Social Listening: What It Is, and Why It’s Important

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John Griffiths

Senior Digital Content Specialist

What is it they say about friends and enemies? Something about keeping one of them close and the other one closer? Okay, ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ might be an overly dramatic way of thinking about your competitors, but there is still some relevance to draw from that old adage.

In the online space, it’s important to keep tabs on what audiences are doing in the world of social media. What are the latest trends, industry developments and campaigns being launched, and how do readers respond? All of this is valuable information, if only there was a way to track it…

If you’re wondering how to keep tabs on your social media competitors, this blog post is for you. Throughout, we’ll explain the ins and outs of social listening, including what it is, why you should be doing it, and how to get started.

What is Social Listening?

Social listening describes the use of monitoring software to keep track of when specific words are mentioned on social media.

Open platforms like Twitter and Instagram present a playground for unfettered conversations on all sorts of subjects, some of which might be useful to your audience and your social media strategy.

This is where social listening comes in to give you the ability to tap into those threads where you’re mentioned and see what it is your audience is really talking about.

Here are a few things you could be tracking with social listening:

  • Your brand name
  • Your usernames
  • Products you sell
  • Your competitors
  • Industry events
  • Key influencers in your industry
  • Campaign slogans
  • Relevant hashtags

Types of Social Listening

There are three main types of social listening that can be undertaken, each one with a greater degree of detail and analysis.


The first type of social listening is the simplest and most easily accomplished. It involves looking at and dissecting posts you’ve created, and judging the responses you receive. This stage doesn’t really require much additional software, and is more of a practice undertaken by whoever controls your social media profiles.


Deep social listening takes a much more data-driven approach, which in turn yields stronger points to analyse on a broad scale. This is where brands start to verge beyond posts centred around themselves, and move towards the industry or community that they find themselves in.

Deep social listening often requires third-party tools, but it can be done without them, albeit at a much slower pace.

Examples of deep social listening include establishing a list of phrases or keywords that are associated with your industry, and setting up alerts to monitor when those phrases are discussed. Such methods help provide a wider scope of your competitive landscape, giving you the knowledge on what topics you should and shouldn’t be talking about, and why.


The final type of social listening acts as a combination of the above two methods. While some brands may only be concerned with what their audience is responding to, others may want to look at both that and the wider industry they are in.

This could be for the purposes of expanding your social media’s presence and growing your numbers; monitoring how your external marketing efforts are received on social media; or simply to provide a more well-rounded look at how your social media marketing is performing.

Why is Social Listening Important?

In addition to reviews, testimonials and user-generated content, social listening provides even more data that can be used to benchmark brand presence, and optimise your outbound communications.

In short, social listening is important because:

  • It tells us first-hand what our audience is interested in and what they care about.
  • It tells us the style of writing that our audience responds to the best.
  • It allows us to be more aware of ongoing trends in our industry.
  • It gives greater visibility on competitor activity from campaigns to upcoming content.

How to Do Social Listening

Despite sounding rather complex, social listening is actually pretty straightforward and can be done with free or paid software. Here are our favourite examples of social listening:

Google Alerts

One tactic of monitoring brand mentions in search results is to use Google’s free alerts system. With Google alerts, you can set up timely notifications that monitor when specific keywords are mentioned in news articles.

This can be extremely valuable to digital PR practitioners looking to respond to ongoing developments or reach out to journalists to provide additional value to a story.

Advanced Search

When it comes to social media, social listening becomes a little more involved. This is mostly thanks to a lack of first party listening tools from the channels themselves.

One quick and free (but time consuming) method of starting your social listening initiative is to use some advanced search tools. On Twitter in particular, advanced search allows you to enter a list of phrases you’re interested in, be they brand names or usernames, in whichever format you’re looking to search. This can then be filtered through a list of accounts, tweets that contain links, the amount of engagement, and even the date range.

Similar features also exist on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, but nothing to the extent at which Twitter goes to.

Twitter Lists

This next tactic is more of a workaround than a method, but it’s given us a strong starting point when narrowing down the style of writing across a broad range of competing Twitter accounts.

The primary intention behind Twitter lists is for users to effectively create a second timeline that only includes tweets from the accounts they wish to highlight. This could be anything from categorising the accounts you follow, to only viewing tweets from close friends or family.

Brands can use Twitter lists in much the same way, with lists separated out via primary, secondary and tertiary competitors (or all at once).

Combining Third-Party Software

There are several different social media management software packages to choose from. Which one is best for you ultimately comes down to your needs, and requires a lot of trial and error.

We tend to use a combination of tools depending on what our clients already have access to. Tools such as Sprout Social enable us to undertake all three forms of social listening across whatever platforms we wish, be it YouTube, Instagram, etc.

SparkToro allows us to understand more about the sorts of people who post about specific topics, giving demographic and behavioural information that can inform our social strategies.

We particularly love using tools that accumulate reports, such as the most used hashtag within a period, the total reach and engagement of a particular post, or the most conversation-heavy days within a given time.

Need Help With Your Social Listening?

Has this post got you thinking about your social listening approach? For some expert help on optimising your social media marketing activity, including developing a deep social listening process, contact our team. Our social media experts live, eat and breathe social, and have helped numerous brands build their audience, and understand what content they should produce.

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John Griffiths

Senior Digital Content Specialist

For education, John has a Master’s in Strategic Digital Marketing. As for work, he previously worked as a Marketing Assistant for an additive manufacturer for nearly a year, and then I came to Liberty as a content writer. Johns favourite part of his role is reviewing the numbers after a bunch of hard work has…

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