Are you ready to improve customer relationships with the help of the world’s largest focus group?

By Mary Gura, SVP, Executive Director of PR/Social, and Courtney Perigo, SVP, Executive Director of Data Strategy & Utilization

The pandemic created unprecedented growth in social media usage with Americans spending 85 minutes daily online–that’s a seven-minute jump versus 2019. People have also flocked to newer platforms like TikTok which announced in September that it reached one billion users monthly.

This type of engagement gives brands a unique opportunity to listen to their customers, interact with fans and generate new ways to deliver sales. Brands that do it right can tap into a nearly $36.6 billion opportunity to capitalize on the dynamic real-time nature of the platforms for commerce.

Social media is the world’s largest focus group, at the ready, for brands to tap. But what is social listening? Why should your brand use it? What does “doing it right” entail?


Traditional research is useful to check and monitor that your marketing efforts are delivering value and can be used to glean insights but not at scale. They can also take time. Tapping social conversation can yield a large amount of data quickly. But first, what is social listening?

Social listening is a method to capture and analyze publicly available data and content in order to understand what people are saying about a category, brand or trend.

Key to successful social listening programs is an approach rooted in facts and data that are measurable and repeatable. That’s important because it allows you to conduct an in-depth evaluation of conversations around a specific topic to answer a specific question.

Social data is available from across platforms, including Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, news comments and YouTube. For Facebook and Instagram, we can source information from publicly available profiles but not those set to private. From these platforms, we can evaluate data, such as conversation volume, key words and topic volume, influential users, trends over time, conversation sentiment, perception differences on topics/issues brands, a view into a user’s experience, and what inspires them/holds them back.

The data from social is invaluable to brands who can use it to find their most passionate customers, evaluate messaging performance, monitor competitors, inform your campaigns and creative, develop new insights, drive sales, and even inform new product development.


The scale and power of social media data is vast. Consumer conversations happen everywhere and the nuances of that data are complex which requires advanced analytics and engineering to unlock its potential. So, it’s important to know the following:

Social Listening Analytics: What You Need to Know
• You’ll need to step up your analytics game by making sure you have the appropriate tools to mine for insights. These tools have built-in methods for topic and sentiment analysis that will help you identify trends quickly. Tools from partners like Brandwatch, Sprout Social, Meltwater and others are the first stop to setting up your social listening analytics.

• Use sound analytics techniques to discover insights and relationships between social behaviors and real impact on your business. You and your partner agencies should be familiar with the pros and cons of social listening methods like natural language processing (NLP), topic modeling and sentiment analysis. Appropriate interpretation of these models will help you avoid bias and make better decisions so the loudest voice in social isn’t the only voice driving big decisions for your brand.

• You are in control of the content you put out there. Don’t make social listening harder by failing to follow a process for tagging and tracking your content. Tools like a digital asset management solution (DAM), consistent taxonomy and tagging your content will help your algorithm learn what works. This process enriches the analysis and allows you to pinpoint the types of content most effective at generating engagement.

• Build a focused taxonomy for key brand and other terms of interest while also being broad enough to generate scale for conversations. This allows your AI to develop and learn what data is and is not relevant.


After tools are in place, a key step to successful social listening is asking the right questions. Those questions will look different depending upon your specific brand goals but let’s look at a few instances where social listening informed the way we developed and executed work on behalf of our clients.

Successful social listening starts with the right question:
What do you want to know?

• Big Game Conversation Volume Leads to a Sales Opportunity
At C-K, to monitor brand health and sentiment we combine social listening tools, AI and proprietary processes to identify and analyze conversations around key brand terms as well as what consumers are saying about your competitors and overall industry. By monitoring conversation volume and sentiment around new products, existing services or understanding challenges, brands can harness those learnings and make changes to their operations or products.

For example, we identified a spike in conversations around the Super Bowl, specifically party planning and foods, happening right after the conference championships. This was a revelation that helped us plan a CPG client’s campaign to align with this high-volume moment. Our pre-game marketing push for their dips and dressings included influencers, social content and paid media support and drove momentum to hit aggressive sales goals for the year.

• Pumpkin Spice Signals in the Noise
Uninspired marketing leads with price points and limited time offers that can erode the profitability of strong brands. Listening to conversations and positioning your brand around simple concepts observed among your customers can help you end this practice.

For one of our travel clients, we did just that. With access to custom natural language processing and computer vision in C-K’s Centaur Insight (an AI-driven analysis tool that ingests data across marketing efforts), we found actionable insights in what at first appeared to be consumer chaos. We uncovered ways our client could create a halo effect by finding intersection points with cultural relevancy. Consumers were reacting to pumpkin spice lattes in the fall or ice cream in the summer, so we started to find ways to infuse those concepts into our messaging.

Listening and reacting to consumers in messaging works. We were able to drive incremental high-value brand engagements; revenue per engaged user was up as well as overall revenue. All from optimizing messaging by listening and using what consumers were telling us.

• IRL Creates Online Engagement
From major sporting events and sponsorships to award shows and other events where social media becomes the intersection point of the real world and online conversation, we research the past year’s conversations as well as prepare for the next event to ensure brands are positioned to capitalize on important moments.

Again, the Big Game is a great example, but we’ve also had clients involved in branded partnerships that took them to high-profile red carpet film premieres, influencer and celebrity events, product launches at CES—you name it, we’ve used social listening to prepare for and create meaningful engagement with users during all types of moments.

The key to great real-time engagement is in the planning. Long before the event, we work with brands to identify key messages and set up specific types of monitoring as well as assemble the right team members, such as legal and creative, to ensure content can be developed and approved by key stakeholders in real-time.

C-K’s analysts leverage different platforms to identify relevant conversations to engage in real-time. Whether it’s commenting on fans’ posts, sharing content from the community, chatting with other brands, connecting with reporters or identifying opportunistic moments, the entire team is ready because messaging and stakeholders are in place with a game plan. The results are impressive; from higher engagement rates across content, securing articles in the media or building a loyal and responsive community, it all benefits the brand and extends the life of offline events.

Social media is now akin to the town square: everyone passes through partaking in the news—be it actual news or the latest meme—and conversation of the day. The scale of those conversations demands that brands pay attention. Those who go a step further and use the data to understand their consumers better create meaningful engagement, uncover new sales opportunities, have a competitive advantage and will be more agile in the marketplace.

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