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What's the difference between social listening and social monitoring?

If you use social media in your digital marketing efforts, you’ve probably heard expressions like social listening and social monitoring. But do you know what they mean? 

Many people assume these two things are the same, but they are actually subtly different and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. So what’s the difference between social listening and social monitoring? Read on to find out!

What are social listening and social monitoring?

Social listening and social monitoring are both strategies related to watching for and collecting mentions of your brand mentions, branded keywords, or whatever term you want to search for on social media. 

Social monitoring is simply the process of collating, identifying, and responding to these brand mentions. For example, a large brand might employ members of its social media team to watch for @ mentions on Twitter and respond to them in a timely manner. 

Social listening is more complex, and refers to using the data from these individual interactions to draw broader conclusions. Social listening can give you an extraordinary amount of critical insight into customer sentiment, industry trends, and brand awareness. 

In other words, we could sum it up like this: social monitoring is about collecting the data, while social listening is about using it to inform your broader strategy and approach to business. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key differences between these two important strands of your social media strategy.  

Monitoring focuses on the micro, listening on the macro

With social monitoring, you’ll typically be interacting with customers on a one-to-one basis. They’ll mention your brand, tag you in a post, or respond to something you posted. You might reply to thank them for their kind words, rectify a problem, or answer a question. Usually, the interaction will not go much further than that. 

Don’t get me wrong: social media monitoring is important. Each of those individual customer interactions matters. Since it is vastly cheaper and more efficient to keep a customer than to attract a new one, providing great service to every customer is essential and helps meet (or exceed) the customer’s expectation of your brand. Social monitoring is a part of that strategy. 

Social media listening, by contrast, happens on a macro scale. Rather than focusing on those individual interactions, social listening pools those interactions to create a more comprehensive picture of how customers feel about and interact with your brand. 

Think of it this way: with effective social monitoring, you’ll be able to hear about and fix a problem when a customer has a complaint about your product or service. With social listening, you can identify if there is a pattern of complaints and, if so, use that data to spot and fix product or service problems to prevent future complaints. 

Monitoring is reactive, listening is proactive

Since social monitoring is all about responding to things your customers say to and about your brand on social media, it is by definition a reactive strategy. Reactivity is important; a fast, efficient, and personalized response to their comments lets your customers know that they matter to you. 

Social listening takes a more proactive approach. It allows your team to take a step back from the need to respond to those comments immediately and assess the broader patterns at play. 

Social listening goes further than simply customer perceptions of and sentiment towards your brand, too. If you employ it effectively with a tool like Socialbakers, you’ll be able to learn more about industry trends and customer expectations.

This type of actionable listening enables you to then use this data in making product, service, and business decisions in the future. The result? You’ll stay ahead of the competition and keep your customers happy! 

Let’s look at an example: 

In this exchange, Costa Coffee responds to a customer’s complaint about problems with their loyalty points app. The response and offer to rectify the problem is an example of social monitoring.

However, if Costa’s social media team decided to investigate how many such complaints the company has received, they might identify a broader problem with the points app. The problem could then be proactively fixed. This would be proactive social listening in action. 

Monitoring is immediate, listening is long term

In general, when a customer communicates directly with a brand on social media, they prefer – perhaps even expect – an immediate response. On many occasions, I’ve tweeted at a large brand account and received a response from one of its representatives within minutes. According to a study by Sprout Social, 40% of social media users expect brands to respond within an hour, and 79% expect a response within 24 hours. Social monitoring is all about responding to customers in real-time, or close to it. Social listening is much more about long-term strategy.

Since it focuses on overall trends and patterns, rather than individual interactions, a social listening campaign is likely to take place over a number of days, weeks, or even longer. 

Monitoring and listening cater to different business goals

The purpose of social monitoring can broadly be defined in two ways: customer service (thereby retaining customers and improving brand reputation), and making sales by sending traffic from social media to a sales page or a landing page. Businesses monitor and respond to customer comments on social media because they want to provide great service, keep their customers coming back, and make more sales. 

Social listening, on the other hand, can have a wide variety of purposes. Brands might use it to ascertain general customer sentiment and satisfaction, identify specific problems with their product or service, track brand awareness, undertake competitor intelligence, or learn more about current industry trends. 

Overall, listening is about gathering enough data and insights to get a robust picture that allows a brand to really understand its audience.

Both are critical in meeting the business goals they set out to address. But they address completely different needs and should not be conflated. 

Social listening must be automated

Social monitoring is often undertaken partially or entirely on a manual basis. In other words, there’s a person (or team) running your social media accounts and responding to those customer comments directly. There are numerous social listening tools on the market, but (unless you’re a huge company with an enormous social media following), tools that automate monitoring are a nice-to-have rather than an essential. 

However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to do social listening manually. It is tremendously difficult to gather and process significant enough amounts of data without some form of automation. Therefore, if you do not yet have a social listening tool, you should consider investing in one as soon as you can. 

Simply gathering information manually and looking at it will not give you the kinds of insights you need. Social listening tools will allow you to make sense of the data, visualizing trends and spotting patterns. A good social media listening tool will take all that raw data and distill it into a format you can use.

The takeaway

Social monitoring and social listening should coexist for brands that are serious about their social media strategy (which you should be!). Both are important, though in different ways and for different reasons.

If you do not already have a clear strategy in place for both, I recommend adding them to your social media plans as soon as possible. With robust social monitoring, you’ll have happier, more loyal customers who consistently receive the great service they expect. And with fantastic social listening, you’ll gain deep insights that you can put into practice to improve your business, now and in the future.

Now that you know the difference between social monitoring and social listening, what are you waiting for?

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on socialbakers.com. Any statistics or statements included in this article were current at the time of original publication.

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