Social Audit

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