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Unless you’re operating in Amish country, brands and businesses worldwide are well aware of the need for social data to inform brand strategy. But this basic understanding is often where awareness ends, with too many brands still confused about how social data is captured and applied.

One common misconception is the belief that social listening and social monitoring are the same thing – interchangeable terms for one process. In truth, social listening and social monitoring – though often used together – have distinct jobs to do.

Social monitoring is about recognizing or being alerted to certain key events as they happen – such as a customer complaint getting a lot of attention.

What, then, is social listening?

This article will answer that question in detail, with specific attention to how NetBase’s social listening tools allow you to:

What is Social Listening

Social listening provides an overall and all-the-time baseline for your brand to work from. It’s a detailed analysis of your audience, what they care about, and where they discuss such things. It’s about uncovering and assimilating all the information you’re missing if you only count likes and mentions.

Social listening takes a broader look at the overall social landscape – taking in the typical shapes and sounds, so anomalies become easier to spot.

Or think of it this way: Social monitoring is like getting a flu shot when everyone around you is getting sick, whereas social listening is like eating an apple a day so your immune system is healthy and strong no matter what you’re exposed to.

Why Is Social Listening Important?

Just like a healthy immune system is important to prevent the body from being easily susceptible to illness, social listening keeps your brand aware of the bigger picture. Instead of focusing on individual tweets and issues, you get an aggregated view that highlights trends and themes you can use to direct brand strategy.

Unlike social monitoring – alerting you to a single problem that you solve in the moment – social listening shines a light on ongoing issues. Perhaps you have the same issue popping up regularly on the same day, or in a certain geographical area. Instead of offering a quick fix to satisfy a single customer, you can solve the problem at the root and eliminate it going forward.

But it’s not just about solving problems. Social listening offers information you can apply to any aspect of brand operations.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Understanding Social Sentiment to Track Brand Health

Social sentiment is actually the core of all social analytics – but tracking brand health in general is its broadest application.

When NetBase measures sentiment we use two combined metrics to calculate overall Brand Passion:

  • Net Sentiment – whether consumer emotions are positive or negative from +100 to -100
  • Passion Intensity – the strength of consumer emotions from +100 to -100

Why does Passion Intensity matter? Because a small contingent of consumers who love or hate your brand is most vocal – thus socially more powerful – than a large contingent of consumers who are ambivalent.

With sentiment analysis, it’s crucial to know where your brand stands typically, but also to look at spikes in sentiment to understand what’s happening during specific events.

Whether it’s a new campaign or product, or a crisis about to erupt, look at sentiment values before, during and after to assess whether the impact is ongoing, or isolated to a specific event, etc. If you haven’t solved the problem, sentiment will tell you.

For example, Starbucks has been under fire recently for a racially charged incident at one of their Philadelphia locations. Video of the event went quickly viral, and the coffee brand continues to deal with the aftermath.

A quick search of the terms “Starbucks,” “@Starbucks” and “#Starbucks” reveals a spike in negative sentiment on Saturday April 14, two days after the incident.

This is partly due to a post about Philadelphia’s police chief defending the arrests, but anger about the incident itself is also part of the equation.

You can see in the Attributes cloud what consumers have to say about it, with terms like “racism at ugliest level” and “issue apology” representing the largest parts of the negative conversation.

However, terms in green, like “implement more training,” indicate consumers are on board with Starbucks announcement they’re closing 8000 stores for an afternoon next month for racial-bias education.

Starbucks will need to keep a close eye on sentiment going forward to know if they’re doing enough to regain consumer trust.


  1. Establish a baseline using sentiment analysis
  2. Look at any spikes in sentiment and find out what’s driving them
  3. Continue following sentiment to ensure brand health

Identify and Optimize Content to Meet Brand Goals

Social content isn’t simply about “being on social.” Content is crucial to engagement and conversion – so you want to get it right. This is where social listening tools like NetBase come in super handy – because they eliminate a lot of trial and error.

Searching on your brand shows you which content is resonating – and on which channels. That helps you plan the type of content you need.

If you’re getting most of your engagement on Instagram, you know visual content is most important. If blogs are getting you the most traction, you know text is clearly your audience’s preference.

But what about the focus of your content? That’s where sentiment comes back in. Look at hashtags, topics and keywords to see what people talk about most passionately, and how that relates to the content they interact with and share. This also helps you optimize for search.

Instagram is very hashtag oriented, so knowing which hashtags are popular will help you there, as will the proper keywords/terms on any other network. The terms people use when searching for whatever your brand offers are important. The last thing you want is one of your competitors coming up first.

Which brings us to another key tactic: searching on your competitors as well as your own brand. Understanding how consumers feel about them helps you compete more effectively.

Now an example:

Searching on “JC Penney,” “@JCPenney,” and “#JCPenney we see the engagement graph for the retail brand. Hovering over the day with the most engagement, March 19, we see a lot of likes and comments, but very few shares. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it depends on what the brand’s goals are.

Looking over at popular media reveals their Instagram and YouTube influencers are killing it.

As always, sentiment matters, and it’s positive at 39%, but that’s not a high, comfy number.

Looking at the negative spikes reveals some posts about boycotting JC Penney for political reasons. Any brands on the other side of the aisle could use this as an opportunity, if they feel safe wading into the political fray.


  1. Identify the content and channels meeting your brand’s engagement goals
  2. Look at sentiment in correlation with content
  3. Look at competitor content for additional ideas

Create Campaigns Designed to Succeed

The beauty of social listening is that information you glean from one area – like content – spills into others. After all, content is the backbone of promotional campaigns – but that’s not the only consideration.

Social listening is something you want to apply to your entire category – not just your brand. When you do, you will spot trends you can leverage in a number of ways – like ad campaigns.

What does your audience want and how can you use those insights? Should you run a contest? Offer a special? Ask for user generated content? Your social listening will tell you. And this is where real-time really helps as well. You want to know what your audience is into NOW.

You also want to identify influencers – but be sure they’re helping keep the conversation positive.

When we search on “The Walking Dead” in NetBase Pro, we see Rotten Tomatoes has a lot of influence.

But clicking on the most-engaged Instagram post reveals a lot of negative comments. This extra level is worth exploring to fully understand what your audience wants from your brand.

Channels come into play here as well. A lot of the Walking Dead discussion is happening on Twitter, Reddit, and via entertainment news outlets… not so much in other places. So running an Instagram campaign for the show doesn’t make much sense.

Success is never guaranteed with any campaign, but you want to stack the deck in your favor as much as you can. Then follow along in real-time to make any course corrections dictated by your social listening.


  1. Identify topics/trends consumers care most about for the meat of your campaign
  2. Share your campaign via the medium and channels your audience loves most
  3. Follow progress in real-time and adjust as needed

Delight Your Customers with an Authentic, Personalized Experience at Every Touch Point

Social isn’t just about communicating about your brand – it’s about learning what consumers want, hence the “listening” part of social listening. It’s also a key part of your customer experience. Sometimes it’s where the experience starts, i.e., brand awareness, or where it ends, i.e., social customer care.

And in between it informs what that experience should be.

Consumers constantly share information on social – and that information is what brands must use to create and hone their customer experience.

Everything from your marketing campaigns, to product quality, to in-store service, to how your social care team interacts with customers shapes the customer experience. Use social insights to learn what your customers love, and to find ways to improve on what they don’t love.

This is another area where looking at competitors is smart. If you’re not getting the brand love you want, look at other brands in your category to see why their customers love them. Just as important, look at where they are falling short and learn from their mistakes.


  1. Analyze for terms and sentiment about your customer experience
  2. Look at competitors for inspiration and tactics to avoid
  3. Refine each touch point until you have a seamless customer experience.


Conceive and Launch New Products to an Audience Ready to Love Them

With overcrowded markets, digital shopping overtaking in-store, and other modern brand challenges, most brands literally can’t afford to fail when they launch new products and services. Social listening is an always-on survey that lets you find out what features and products your audience wants – and which they absolutely don’t.

You may even find a great idea for a brand partnership.

Or you can ask consumers about ideas your brand is considering. They won’t be shy about telling you what they think – and you’ll save all the money you’d have spent on a bad idea.


  1. Identify consumer wishes on social, and use sentiment to assess value
  2. Look for opportunities to partner with other successful brands
  3. Poll your audience about potential new products before spending

Social Listening Is Your Road Map

As you can see, social listening is not limited to marketing endeavors. The data you collect can be applied to any area of operations, and should be.

Though social monitoring is important for alerting you to potential problems, you need social listening to avoid being caught off guard.

You don’t want to wait until there’s a problem to take your audience’s temperature. You want to know how they feel every step of the way, and be able to anticipate and avoid problems as a result.

Additionally, the better you know your audience, the better you’re able to serve them – and that’s what keeps them coming back.

So invest in social listening tools now, if you haven’t already. Every second you wait just gives your competitors the advantage.

This has been part 5 of our Social Media Analytics Guide for 2018, designed to keep you in-the-know on the tools, metrics, and skills necessary to compete in an increasingly global arena.

Read the other parts of this comprehensive series by clicking below:

  1. What is Social Media Analytics and Why Is it Important?
  2. What Is Social Media Monitoring?
  3. What Is Social Campaign Analysis?
  4. What Is Social Sentiment Analysis?
  5. What Is Social Listening & Why Is It Important?
  6. What Is Image Analytics?
  7. What Is Audience Analysis?

Ready to see our social listening tools in action? Reach out for a custom demo!



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