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Are You (Social) Listening? Marketers Looking for Inspiration Are

In the 16 years since Pew Research Center began tracking consumer social media adoption, the number of Americans engaged on its various platforms increased 67 percent: Today, nearly three out of four of us connect via social media. And this upward trend is expected to continue in 2021 as many increasingly find comfort in their social media connection.

It’s no wonder, then, that marketers have increasingly put their messaging (and budget dollars) into social media. According to eMarketer, social media ad spending was projected to increase by 21% in 2020 and will approach $49 billion this year. But if you’re only talking to your targets—and not listening—your brand could be missing the mark (and the potential to connect with your constituents).

Listen to this.

Social media, now more than ever, is a treasure trove of content—people share photos and videos, opinions and arguments, fears and triumphs—and if you listen carefully, it can define your next great creative idea.

Social listening is the practice of analyzing content and trends relevant to your brand—and your industry—and using the insight gained to inform your marketing strategy. The aim of listening is to understand the why for your audience and using that understanding to create authentic, culturally relevant messaging for your brand.

Open your mind (and your ears).

But using social listening to inform your strategy may require you to rethink essentially everything you’ve ever thought about qualitative research. You must be ready to loosen up (or dare we say abandon) the traditional marketing research process, which can take months for briefing, concepting, development, and production. Moreover, you must:

  • Relinquish control of what you think will resonate with your audience
  • Trust the insight your team learns from listening, and then,
  • Be ready to embrace and execute quickly. Since you are aiming to capitalize on conversations already occurring, turnaround time must be fast.

To garner the best insights, social listening:

  • Takes “real” people. To be truly effective, social listening must be completed manually, and your listeners should mine through any available resources for topics and themes—don’t limit yourself to the content or messaging found on your brand pages.
  • Focuses on what, who and why. You want to understand not only what people are saying in their comments and reactions and why they are saying it but also, who is saying it. By listening this way, you can learn about your audience in tandem with developing messaging that will resonate with them.
  • Builds momentum over time. As you learn more, your marketing strategy will gain momentum and as it does, your audience will likely respond and provide more meaningful insight, which you can then use to strengthen your connections with them.

Social listening at work.

We recently used social listening to help inspire our creative approach to fertility services messaging for a major healthcare client. We learned several things that informed our successful social media campaign. Chief among them: That no matter what type of fertility journey someone is on, they consider it an expression of love.

Our creative approach, which drove patient engagement, inquiries and traffic, featured various forms of love in action as expressed by women on the same journey—love for yourself, love for your partner or love for your growing family.

Make no mistake: Social listening does require a relatively significant investment of time for . . . well, listening. But once in practice, it should result in reduced planning resources and, optimistically, faster campaign approvals because your strategy will be validated by themes that emerge from relevant social media conversations.

The ultimate payoff: A strong marketing strategy that will unleash new levels of engagement and connect more intimately with your audience.

Interested in using social listening to drive culturally relevant messaging (and positioning) for your brand? Contact us to get started.


Austin Williams is an outcomes-driven full service advertising, marketing, digital and public relations agency, creating ideas that inspire action for clients in healthcare, higher education, financial services, nonprofits and professional services.

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