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How social media listening can drive brand perception and audience growth

US-based social media monitoring company SocialFlow recently reported that publishers and media companies have made great strides in winning the battle for eye-balls on social media feeds.

Investigating the top organic posts, they found that these were seen on average by nearly a million people each. More importantly, nine in 10 of these posts were from media or entertainment companies, a result which is reflected in the rapid growth mobile magazine media is enjoying as social media sites play an increasingly important role as content aggregators.

Brands themselves may be sitting on the losing end of this equation from an organic posting point of view, but this may not be keeping brand managers up at night as they increasingly focus on a new application and value in the form of social media listening.

Whether you want to call it listening, monitoring or just plain old analytics, the reality is that for many brands the emerging value of social media is becoming centred on its application as a customer experience management and research tool. 

It may send alarm bells ringing to traditional researchers as the world’s biggest research buyers such as Proctor & Gamble and Coca Cola shift investment away from traditional research and into social media listening capability, but far from seeing social media listening as a threat, it should be viewed as a complementary addition which not only helps to bring costs down, but which adds real time consumer driven relevance to findings. 

And, in a world of infinite (and often free) content choices, ensuring that we are tapping into what is relevant and then reflecting it back our audience is becoming more crucial than ever. 

Whether your company has already invested heavily in social media listening capability or not, below are three ways you can start incorporating it today to enrich your consumer and brand understanding using free tools such as Hootsuite.

1) Understand what drives brand perception

Most brands that are serious at understanding their brand health will invest in a brand tracking study. It’s a great way to understand how your brand is perceived by consumers, its evolution over time and how marketing, promotional activity and competitor activity impacts it. 

Running a brand tracker with regular intervals can be an expensive and slow moving affair though and it’s not the most responsive tool to understand what is influencing shifts in perception in the short term. 

Social media can be used to conduct real time brand sentiment analysis showing you what people are saying about your brand or content, whether the tone of those conversations are positive, negative or neutral and the context surrounding these conversations. 

For those without a budget, sentiment analysis provides a quick and affordable alternative to brand tracking. 

Even if you are fortunate enough to already have a tracker in place, brand sentiment analysis allows you to sense check whether you are asking the right questions or provide some clues as to how your key performance indicators might need to be refined.

The same level of information on your competitor brands are also yours for the taking using this approach. 

2) Identify your influencers to target new audiences

You may already be paying close attention to the conversations happening on your own social media feeds but what about the rest of the web?

There are millions of sites, blogs and forums out there and your social media listening should extend to these and not just focus on the obvious channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. 

This extended view can help you uncover a huge number of influencers or brand ambassadors that you are potentially blissfully unaware off. 

More importantly these influencers may very well have followers and fans of their own. Engaging these influencers makes for fertile soil to start seeding your content beyond your natural networks and opens your brand up to new audiences that might not be interacting with your brand but who are a primed and receptive audience for your content. 

UK based Brandwatch reports that Sony has used this tactic to great effect. By identifying and focussing in on the influencers who make up only 15 per cent of their huge customer base, they’ve managed to increase sales by 300 per cent on certain products. 

Once you have identified your influencer networks, you can also create geographic heat maps to ensure that your print distribution footprint matches that of you your digital brand conversations. 

3) Informing and validating traditional research

Using qualitative research is a great way to improve understanding of an issue or to help better understand consumer wants and needs. It’s often an essential starting point to any research project and allows you to quantify your findings and develop an understanding into how this might scale across the population or key target groups. 

The drawback to such an approach is that is can add substantial costs to a research project.

Social media listening not only provides a cost efficient alternative, but can provide such results in real time which can cut weeks off the overall timeframe to finish a project. Just like other qualitative methods, social media listening can also be used to inform survey design or to validate quantitative findings. 

Of course these approaches are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media listening, and the application of it to help you drive consumer centric business decisions is potentially only limited by your own imagination. 

If you are still wondering whether social media listening is really an important tool for your business let me leave you with this thought: You may have succeeded in getting the social media eyeballs fixed on your content, but just like in a real life relationship, a lack of listening skills have a tendency to make eyes wonder. 

Is that really a chance you are willing to take? 

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