social listening

Why Social Listening Is a Must

Customers no longer want to be sold. Customers want brands to address their passions, pain points and help them achieve their goals. They want meaningful, relevant and timely content they can relate to.

But how do brands truly deliver on this? Brands need to better understand their customers’ behavior by literally observing customers in their natural environment and walking a mile in their shoes.


The best way to be a fly on the wall and observe behavior is using ethnography. Ethnography is qualitative research that involves observing consumers in their natural environment to better understand what, how and why people consume.

This approach does not involve focus groups or voice of the customer research. The famous advertising executive, Bill Bernbach, once said “At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him.” In other words, customers are not always good at articulating needs and wants verbally, and they are unlikely to think of solutions that do not exist.

It is best to focus on customer behavior to gain insight. This involves observing people in their everyday lives at the gym, at the office, at home, at the grocery store, etc.

In today’s digital world, we are at a huge advantage for collecting customer insight. According to the Digital 2019 report, U.S. consumer spend an average of 6:31 hours online per day! So lucky for us marketers, we don’t have to go far, spend tens of thousands of dollars or weeks and months to directly observe our customers. We simply need to observe their behavior online – unless, of course, your customers are not online, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.

Social Listening

Social listening – tracking conversations about specific brands or topics online – can be so impactful for so many reasons. We are literally able to observe consumer behavior and collect data using software. This speeds up the process and cost and gives brands insights into the why, where and how specific conversations are happening and what people really think. Brands can use social listening in a variety of ways including strategy development, message development, content development and identifying influencers. 


Social listening can be used as a form of research to help drive strategy. Ideally, social listening is part of several research steps, but if there is no time or budget for additional research, social listening can provide quality insight quickly, including:

  • Identifying target audiences and key demographics
  • Learning the overall sentiment of the brand and industry
  • Discovering what competitors are doing
  • Learning what customers are saying about competitors
  • Identifying key topics and trends customers are discussing and how that influences the brands key messaging

Messaging & Content Development

Social listening can be used on an ongoing basis to drive messaging and content creation for blogs, social media, publicity and media relations and more based on what the industry is talking about or wants more information about. Insights can include:

  • What questions are commonly asked?
  • Which topics and trends are customers passionate enough about to discuss online?
  • What issues are customers having in the industry? How can your brand help solve the problem?
  • What words and messaging are trending?
  • Are there any trending hashtags for the particular industry the brand should be involved with?
  • Is there any industry or brand crisis starting to emerge we should know about?

Influencer Identification

Social listening should not be the only tool a brand uses to identify influencers, but it can identify people who may be true flag carriers for the brand or industry. And these powerful influencers are not necessarily the traditional paid ones with the highest followings. Insights can include:

  • Are there any major brand flag carriers or haters?
  • Are there people or channels we need to be paying closer attention to?
  • Who are some key players that may not be on a brand’s traditional influencer lists that it can engage with?
  • What are these influencers saying about the brand and industry?

Social listening should be done on an ongoing basis as conversations are always changing. The more insights a brand has about its customers, the more likely it can address customer passions, pain points and help them achieve their goals. As a result, it can help brands achieve their goals of developing meaningful, relevant and timely content that engages their customers.

This blog post was co-authored by Jennifer Manocchio and Rachel Dill.

Jennifer Manocchio


After starting her career with Edelman in Chicago, Jennifer joined Sweeney and quickly established herself as an exceptional industry innovator. In 2004, she opened Sweeney’s first full-service office outside of Cleveland and quickly rose through the ranks to become agency president. Jen leads by example and without fear. She has been critical to agency growth throughout the past decade and continues to lead the agency into the future.