Social Media Listening: The New Focus Group

Kait Park • December 1, 2021

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others are more than mere social media platforms to share stories, announcements, videos and more. Social media is a key player in helping you understand your audience and shape the messages you share accordingly.

Let’s set the scene: You are in the beginning phases of a new brand or product launch but need to access vital information from your audience. What are they thinking? What are they saying?

The scenario is familiar, as this is the case whether you are making an announcement, looking into a competitor, or evaluating the response to a news event or crisis. Before entering the conversation, step one is taking a pulse on where public opinion lies.

To achieve this in the past, you may have taken a poll or pulled together a focus group. But this approach takes time, resources, manpower and — more importantly — funding. Also, there is an inherent bias in these research methods. For example, individuals who volunteer for polls or focus groups may not necessarily represent the everyday person. Put simply, when you need to measure public opinion and sentiment in a timely manner, these are no longer the most practical options.

Enter, social media listening.

Social media listening is almost exactly what it sounds like: measuring the tide of social media conversation. It means using the most ubiquitous social source of the 21st century to read how people across social platforms are reacting and responding on a topic related to you, your brand, your competitor, or your business.

To start, look at your own channels and read what users are saying, whether they are sending direct messages, reviews or tagging your accounts. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the conversation positive, negative, neutral or a combination?
  • Is there confusion or misinformation?
  • Is this information public for other users to see, and if so, is it affecting your brand health or image?

Your owned social media channels should be considered your “front porch.” You want to exude an inviting, welcoming and warm presence that is also helpful and informative, not one with the lights off and no one home.

When social media listening or social media monitoring, it is also imperative to analyze conversations beyond your own timeline and across channels. Almost every news source shares their stories on social media, and you need to look at whether people are commenting or not and how they are feeling. The comment section can be daunting, but whether on Facebook or YouTube, it is important to comb through the statements as users chose to take the time to engage.

Consider all sources. Neighborhood and community groups also share information and opinions related specifically to their communities. Blog and forums may not be traditional social sources, but the anonymity of these platforms sometimes means that users are more open with their thoughts and attitudes.

There are high-end and sometimes expensive tools that can look at brand mentions or related topics and issues, with some using artificial intelligence to give sentiment and emotion analysis.

But you are the first resource. If cost is something to consider, you can rely on your own skills to digest where public opinion lies.

Think purposefully. The best insights start with a question. Decide what you need to discover, then get searching! Understanding social media response is a key instrument in your tool belt to utilize before crafting your message and sharing what you need to convey.

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