Understanding the difference between social media listening tools and social media analytics is one of those distinctions that marketers think they totally understand, right up until the moment that they’re asked to explain it.
It’s not your fault. Between people using the terms as empty buzzwords, interchangeably, or around outdated information; you’ve probably heard multiple, often conflicting explanations about what social listening and social analytics mean. To set the record straight, here is the definitive explainer on what social media listening tools and analytics are, how they differ from each other, and which one is important to brand marketers (spoiler alert: the answer is both).
What Is Social Media Listening?
At the most basic level, social media listening means monitoring the social media conversation around companies, individuals, products, brands, and events. For brands, the use case can often be narrowed down to using social listening as an earned media analysis tool, tracking keywords, hashtags, and mentions around their brand, products, and competitors to determine interest and sentiment.
Social media listening only occurs around publicly available content and data, which at this point generally means Twitter, Reddit, and comments on places like message boards, blogs, and review sites. Due to privacy concerns, platforms like Facebook and Instagram no longer have enough publicly available data to support social listening around mentions and comments.
Social Media Listening is informative but inherently reactive, and only actionable in use cases like crisis management; not around campaign optimization. For example, if you are representing a hotel brand, and a customer complains about their stay with you in a tweet, social listening will definitely help you identify and respond to the complaint faster. You can also track over time if the volume of such complaints on social media go up or down, and the Positive, Neutral, and Negative sentiment around tweets mentioning your brand.
However, on its own, none of that information is actionable at a campaign-level because only a vocal minority ever voices their opinion about brands on social media under any circumstances. More context is needed to understand how representative social listening is of the actual audience interest around a brand.
What Is Social Media Analytics?
Social media analytics is the process of tracking and evaluating social media data to optimize your social media content against business objectives.
Rather than treating vanity metrics such as Likes and Followers counts as goals unto themselves, social analytics allows the focus to be on data that answers the question: Is social media content supporting a KPI or not?
Social media analytics addresses questions like: Is sharing a coupon on Facebook for a half priced razor moving people along the conversation funnel? Did dropping a “watch now” link on Instagram lead to more people streaming your television show?
Even around an awareness campaign, analytics can better evaluate the level of audience interest, through clicks. Yes, a comment for example is publicly displayed and more outwardly impressive, but a far wider and more representative group of people will express interest in social media content by clicking on a link or saving an Instagram post, making them far stronger business metrics.
Furthermore, measuring owned content performance alongside earned and paid performance provides a more holistic view of a brand’s social media footprint. Marketers shouldn’t choose only social media listening tools or social media analysis over one another, as they’re actually complementary resources.
A Brand Example Of Why Just Social Media Listening Is Not Enough
A recent case study ListenFirst did with a prominent beauty brand highlights the difference between using a social analytics solution vs. just relying on social media listening for information. Using just social listening to monitor a “controversial” influencer campaign showed the social media reaction to the campaign was a disaster. Sentiment on the 52K mentions on Twitter and 141K comments on the two Instagram posts surrounding the campaign was 76% Negative.
However, ListenFirst was able to dig even deeper and found that comments only made up 10% of campaign engagement and conversations only made up 4% of engagement around the campaign. The two influencer posts also garnered 1.2 million Likes on Instagram, meaning that the audience response was 85% positive. With these additional insights, the beauty brand decided there was no did not need to address the controversy, and they should continue working with the influencer.
Social Media Listening tools are still important for brands, but it’s only one aspect of a good social media analytics strategy. By working with a social analytics platform as comprehensive as ListenFirst, brands will get a much more complete and clear picture of how to improve their social ROI around earned, owned and paid content.