The terms social media listening and social media research are often used interchangeably, but in reality they are two different methodologies, each serving their own purpose. This is perhaps the best and most simple explanation:
Social listening focuses on the here and now while social research gives insight into the past and can be used to get a glimpse into the future.
Social media listening is more of the “here and now” monitoring – brands use it for general reputation monitoring and measuring customer satisfaction, while others use it to gauge ongoing marketing campaigns or a new product launch.
Social media research, on the other hand, goes deeper. It can be used to look back in time to gain insights that you didn’t have before. It can also be used to help determine the future – perhaps when deciding to roll out a new product or tap into a new market, or even when social listening identifies a potential emerging trend.
Each has its place in social strategy; knowing when to use each one might be difficult. One good analogy to use: think of social strategy in the same way you would a weight loss journey.
How, though, can social media strategy be compared to weight loss, and what do social listening & research have to do with this? Thinking of social listening as a scale and social research as a Fitbit makes the differences between the two easy to remember.
Step 1: It’s time to face the scale
If you’ve ever decided to lose weight, that decision may have come after stepping on the scale and coming to terms with the number looking back at you. For others, the goal to lose weight may have already been made, and the first step started with the scale. This is where social listening comes into play – think of it like a scale. Listening to conversations around a brand will give insight into the current state of affairs, including:
- The brand’s social visibility. Are customers talking about the company, the brand, and its products? If so, how often? What are they saying? How does the volume of conversation compare to competitors?
- Conversations beyond company owned social sites. part of social listening does focus on the brand owned social pages to better understand how consumers engage, what content is best responded to, and which sites are most effective. Social listening, however, expands beyond this and captures conversations all over the web, whether it’s social sites, message boards and forums, blogs, and even review sites. Research shows that only a small percentage of consumers talk directly to a brand, so casting a wide net will give more information about the current state of a brand’s social presence.
- What consumers currently see as strengths and pain points. See what consumers are talking about when it comes to your brand’s products & services so it’s clear where perceptions are prior to launching a new campaign or initiative.
Step 2: Baseline Research – Grab the Fitbit
Now that the scale has produced a number, it’s time to dig deeper to understand how you got to this number. Sure, it’s a fairly simple concept – either you’re eating too much or not exercising enough (or both), and to lose weight more calories need to be burned than consumed. You may have a vague idea of what needs to improve (“I should probably exercise more – I barely get to the gym”) but having a solid set of data can give the best foundation for success. It’s no different when it comes to a successful social media initiative.
When starting a weight loss journey, a tool such as a Fitbit can be invaluable. If you’re familiar with it, you know that it tracks everything from steps taken, calories burned, and calories consumed. Like social research, a Fitbit goes deep into the current situation to help people understand how they got to that number on the scale and what changes need to be made.
Last Christmas, I received a Fitbit as a gift from one of my siblings. To this day, I’m still not sure if it was meant as a (not so) subtle hint, or if he knows I’m into technology and would think it’s cool, or what. I figured if I have it, I may as well give it a go.
The instructions suggest wearing it for a week while going about normal eating and activities to get a baseline of where you’re at. So I did. Kind of. I lasted two full days before the five stages of grief set in – denial (I ate HOW many calories today? THAT can’t be right..), anger (there is NO way that step count is right – stupid Fitbit!), depression (oh my gosh, how did I get here?), bargaining (if I stop wearing this stupid thing, I know I can do better on my own), and finally, acceptance (okay, I get it – time to make a change.). As painful and revealing as it was, that baseline of information helped me understand how things got to this point, in black and white. I had a solid set of data to work from.
In this way, a Fitbit serves the same purpose as social research prior to starting a new campaign, product launch, or marketing initiative. Benefits of utilizing social research include:
Getting started in social media: perhaps you’re a newer business and ready to start building a social presence. The good news is that a presence already exists – it’s very likely customers are already talking. With budget and time constraints, efficiency is key. Conduct social research on the brand and industry to determine what sites consumers engage most on. This is where you will want to start. There’s no sense building a solid Facebook page if the majority of consumers engage on Twitter.
Launching a new product: this is a valuable time to look at past data on comparable products and brands. What are customers saying about existing products? What are the pain points, or features consumers wish current products had? Compiling this type of data can help with developing marketing strategies to best launch a new product and be able to promote your product with current pain points in mind – knowing the landscape of competing products can point marketing messages in the right direction to launch with success.
Tapping into a new consumer group: traditional research is pointing to a new demographic that your company wants to tap into. What do you know about this group? While the marketing team may have a general understanding of this new target group, social research can be used to develop a more thorough understanding of this group in relation to your brand, products, and industry in general.
Starting a new social media campaign: use social research to look at not only your brand’s past campaigns and how they were engaged with socially, but look at competitor campaigns and the conversations surrounding those. By doing this, data can be obtained and aggregated to better understand what works and what may not work in social campaigns, and tweaks can be made before a new campaign launch.
Step 3: Use the scale & Fitbit simultaneously throughout the campaign
Now that the scale highlighted the current state of affairs and the Fitbit provided data on past behaviors, it’s time to start the journey. Once a social media strategy is underway, whether it’s a campaign or new product launch, it’s important to continue to use both tools for maximum success.
But can’t I just use a scale (social listening) at this point?
Sure, you can and should “weigh in” on a regular basis and see if you’re headed in the right direction, if you’ve hit a plateau, or worse, gaining. However, just knowing the number is half the story, especially if you are not losing, but gaining or staying stagnant.
It’s the same with social campaigns or marketing initiatives – you may be able to see that the response is as expected, which is great, but what if the results are not going the way you envisioned? You’ll know it’s not working as planned by looking at the scale, which are the direct numbers correlated to your campaign, but the scale won’t tell you why. Using research for a deeper dive as a campaign is in progress will result in the ability to make changes/adjustments as needed, thereby potentially saving time and money that may have been wasted had listening not been done on a continual basis.
What else can research help with mid-campaign?
Here’s the beauty of social research – in focusing on a campaign and what may be going well (or not so well), the marketing team may find itself going down a rabbit hole – that is, conversations may be taking an unexpected turn that was not an intended outcome of the campaign. Using this information, additional research can be conducted to better the existing initiative.
A simplistic example of this is the phrase Target has been using in its recent advertising campaign, “Going on a Target Run.” This is a user generated phrase that has become commonplace, similar to the way “Google” has become a verb. In conducting research, you may find that customers have a nickname for your leading product, or refer to your stores with a consumer driven nickname (think “Wally World” for WalMart). This is something you may notice while researching campaign effectiveness but could be a completely different subset of research that might be valuable. This is one very simple example, but a good one to show how social research can often lead to offshoots of additional information to work with.
Step 4: Measure, Monitor & Report Success
The numbers on the scale don’t lie. Similarly, if you use the Fitbit correctly, and honestly track every movement and every calorie, you will get the best information to help you succeed. It’s no different in social listening & research. Key stakeholders focus on the numbers, the overall outcome, and ROI. It may be tempting to “overlook” key data points that aren’t so flattering or just focus on the positive aspects (“Well, I did eat that whole cake the other day, but don’t focus on that – look how many times I went to the gym!”).
At the end of a campaign or other social initiative, it will be time to report the successes and challenges. If continual listening and research has been ongoing, this process will be fairly easy since it was done throughout the process. It will take less time, and, even better, there should be no surprises on the outcome. The additional data collected during the process will also provide more thorough reporting, providing key stakeholders a better understanding of the campaign and its effectiveness.
Consider other benefits of this approach:
Key stakeholders will have more confidence in your efforts. Data is invaluable and is relied heavily upon when making decisions, especially financial ones. Numbers don’t lie; presenting a solid data set to key stakeholders before, during, and after initiatives may help in justifying social spend and/or obtaining more budget dollars for an initiative your team wants to roll out. By having solid data and research, marketing and PR teams will have more leverage going into meetings, not only by justifying current spend/initiative requests but also by documenting ROI for past campaigns and even possibly competitive campaigns. Social spend is still a touchy area; the more data available, the more solid a case that can be built.
It can build a framework for future initiatives. With careful planning, measuring, and reporting of progress, a clear picture of the success of an initiative and/or campaign are well documented. From this point, future initiatives can be more easily developed with background research to rely on and fewer missteps may be made, as lessons have been learned along the way.
Like weight loss, social strategy is a journey. It is not a “one and done” task, and even after goals have been reached, maintenance is required to continue to be successful. Understanding the what, why, and how at each step through social listening and social research – and understanding the use and benefits of each of the methodologies – will make the journey easier. There has never been a time where such rich data was readily available to marketers. Taking advantage of this content is an excellent side effect of social media – why not use it to its fullest capacity?