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

Khoros Staff

The terms social monitoring and social listening are often used interchangeably despite several key differences.

  • Social media monitoring: The process of observing and tracking what customers say about your brand and directly responding to them on social media.

  • Social media listening: The process of hearing and understanding consumers to uncover insights and improve your brand.

Brands need to understand this difference and use a combination of monitoring and listening to provide great service while understanding their customers better.

Social listening vs. social monitoring: Key differences

While the goal of social media monitoring is to respond to customers efficiently, social media listening aims to generate actionable insights. Both strategies can be further broken down into three categories that highlight their main differences.

Micro vs. macro

From a high level, social monitoring and social listening are similar, but they’re done at different scales. Social media monitoring identifies brand mentions on a micro-scale focusing on customer queries, issues, and comments. In contrast, social media listening occurs on a macro scale to see how customers are talking about your brand, product, and industry—including competitors.

Reactive vs. proactive

Social media monitoring is a short-term solution wherein you react to what your audience says—for example, by responding to a customer complaint. Social media listening, on the other hand, is a proactive process that analyzes online conversations to identify opportunities to meet consumer needs. It aims to enable long-term solutions by making changes derived from customer experience insights.

Manual vs. Automated

One of the more distinct differences between social monitoring and social listening is one process is done more manually while the other is more automated. Social monitoring tends toward automation since it involves responding to notifications of brand mentions. But there’s also the task of finding untagged mentions of your brand including spelling errors or when a customer doesn’t mention you directly, which is a more manual process.

Social listening involves listening to chatter beyond those posting about your brand–including your competitor's customers and industry as a whole—which means it's naturally a more manual process. Leaning on tools can help with social listening. However, you'll likely still need to rely on people to interpret the conversations into actionable insights.

Many brands engage in some form of social media monitoring, but few take the next step by using social media listening to better serve customers through the implementation of changes based on audience insights.

Social monitoring definition

Social media monitoring is essentially a brand’s customer support over social media but it’s also for engaging with your customers online. Either a customer care representative or a social media manager monitors the social media platforms your brand engages on and responds to customer posts.

Monitoring also helps brands track mentions even where a tag isn’t used, as some customers will name the brand without linking. By tracking these mentions, brands can efficiently and effectively respond to customers to provide great service, prevent issues from escalating, and to build trust and loyalty.

Social monitoring example:

This is a great example of social media monitoring. A customer on a Southwest flight posted pictures of their view in the sky and tagged Southwest Airlines. Through social monitoring, Southwest saw the brand mention and responded to show their appreciation. These thank-you messages will leave your customers with a positive experience that ultimately helps strengthen brand loyalty.

Why do brands use social media monitoring?

1. To answer questions

Let’s take the same airline example. A customer tags your brand name on social media to find out the cost of checking an extra bag. Brands using good social media monitoring practices will quickly reach out to that customer with relevant pricing data and other information. The customer may have follow-up questions, so the representative should stick around and ask if there’s anything else they can assist with.

2. To resolve issues or complaints

While not all questions are urgent, issues and complaints need to be addressed quickly to help upset customers and prevent these situations from going viral on social media.

In the same example, imagine the customer is later upset because the plane’s in-flight wifi didn’t work properly. In today’s connected world, airlines must learn how to address issues quickly to defend their brand. Leaving such issues unattended is like choosing not to pick up the phone at a customer support center, only worse because other users will see that your brand ignores customers.

The airline in this situation could respond to the upset customer by apologizing that the information was not clearly communicated and telling the customer what steps they’ll take to prevent this issue from happening again. Depending on the severity of the situation, a brand may also offer discounts or vouchers as a last resort to help reconcile with the upset customer.

3. To thank customers for positive feedback

It’s not all bad out there on social media channels—much like in the Southwest example above, keep an eye out for the positive comments people post about your brand as well. Too often, these posts get ignored because brands don’t see a reason to act, but not replying is like hanging up on a thankful customer without saying anything.

Social media monitoring best practices say you should promptly respond to the customer with some variation of: “We’re happy to have helped; please let us know if there’s anything else we can do to further assist you...”

Social listening definition

Social media listening is a process that provides insights based on consumer thoughts for your industry and competitors. You can think of it as an analysis to help your brand identity opportunities and weaknesses. Identifying relevant conversations will help mitigate risk and inform your organization on how best to strategize and respond to customer needs.

However, this process is much more complex and time-consuming than social media monitoring, which is why few brands are properly utilizing social media listening to conduct social media audience research.

Social listening example:

In the example above, Duolingo—an online language education app–utilizes social listening to identify an industry-relevant post. By responding to a celebrity’s post on X about learning Spanish, they increase their visibility and relevance.

Why do brands use social media listening?

1. To track relevant posts and conversations

One of the most important reasons to use social listening is to track relevant posts and conversations and incorporate the data into an audience report. You should look at mentions of your competitors and the industry as a whole as well, even if your business isn’t named.

The point is to gather information about your audience, such as:

  • Which platforms are used most by your audience?

  • How frequently is your brand mentioned?

  • Which competitors get the most mentions?

  • Is your industry actively discussed?

  • What are the current trends in your industry?

With this information, you can generate insights that will help you better understand your audience and the state of the market as a whole.

2. To identify gaps and opportunities

Don’t just tally mentions, see what people are actually saying so you can identify areas of need and ways to improve. Read conversations and content related to your brand and industry so you can know what your audience cares about. For example, see if your audience consistently talks about something your business does.

If the feedback is positive, look at how you might be able to replicate what’s helping it do well in other areas of your business. In the case of negative feedback, acknowledge the issue and apologize for the inconvenience. Take note that this issue is important to your audience, and think about what your company could do to improve. Negative feedback is challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to help someone in need and create loyalty.

To learn more, check out our guide, 5 Ways Brands Should Handle Negative Feedback on Social Media.

3. To increase brand awareness

Another use for social listening is to increase brand awareness. They can utilize social listening to chime in on relevant conversations or trends to promote their products or brand.

You can also use social media listening to identify conversations where you may be able to provide help, even if it doesn’t involve your brand directly. By offering helpful advice, you’re not only increasing brand awareness—you’re demonstrating expertise in your field and showing that you’re approachable. Customers and prospects will be more likely to reach out to your brand when they have a question or concern.

4. To find superfans and influencers

Listening offers the opportunity to better identify your brand superfans and influencers, which are extremely valuable and can help drive your brand message.

Superfans are the people who frequently speak positively about your brand, recommend your products, and come to your brand’s defense during times of crisis. Influencers are people with a large follower base that includes your target audience.

In some cases, superfans may be influencers, but not always. Both are valuable for driving a brand’s message, which is why brands should use social media listening to identify these individuals. Identifying influencers and brand advocates is just one of the ways social media listening can help CPG companies build a better brand.

5. To check out competitors

Social media listening is a great way to keep up with what people are saying about your competitors. By staying in the loop, you may be able to avoid mistakes they make, capitalize on an area they struggle with, or see what people like about them and build upon their success with further improvements. Look at conversation threads on social media and blogs across the web to get a well-rounded perspective of how people are discussing these aspects in relation to your competitors.

6. To implement changes based on feedback

After doing the research, it’s time to take action. The insights you find are only valuable if you’re actually going to take the time to implement changes that will better serve your audience.

For example, consistently answering the same question from different customers means there is a clear information gap that should be addressed. You could use social media monitoring to provide a short-term solution by responding to these inquiries individually. But a better solution would be utilizing social media listening to recognize the issue and suggest adding the question to a self-service resource, such as your online community.

Brands can also use insights they get from social media listening to develop and revise their messaging based on the language customers use. If customers are frequently using keywords in relation to your brand, see if you can incorporate those keywords into messaging across channels to make it more relatable with the language your audience uses. While it’s important to stay true to your brand voice, your messaging should evolve over time to stay relevant to your customer personas.

Take Mcdonald’s for example. They launched a marketing campaign to celebrate Grimace, one of their brand mascots, that included a limited-time Grimace meal and shake.

A Grimace shake trend soon emerged on TikTok. By utilizing social listening, McDonald’s quickly noticed the trend and jumped on the opportunity to adapt their campaign. In the example below, McDonald’s uses similar language to create a relatable post:

Social monitoring vs. social listening bottom line

Social media monitoring is used for customer care, while social media listening is valuable for gaining insights into customer sentiment regarding your brand and industry. Some brands may choose to only engage in social media monitoring to address customer posts and brand mentions as they come up, but this is a short-term solution. It ultimately limits the ability of your brand to identify and implement long-term changes to better serve your customers. Ideally, brands should leverage both processes for a well-rounded social media strategy.

Simplify social media monitoring and listening with Khoros

With nearly 4.5 billion social media users around the world, social listening is no small feat. But both social monitoring and social listening are necessary to understand your target audience so you can make consumer-centric decisions.

Because social media listening involves so much data, it’s also important for brands to find a way to organize it in an easy-to-understand format. Khoros Social Media Management Solution makes social media monitoring and listening a seamless process by collecting and organizing all of your social media data in one easy-to-use dashboard so you can spend less time organizing and more time strategizing.

Learn more about Khoros Social Media Management today.

    Would you like to learn more about Khoros?