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How to Build (and Execute) Smart Listening Queries

Guest Author

December 16, 2016  •  5 min read

It’s peak purchasing season across the US, and that means it’s the perfect time for brands to capitalize on the large volume of customer feedback flooding the social web. As Twitter found, 280 million tweets were posted about holiday shopping last year. And a whopping 89% of people who shared their holiday shopping experiences on social media did so on Facebook.

If brands want to turn that feedback into insights for improving their products, they need to set up listening queries that will catch all (err, nearly all) relevant mentions.

After all, that’s how McDonald’s managed to sync up its 28,000 different social accounts, and it’s how Talpa—the production company behind NBC’s The Voice—drove a 20% increase in social engagement across 180 countries.

Ready to get on that level and set up smart listening queries for your brand?

Here are four steps to take to accomplish this important goal.

1. Set Objectives

You can’t set up a smart listening query without knowing what you want to listen for. That’s why it’s crucial to determine your goals at the outset.

If you’re not quite sure where to begin, ask your team this question: What are we trying to learn about our customers? For instance, you might want to know:

  • If people are talking about specific products

  • If people are reacting negatively to certain trends

  • How people are responding to your ad campaigns

  • What people are saying about your competitors

Once you determine what you want to glean from these queries, pinpoint how you can use that information to drive business results. Say you’re a shoe retailer, and you’re not sure whether to put more money behind your ads for boots or for sneakers. By setting up social listening queries, you can see which products your customers are talking about and reach them with relevant ad messaging, ultimately generating more sales for your brand.

2. Select the Right Keywords, Hashtags, and Phrases for Each Topic

When setting up a query, you’ll enter a list of keywords, hashtags, and phrases that will determine which information (i.e. conversations) is pulled in for each topic. As with the example above, you might search for mentions of “winter boots” or “athletic sneakers.”

To find these triggers for your brand, put yourself in your customer’s shoes: How would they write about your company on social media?

Breaking it down further, concentrate on these four areas:

Your Brand Name

This part should be easiest, since you know what your brand name is. But remember, customers might get it wrong sometimes. That’s why you should always submit misspellings, slang, and abbreviations in your search queries. For example, McDonald’s might submit “McDonalds” and “MacDonalds,” and Alex and Ani might include “Alex and Annie.”

Your Products

Consider how people write about or refer to your products on social media. For example, your product catalogue might showcase “Women’s Firm-Grip Winter Snow Boots,” but not everyone who posts about the product will refer to it that way. Instead, they might write, “women’s snowshoes” or “durable winter boots.”

Positive Sentiment

Ready to see what your customers want more of? Search for phrases that indicate positive sentiment, such as: “so excited,” “can’t believe it,” “best present ever,” “gift,” “so grateful,” “happy,” and “wow.”

Negative Sentiment

On the other hand, if you’re looking to spot any red flags that indicate poor customer experiences, watch for terms that express negative sentiment. These include “broken,” “disappointed,” “return policy,” “late delivery,” and “#fail.”

Remember: There are words that can be positive in one industry, negative in another, and neutral in day-to-day usage. In the restaurant industry, for example, “sick” could be negative; in the retail industry, however, it could be positive (i.e. “Sick shoes!”).

3. Build Themes Within Each Topic to Dissect Exactly What People Are Saying

Breaking down your searches by vertical or product is a good start, but it might not be enough to really get at what people are saying about your brand. You may need to build specific themes within each topic or category.

Say you’re a company with a set of different hotel brands. You could create a topic for each separate hotel, and then build themes within those topics to figure out how people feel about their experiences. In this example, themes might include breakfast offerings (set queries for “waffle,” “breakfast,” “coffee,” “bagel,” “fruit,” etc.) and customer service (set queries for positive sentiments like “courteous,” “quick,” “helpful,” “lovely,” “24/7,” etc.)

You can also create themes to see what people are saying about your competitors, regarding the same aspects of the business.

4. Consider Channels and Audiences

All social networks are not created equal; people use them for different reasons, and in different ways. For instance, Snapchat has a largely younger following than other platforms, while Facebook hosts the baby boomers. Additionally, Twitter is a go-to place for online customer service—skewing negative—while Instagram is typically used to express positive sentiment (i.e. “Look at the great view from my hotel!”)

Consider these distinctions when setting up your listening queries. If you’re a travel brand, for example, you’ll likely want to query on an image-based platform like Instagram. If you’re an entertainment brand with many competitors on Facebook, however, you might want to focus on conversations happening there.

Stop, Look, and Listen

You don’t need to conduct telephone surveys to know what your customers are thinking. All you have to do is look at their social feeds—especially during the holiday season, when people are chattier than ever about their shopping experiences.

With so much information out there to mine through, the brands that make an effort to listen are the ones that will drive innovation for their businesses. They just have to be smart about how they do it. By setting clear objectives, selecting the right keywords, and monitoring the most relevant social channels, you’ll be able to deliver more personalized results and set yourself miles ahead of the competition.

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