4 Steps to Create a Social Listening Strategy

social media how toIs your business thinking about social analytics?

The first step when considering social analytics is to establish a listening strategy.

In social media, listening acts as a guide through the ever-changing and interesting world of the blogosphere.

Why? Because listening is an ongoing process that is necessary to keep a strategy fresh and competitive. It enables decision-makers to find and better understand opportunities and stakeholders.

So, exactly how do you go about listening?

#1: Determine your target audience

Once an organization has determined whom to target, it’s critical to understand where to engage them online. A common misperception is that all social networks are the same and therefore everyone is on the same platform.

For example, according to Anderson Analytics, Generation Z (13- to 14-year-old) social network users were more likely to use MySpace than Facebook; only 9% used Twitter and none were active on LinkedIn. If your company is targeting Generation Z on Twitter, you’re listening in the wrong place.

An example of an organization successfully targeting and engaging an audience is Seton Hall University. In an effort to increase their revenue and student enrollment, Seton Hall marketers decided to target prospective students using Facebook to build relationships.

They launched the Class of 2014 Facebook page and tagged custom Class of 2014 tabs, making it possible to identify any www.shu.edu visitors who had also interacted with Facebook. Using social analytics and reporting, marketers then examined the behavior of these visitors.

seton hall

SHU 2014 Facebook page.

The Seton Hall staff began responding to prospective students’ requests for help, from orientation to deposit status to placement tests to housing. Soon, “declarations” (posts where prospective students announce a decision such as major, orientation date or interest in a club or sport) had risen to 47% of all posts.

seton hall

SHU 2014 Facebook page sample engagement.

The data showed that visitors who interacted heavily with the Class of 2014 pages demonstrated a high level of engagement with the university website as well.

For example, they were more likely to request information and fill out applications than other visitors. The data collected revealed that Facebook was not only important to Seton Hall, but was critical to the following year’s enrollment.

By midsummer (two months before classes were to begin), tuition deposits for the class of 2014 were 25% higher than the previous year at the same time. Moreover, enrollment was tracking at 13% ahead of the previous year’s class.

Audience and location are foundations for a listening strategy; thus, step one is to know who your audience is and where to find them.

#2: Identify the influencers

A research report from Meteor Solutions found that the type of people who follow or friend you are more important than the numbers.

On average, approximately 1% of a site’s audience generates 20% of all its traffic through sharing of the brand’s content or site links with others.

This was backed by a Forrester Research report that showed a minority (about 6% of people) generates 80% of the impressions, and roughly 13% of the online adults generate 80% of the influence posts.

This is where social analytics come into play. Through social analytics, an organization can determine which individuals are sharing content and links and their sentiment about it.

Facebook and Twitter are likely places that influencers and target audiences frequent, but are just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, if you were tracking a Java programmer, Java blogs and community forums would provide a stronger platform for listening.

Another example, RTL Nederland (an entertainment company in the Netherlands) is using analytics to help interpret audience (tippers) feedback from a variety of social data sources for reality television programs, including “X Factor” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

rtl x factor

RTL Netherland's X Factor Twitter page.

RTL Nederland is able to better understand audience needs and preferences by analyzing blog posts, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and more. They’ve been able to make real-time changes to the programming, such as choice of candidates, music and the judging panel. This has led to increased viewer satisfaction and ratings.

Finding these like-minded souls is important for success, but can require some digging. In the end though, it’s worth the effort. Determining influencers will make all the difference in a listening strategy and ultimately, a social business agenda.

Analytics tools can paint that picture by analyzing and interpreting vast quantities of data—customer demographics, product-purchase histories, Internet experiences and online transactions—turning information into insight and developing conclusive, fact-based strategies to gain that competitive edge.

#3: Know the keywords and trends

Determine the topics that are important to your business and identify them as potential keywords. Then through listening, establish if that is the language your audience is interested in.

For example, “cost cutting” would seem like a viable term to use during a recession; however, as a result of listening, it’s clear that “cost reduction” is actually the preferred term.

If you’re in the wireless telecommunications industry, you would investigate dropped call, 3G, mobile apps, smartphone, data plan and so forth. Keywords should reflect what’s important to your business.

Though it seems like a simple thing, refining the listening approach to get exactly what you want and constantly searching for new keywords and noting keyword trends can help to better reach a key audience.

Telecom provider XO Communications is using state-of-the-art business analytics tools to predict customer behavior and proactively reach out to customers most likely to go elsewhere.


Through predictive analytic software, XO Communications is able to accurately predict customers who are likely to leave.

#4: Form a social business strategy

An organization’s social business strategy should address the goals and approach the company will take.

Relevancy and reputation management should be part of the goals.

How many times are you mentioned? In what context? By what audience? You can influence this by listening to the things your audience cares about and relating to their needs.

Secondly, how do you set up your organization to both listen to and brainstorm changes based off of the listening feedback?

One solution is to establish a virtual task force for sharing information learned.

For example, within IBM we have an informal Social Media Council with representatives from across business functions who gather to share best practices, comments and sentiment.

Another choice is to have a formal group whose mission is to listen and then respond to information across an organization.

In closing…

Social analytics starts with listening. The future is all about hearing what your business ecosystem (customers, business partners, constituencies, employees, etc.) has to say and collaborating internally and externally to meet their expectations.

Listening is not just a discipline. It is an embodiment of a social business strategy to address the mass volume of data every company faces today and offer a means for evaluating this information to drive business results.

What do you think? What is your company using for a listening strategy? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

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About the Author, Sandy Carter

Sandy Carter is vice president of Social Business Evangelism at IBM. She is also the author of the new best-seller, Get Bold. Other posts by »




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