How should retailers use social listening tools?

Apr 17, 2017

MarketingCharts staff

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, which provides up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.

Companies are using social listening tools primarily to enhance customer relations by monitoring customer requests, questions and concerns (86 percent), according to a survey by Clutch, a research firm focused on digital marketing and advertising agencies.

Utilizing these tools also helps them to keep tabs on the competition (77 percent) and to track brands and products (75 percent), per the report. While these are the most common social listening objectives, others are widely used, including monitoring industry and brand influencers (61 percent) and even company executives (44 percent).

With the results showing a focus on monitoring customers’ comments, it makes sense that the most commonly cited objectives for social listening are to improve customer service and reach new customers (21 percent share each). Respondents are also keen on staying ahead of the competition (15 percent) and managing their online reputation (14 percent).

Falling toward the bottom of main objectives were identifying business opportunities (12 percent), understanding customer sentiment (10 percent), and monitoring industry influencers.

The number one benefit was getting feedback to improve products (25 percent share of respondents). Closely following was new customer acquisition, cited as the top benefit by 24 percent, ahead of improved customer service (21 percent). Coming in lower were monitoring how different content performs (13 percent), recruiting/hiring people (9 percent), and learning about competition (8 percent).

What sites do companies listen in on the most? Facebook mainly (93 percent), followed by Twitter and Instagram (79 percent and 71 percent, respectively), blogs (43 percent), and, to a lesser degree, news sites (38 percent).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What should be the primary and secondary focus of social listening for retailers? Are any of the lesser-cited listening objectives — such as monitoring competition, finding influencers, recruiting employees, etc. — viable through social media?

"Listening to your customers is always valuable. There may be a lot of chatter but there will be some invaluable nuggets."
"Social media listening, to my thinking, is a best practice. It’s not research."
"The bigger issue to me is that the only engagement retailers really use social for is to shout about promotions. "

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "How should retailers use social listening tools?"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Max Goldberg

It’s amazing how much retailers can learn by listening. Social listening can be used to hear what customers are thinking, monitor what they are saying about your company, learn about what your competitors are doing and so much more. Equally important to listening is responding. Retailers, when responding to consumers, should not be selling. Rather they should be engaging in a helpful dialogue. Listen, pause, learn, reflect, respond.

Dr. Stephen Needel

To me, the primary focus should be on finding undetected problems with your product or service (and fixing them). If you don’t know why your competitors are good (or bad), then this can also be useful. That said, the listeners need to keep in mind that in no way are they getting a representative sample — there will likely be a significant bias in what they are hearing, either good or bad.

Shep Hyken

The primary reason to monitor your brand on social is to react to comments … all comments, which include complaints, questions and accolades. Respond quickly — within minutes or an hour, not hours or even days. For questions and accolades, engage in conversation. For complaints, engage, move to a private channel and then come back once the problem is resolved to thank the customer for allowing you to help him/her. In addition to customer comments, monitor any breaking news about the brand, the industry, the employees (executives/leadership) and even the competition.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

The dashboard of social media has to include the actionable insights derived from online commentary. Aggregated sentiment can define mood swings and through this, brands should monitor how their contribution to conversations is being received. Collectively these should inform other marketing and customer experience approaches in the paid-owned-earned media model.

Ian Percy

How exactly does the word “listening” fit in here? It seems to me that one of the main causes of much of the retail angst these days is failing to truly listen to customers in the first place. So now that we’ve lost a lot of the face-to-face connection with customers, we’re going to “listen” to written comments in social media where we have no idea of the truthfulness, circumstances or accuracy of that information. This is kind of like breaking-up via text, isn’t it? We’re not going to get back together with our customers this way either.

Adrian Weidmann

Listening to your customers is always valuable. There may be a lot of chatter but there will be some invaluable nuggets. For instance, a recent measurement and analytics assignment for a large DIY retailer found significant product returns. Further investigation of customer reviews found that the connected device had a software bug that would not allow it to function properly with a recent version of software on an Apple iPhone. Interestingly enough neither the retailer nor the device manufacturer had noticed this anomaly until this was brought to their attention — a fact that was outside of the contracted scope of work or purview. It always pays to listen.

Tom Dougherty

It’s all interesting qualitative research. Cheap, easy and readily available. But it is always self-selecting because it is not randomized and blinded.

It’s as important to a restaurant as a maître d’ soliciting satisfaction from diners. But it provides NO strategic direction. None.

This is an industry fumbling about to find better ways to anticipate changing habits. We NEED both types of research. Social media listening, to my thinking, is a best practice. It’s not research. Pity those that think it is.

Ian Percy

EXACTLY! Best point of the day IMHO, Tom.

Mohamed Amer

Social listening provides retailers a very rich data pool that sheds insight on so many aspect of the business and the market. Improving the customer experience is the biggest opportunity and ought to be the primary objective — and this goes beyond immediate customer service to include the purchase and ownership journey.

Falling outside of the set of choices offered in the article is the power that comes from combining social media data with existing customer profiles to enrich customer segmentation and simultaneously improving the capability to deliver contextually-aware and personalized offers to specific customers.

The real prize here is not found in “fixing” existing problems (although that is useful and necessary on its own), but in using the social data to create a new and differentiated communication framework that helps retailers (and brands) connect more powerfully with their customers.

Cathy Hotka

There are some really exciting new tools, like WayIn, that facilitate retailers’ two-way discussions with customers. Social listening is going to be a powerful and necessary way to empower retailers to communicate with customers, not at them.

Nir Manor

Monitoring social media discussions as well as product-related comments and reviews is a very important tool for retailers to use. The primary focus should be product/brand-related. Retailers and brand owners can identify how customers perceive their product, what the strong and weak points are and how they perform vis-à-vis competition. There are various technologies to help monitoring online discussions. Retailers should use technology tools that include linguistic, AI and machine learning features. A good example is Revuze.

Nikki Baird

I want to build on Ian’s comments about “listening.” While it is true that there can be lots of value in social listening, the whole point of social is to be … social. I don’t think the issue is so much about listening to what consumers are saying, or using that information in insightful ways. The bigger issue to me is that the only engagement retailers really use social for is to shout about promotions. Active listening means sometimes taking the time to feed back to the speaker what you heard, so that you can validate that you heard them and understand them. On the spectrum of listening there is far too little of that going on from retailers, in my humble opinion.

Mark Heckman

Having a basic understanding of the importance and position of social media to your customers is essential in deriving the appropriate value of feedback you receive on social media. Like any consumer research instrument, knowing the profile and the magnitude of customers that use social media will help place their comments in the proper context, to avoid overreaction to isolated comments that do not reflect critical mass. Done correctly, retail customer researchers have a great new venue to gain shopper insights in the proper context of the customer base as a whole.

Joel Rubinson

Beyond customer care, I have used social media as a main source of insights for retailers to stay on top of trends and to spot issues with particular product categories. One of the big differences between social media and surveys as a source of insights is that surveys, like a brand tracker, are always primarily focused on functional attributes of a brand vs. its direct competitors. Social media allows you to easily see the rest of a customer’s life, seeing them as a human in a 360 degree way. You can set up a group of those who shop at your store (based on a tweet that reveals that) and then see what else they talk about on social media.

Ralph Jacobson

All of the above and more! I think real-time personalization is another key focus that isn’t being leveraged by very many retailers today. Social listening can drive product innovation. Increasingly, I see marketers becoming more savvy with using social listening platforms and recognizing that insights gleaned from social networks can help drive product innovation.

Today, social listening is becoming an increasingly important part of product development decisions. For example, CPG brand and retailer executives are learning through social listening that the product feature they thought was most important is actually a secondary concern to shoppers. In addition, they’re learning that customers are using their product in ways that they never intended, opening up new possibilities for new features or even new products. There is no limit to the value of social listening.

Min-Jee Hwang

Social listening by retailers should be paired with creating an actual dialogue with consumers. Often, responses from companies are very cookie-cutter responses. The ones that generate the most impact are replies addressing the issue and actively attempting fix the problem for the consumer. It never hurt keeping an eye on a competitor’s status. Knowing where you stand versus your competitor is valuable and allows for proper positioning against them.

Michael Spencer

Could it be that customer reviews are actually the most salient big data on your brand that can be best optimized to improve and complements existing customer analytics insights? Customer questions, concerns and requests on IM chat, chatbots, in-store and online customer reviews all have to be synced. Omnichannel is not just a customer experience, but a way to streamline data to optimize your business.

While product analytics and algorithms that help cross-sell and suggest products to customers is optimal for monetization, knowing your customer is the ultimate tool for retailers. In just a few years, this “social listening” will be automated as will marketing automation for retail. The idea that human beings have to do this and sync data-streams is down right prehistoric.

Social media here doesn’t provide the best quality insights at all. Sales associates in-store have much better feedback to give to increase the value of the data. But at the end of the day, what will you do and implement with the insights? That’s the critical touch point of the data funnel to improve your business and reach your ideal customer better.

"Listening to your customers is always valuable. There may be a lot of chatter but there will be some invaluable nuggets."
"Social media listening, to my thinking, is a best practice. It’s not research."
"The bigger issue to me is that the only engagement retailers really use social for is to shout about promotions. "

Take Our Instant Poll

Which of the following do you think should be the primary objective of social listening for retailers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...