What is social media monitoring and listening, and what are the differences?
  • Marketing
  • Digital Care

What is social media monitoring and listening, and what are the differences?

by Jackson Kushner | Aug 18, 2021

How well does your brand leverage social media to provide a great customer service experience? A Smart Insights study found that 80% of companies believe they deliver exceptional customer service on social media, yet only 8% of customers seemed to agree. Sure enough, the same study found one in three customer complaints are completely ignored.

Keeping up with the growing number of social media users isn’t easy for brands. In fact, 2021 data suggests there are nearly 4.5 billion social media users around the world, with nine of 10 internet users accessing social media each month. That number increases every day, so it’s important for brands to have a strong social media presence and use the channel to its full potential.

There are nearly 4.5 billion social media users around the world, with 9 of 10 internet users accessing social media each month.

When used efficiently, social media offers the ability to provide exceptional customer service and increase brand loyalty. The challenge, however, is that many companies don’t understand a core element of using social media: the difference between social media monitoring and social media listening. For companies that do understand both of these concepts, many are only utilizing one when they should be incorporating both for a well-rounded social media strategy.

In this post, we're going to dive deep into the differences between social media monitoring and social media listening. By understanding each concept, your brand can improve customer interactions on social media and better understand which issues matter to your audience. If you’d like a refresher on customer expectations and care best practices before reading on, check out our Digital Customer Care Playbook

What is social media monitoring?

Think of social media monitoring as a brand’s customer support over social media. With social media monitoring, a customer care representative monitors the social media platforms your brand engages on and responds to customer posts. Social media 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 and prevent issues from escalating.

Think of social media monitoring as a brand's customer support over social media.

Why do brands use social media monitoring?

1. To Answer Questions

Let’s say you run an airline, and a customer tags your brand name on social media to find out the cost of checking an extra bag. A brand 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, except this is worse because other users will see that your brand ignores customers. To avoid this, brands use social media monitoring to prioritize and quickly respond to customer complaints. Social media monitoring tools can help brands resolve issues quickly by enabling them to share customer conversations throughout the organization, so they can pull in the right people and resources to address issues efficiently and effectively. By reacting quickly, brands can join and help drive the conversation before it spirals out of control.

The response and action vary by brand and situation, but it’s important to remain calm and polite even in cases where the customer is at fault.

The airline in this situation could respond to the upset customer by telling them the wifi cost was listed on the flight’s page. However, this could generate backlash from users on that social media platform who perceive the response as rude. Instead, the airline could better handle the situation by apologizing that the information was not clearly communicated and tell 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! Keep an eye out for the positive comments people post about your brand as well. Too often these posts are ignored because brands don’t see a reason to act, but not replying is like hanging up on a thankful customer without saying anything. Best social media monitoring 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...”

For example, the image below shows how an apartment complex responded to someone who posted a positive review after visiting the property. The message is timely, personalized, and genuinely expresses gratitude towards the reviewer for sharing their feedback. These thank you messages will leave your customer with a positive experience that ultimately helps strengthen brand loyalty.

Oaks on Marketplace apartment complex responding to positive feedback on Facebook

What is social media listening?

Social media listening is a more general category that includes both social media monitoring and other practices as well. Social media listening involves pulling data from all social media platforms to see how customers are interacting with your brand, products, and industry as a whole — including competitors. Identifying these conversations will help mitigate risk and inform your organization on how best to strategize and respond to customer needs. 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 better understand their audience.

Social media listening involves pulling data from all social media platforms to see how customers are interacting with your brand, products, and industry as a whole — including competitors.


Why do brands use social media listening?

1. To track social mentions

One of the most important reasons to use social listening is to track the mentions you get while responding to customer inquiries and incorporate the data into an audience report. Tracking mentions where the business isn’t tagged is especially important with social media listening, as the data is still relevant even if a response isn’t required. In fact, you may want to look at mentions to your competitors and industry as a whole, 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?

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 read conversations and content

Don’t just tally mentions, see what people are actually saying. Read conversations and content related to your brand and industry so you can know what your audience cares about. For example, look to see if your audience is consistently talking 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.

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 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.

Because social media listening involves so much data, it’s important for brands to find a way to organize it in an easy to understand format. Khoros Intelligence makes social media listening a seamless process by collecting and organizing all of your social media data in one easy-to-use-dashboard. By compiling the data in an easy to digest format, you can spend less time organizing and more time strategizing. Learn more about Khoros Intelligence and schedule a demo today!

Khoros Intelligence

3. 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.

4. Check out competitors

Social media listening is a great way to keep up with what people are saying about your competitors as well. 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 your competitors.

5. 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.

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

Social media monitoring vs social media listening

The terms social media monitoring and social media listening are often used interchangeably despite several key differences. From a high level, the processes are similar, but they’re done at different scales.

Social media monitoring identifies brand mentions on a micro scale, while social media listening occurs on a macro scale to see how customers are talking about your brand, products, and industry — including competitors.

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 media monitoring is a short-term solution wherein you react to what your audience is saying — for example, by responding to a customer complaint. Social media listening, on the other hand, is a proactive process that aims to create a long-term solution by making changes derived from customer experience insights, such as fixing an issue people complained about so more people don’t have the same problem.

Social media monitoring is a short-term solution wherein you react to what your audience is saying. Social media listening is a proactive process that aims to create a long-term solution.

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.

Should brands use social media monitoring, listening, or both?

Both. Brands should use a combination of social media monitoring and social media listening to provide great service and to better understand their customers.

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

Invest in a social media monitoring and listening solution

Research from MarketingSherpa shows 95% of 18 to 34-year-olds follow brands on social media, so having a well rounded social media strategy is essential for brands looking to connect with audiences. Don’t miss out on opportunities to engage with your audience and strengthen brand loyalty.

See how Khoros helps the world’s leading brands to excel on social media with our advanced and easy-to-use Customer Engagement Platform. And if you’d like to learn more about delivering exceptional support, read our whitepaper: Digital Customer Care Playbook.


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