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The 3 levels of social insights for digital marketing

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 24 Jan, 2018
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The difference between social listening, monitoring, and real social insights

In sixty seconds alone, 3.3 million Facebook posts, 66,000 Instagram photos, and 449,000 tweets are published.

That’s an abundance of content, but in this sea of data, your consumers are sending signals about what they want and what kind of digital campaigns they want to see from your brand.

By tracking these signals, you can better understand your audiences, identify influencers to partner with, and run campaigns that yield an increasing return on investment.

Capitalizing on this intelligence, however, requires looking beyond your average engagement metrics. It requires digging into different levels of insight and forming a clear strategy based on their nuances.

Here are the different levels of social insight that you need to be aware of. Consider which ones serve your goals best, and leverage those tactics in your digital marketing.

1. Social media listening

Social listening means tracking conversations around your industry, specific topics, and audiences at a high level. With social listening, you begin to uncover various levels of insight.

Basic listening

The first layer of social listening involves learning from your own audience by looking at posts around your branded hashtags, handles, and/or pages.

For example, you may choose to ask a question through your social channels, then “listen” to the comments on your Facebook page, your Instagram post, or your tweet to get an idea of how people are reacting to certain topics at the moment.

At this level, you’re not looking for deep audience insight. It’s not possible unless you’re working 24-hour days to check the profile of every user who engages with your content. Hence, this data doesn’t help you segment your audience, but rather keeps you in the know of what’s going on at any given moment.

Deep listening

Deep listening involves tracking general social posts about a topic, not just posts directed at your brand or associated with your content. With this advanced form of listening, you can discover hundreds, maybe thousands of posts from users talking about a specific topic.

For example, let’s say you’re interested in tracking opinions around football. If you’re not a using a third-party tool, you’re probably using the native search function on Twitter (or any other social channel) to find relevant posts.

The benefit of a third-party party tool is that it lets you track various keywords, or filter data by multiple variables like the total number of people engaged, sentiment, content type, etc.

This helps you answer questions like, are there certain topics that are more important to your audience? What kind of tone should you use when talking about certain topics based on your consumers’ sentiment toward them?

Deep listening helps you obtain a more comprehensive view of your target audiences. It begins to lay the foundation for validating personas. But like basic listening, it doesn’t quite provide the deep audience insight for understanding your consumers as individuals with multiple interests, thoughts, and motivations.

2. Social media monitoring

Unlike social listening, social monitoring involves tracking mentions of and content by you and other brands. You’re keeping a pulse on how people are talking about each brand, and what kind of sentiment they express around their products, services, or overall company. You’re also benchmarking your performance against your competition.

In the example from earlier, social media listening lets you observe what people are saying about the football in general. Social media monitoring now helps you learn how people feel about specific football brands, like the NFL or the Washington Redskins.

There are two main aspects of social media monitoring.

Brand monitoring

This first step of social media monitoring requires tracking your own brand, including your content, mentions of your brand, and mentions of the most visible people in your organization.

Here are some questions that you’ll want to answer:

  • How influential is your organization’s reach?
  • What formats of content earn the most engagement?
  • Are your followers more responsive to quick tips, short blog articles, long-form articles, videos, case studies, etc.?

When monitoring your brand, you’ll also want to track the various ways you could be mentioned. For example, the Redskins would benefit from tracking mentions of @Redskins and the keyword “Washington Redskins” on Twitter. They may also choose to track affiliate handles like the @WOWRedskins, their official Women of Washington Redskins club.

Competitive analysis

Once you set up brand monitoring, you’ll want to track activity around your competitors to get a clear view of the social media landscape in your industry.

Use Google or the native search functions on social media to identify competitors via industry keywords. Focus on competitors that are engaged in and invested in social media marketing. Find out:

  • What social networks are they on?
  • How consistently do they post?
  • Do they engage or respond to followers?
  • How engaging and influential are their posts?
  • What types of content are they posting?
  • What content are they linking to or promoting?
  • How often are they promoting different types of content (blog articles, white papers, case studies)? How do followers respond to those posts?

For instance, aside from gleaning competitive social intelligence across the entire NFL, any NFL team is probably tracking their divisional components. The teams in NFC East, which consists of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins, are all located in some of the largest media markets in the U.S. You can bet someone’s fighting for bragging rights over social media performance.

Track views, shares, likes, and mentions of their posts to further benchmark your brand’s performance.

You don’t want to copy your competitors, but leverage competitive analysis as inspiration when shaping your own social strategy.

3. Audience development via deep social insights

Many companies use a combination of listening and monitoring. Together, the two provide great insight into how people feel about whole industries, topics, and brands.

But there’s yet another level of insight that tells you who your audience is, not just what they’re posting about. It doesn’t simply focus on behaviors, but zooms in on the underlying interests and lifestyles of users. It delivers the depth you need to run campaigns that achieve impact.

Third-party tools are required for this. They can collect data at scale and distill the psychographics, affinities, or other meaningful insights from that data. In other words, third-party tools will help you consolidate information from various social channels, then identify patterns in behaviors or brand engagement among your target audience. This gives you the power to understand your consumers as the people that they really are and connect with them on a personal level.

Not only can you know the constituents of your audience, but you can segment your audience according to various data points, e.g., which followers fall into your most profitable audience segments? Is there an opportunity to increase revenue with specific segments?


Social media listening and monitoring mark the beginning of drilling beyond a superficial understanding of your target audience. You can gain even more value if you dig deeper into their identities on social media, and do this consistently to guide any digital campaign that you launch.

Save time and money while achieving a better return on your marketing investments, and take advantage of audience insights to keep your marketing personal and relevant.

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By Expert commentator

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