Social Listening: A Complete Guide for Marketers

Learn how brands can harness the power of social listening for growth and success.

Aishwarya SureshKarishma Borkakoty
April 25, 2024
13 min read

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Table of Contents

What is social listening?

Social listening refers to the process of examining and monitoring online conversations, mentions and discussions to extract valuable insights about your brand, industry, competitors or specific market trends. It involves understanding the context, emotions and preferences of customers and followers across online communities and social media channels.

In addition, social listening is a crucial part of market research, offering real-time access to your audience's pulse and enabling you to make informed decisions.

Here's a sample view from Sprinklr's social listening dashboard, highlighting real-time insights into customer sentiment and trends.

Sprinklr-s listening dashboard capturing important phrases and words for a particular brand

And when you integrate listening into your social media strategy, you get to know exactly what your customers think and desire; even if they don't directly mention your brand. With such astute, unfiltered insights, you can manage customer complaints, deliver personalized resolutions and maintain your competitive advantage at all times. 

3 Examples of social listening from brands doing it exceptionally RIGHT

Social listening is not just keeping tabs on what's said about your brand. It's about taking those bits of chatter and turning them into smart moves and real action. 

Let us look at a few brands that are using social media listening to keep a pulse on its marketing campaigns.

1. Proactive engagement and trend capitalization: McDonalds

McDonald's “Grimace’s Birthday” campaign

Story: McDonald’s is really good at listening to what people are saying online, which helps them keep track of their marketing campaigns. A recent example is their Grimace’s Birthday campaign, launched in June 2023 to celebrate their iconic purple mascot’s birthday.  This campaign unexpectedly went viral on TikTok with the Grimace shake trend, where people shared videos of themselves trying the purple shake with funny reactions, creating a lot of buzz and engagement.

The outcome:  By actively monitoring social media, they spotted the trend’s surge and saw a golden opportunity to engage with its fans. Rather than sitting back, McDonald’s dove right into the conversation.

What was McDonald’s witty move?

The brand shared a meme of Grimace with the text “meee pretending i don’t see the grimace shake trendd.” This clever engagement not only delighted the online community but also showcased McDonald’s knack for staying on top of the latest social media buzz and trends.

💡 Your takeaway: McDonald’s swift response to the trend, through a witty meme acknowledging the trend, not only resonated with the online community but also showcased the brand’s ability to stay abreast of the latest social media trends. This campaign serves as a powerful example of how social listening can amplify marketing efforts, strengthen audience relations and contribute to overall success.

2. Fueling fan conversations & engaging mega-influencers: Barbie the Movie

Story: Barbie The Movie's social media success story is a perfect blend of fan excitement and influencer magic. Let’s see why.

Fans drawing parallels between Ken's movie wardrobe and Jimin's BTS look on X

It all started when Barbie's social media squad spotted fans drawing parallels between Ken's movie wardrobe and Jimin's BTS look, excitement soared across social platforms. Barbie's team didn't waste a moment. The team swiftly capitalized on this buzz by partnering with Ryan Gosling, aka Ken, to craft a playful video. In it, Ryan acknowledged fan discussions, extended warmth to Jimin and presented him with Ken's iconic guitar.  

The outcome: The video went viral! It became Barbie the Movie’s most popular post on X ever. Then the buzz went all over TikTok and Facebook too, making the movie even more famous. Jimin joined in with a video on Instagram, making the buzz even louder. This social media buzz led to huge engagement, viral TikTok views and tons of positive chatter about the movie, all thanks to the maker’s prompt use of social listening tools.

💡Your takeaway: The makers of the movie turned ordinary conversations into something special, connecting with their audience in a fun and engaging way. If you are a brand that wants to make a splash in this online world, this story is a great reminder for you to stay connected with your audience and make meaningful interactions with them by knowing what piques their interest.

🌟 2 cents from our playbook 🌟

When you're looking through your online chatter, keep an eye out for posts that are getting a lot of action—like tons of likes, shares, comments or people talking about them. Posts with a lot of social media engagement usually mean the person who posted them has a big influence on their followers. If you collaborate with these influencers for your promos, you could boost your brand’s visibility to their followers and win their trust.

Curious? Read Get Started with Social Media Collaborations. 

3. Unmatched competitor analysis and trendspotting: Nike

The story: Nike, a global leader in sportswear, uses social listening to stay ahead in the competitive athletic apparel market. This athleisure brand employs advanced social listening tools to track mentions, sentiment trends, and emerging topics related to key competitors. This includes analyzing competitor campaigns, product launches, customer feedback, and brand sentiment across social media platforms.

Tools like Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics and Google Trends enable Nike to monitor conversations across major platforms simultaneously, helping the brand understand what customers are saying about its products.

For instance, when Nike noticed customers posting pictures of themselves wearing Nike products during outdoor activities, they launched the “Better For It” campaign. This campaign celebrated women pushing themselves to be their best, aligning with customer interests and trends.

The outcome: Through social listening, Nike identifies real-time opportunities and threats, which helps them adjust the marketing strategies, product offerings and brand messaging accordingly. This proactive approach helps Nike maintain a competitive edge, respond effectively to market shifts and enhance customer satisfaction seamlessly.

💡Your takeaway: Continuous monitoring of the market landscape and consumer conversations empowers you to make data-driven decisions, innovate faster and stay strong in the competitive market.

Get the scoop on your competitors

Social listening enables you to compare – and benchmark – your social media performance and presence against that of your competitors. It tracks and compares your key social media metrics such as brand awareness, Share of Voice (SoV) and CSAT, yielding a real-time view of how you stack up against the competition.

Dig Deeper: 5 Proven Hacks for Social Media Competitor Analysis

Social listening vs. Social media monitoring: Know the Differences

In the world of social media management, you’ll often hear about social listening and social media monitoring. They sound similar but actually have different roles in your strategy.

Here’s a table for you that breaks down key aspects of social media monitoring and social listening, including their definitions, primary focus areas, overarching goals and examples of tools commonly used for each. 


Social media monitoring 

Social listening 


Tracking and responding to direct mentions, tags and messages. 

Analyzing the mood, themes and trends in conversations about your brand and industry. 

✅ Focus 

Direct interactions with the brand (mentions, tags, hashtags). 

Broader sentiment, indirect mentions and overall industry conversations. 

🎯 Goal 

Engage with and respond to customer interactions promptly. 

Gather strategic insights to inform marketing, product development and brand direction. 

🔧Tools often used 

Sprinklr, Hootsuite, and Buffer 

Sprinklr, Mention and Talkwalker 

🔢 Metrics 

Quantitative metrics like likes, shares, comments and specific mentions 

Qualitative metrics like customer sentiment and overall brand perception 

Want to deep dive? Read What’s the Difference Between Social Monitoring and Social Listening?

What are the benefits of social media listening?

Social media listening is like having an ear to the digital ground. The stuff you learn from this online chatter can really make a difference for your brand and how much you earn from your efforts.

Let’s unpack further to see how social media listening can help your business.  

  • Stronger customer relationships: Social listening yields real-time consumer insights that can be used to tailor offerings and improve CSAT.

  • Strategic decision-making: Social listening helps steer your marketing and product plans in the right direction, ensuring they align with customer demands and market trends.

  • Competitive edge: Social media listening uncovers customer sentiments, empowering you to build proactive strategies for gaining a competitive edge.

  • Simplified influencer marketing: It helps to find key influencers by studying their engagement levels, aiding in strategic collaboration for brand visibility and trust.

  • Brand health: Social media listening makes it easier to monitor real-time conversations and detect signs of crisis through negative comments and trolls.

Additional Reading: How Do you Protect Your Brand Reputation in the Social Media Minefield?

What are the objectives of social listening?

Now that you’ve a fair idea how listening on social media can help your brand, let’s get straight to the three key things you can aim to accomplish with social listening.

1. To understand your audience

The main goal here is to understand what your audience is discussing online. By tuning into their conversations, you can connect better and learn about their needs, likes and pain points. 

2. To keep an eye on the competition

Social listening extends beyond your brand, offering a window into your competitors' strategies and movements. 

3. To prevent and manage crisis

No one wants to be blindsided by a crisis. Social listening can be like an early warning system that lets you know if there's any negative buzz building up around your brand.

Be a Pro: Learn all about social media crisis management to keep your brand safe

Top challenges associated with social listening

Diving into social listening can give you tons of insights about your brand, but it’s not always easy. Here are some typical hurdles you might face with social listening.  But don’t worry, it’s not too scary 😊

🤜 Data overload

Picture trying to listen to every conversation in a bustling city square. Quite a task, right? That's what social listening tools have to handle! With so much online data and information, filtering out the crucial details for your brand requires heavy-duty AI and on-point queries.

Read more: Why Businesses Need Enterprise Social Listening Platforms

🤜 Identifying sentiment accurately

AI-powered tools are smart, but they still struggle to grasp the subtleties of human emotion, particularly irony and sarcasm. This means a tweet that appears positive at first glance might actually be a dig at your brand. Catching that nuance is crucial, yet it's something that social listening tools sometimes miss.

Did you know? Generative AI-powered social listening tools (like Sprinklr) can detect subtle emotional nuances adeptly since they are trained on unstructured human conversations. Care to give it a try? It’s free for 30 days and supports 100+ languages! 

🤜 Keeping up with slang and jargon

Online lingo changes at lightning speed: today's trendy phrases become tomorrow's old news. For social listening tools, keeping up with the fast-evolving language of the internet is a constant challenge, which can lead to misinterpretation or overlooking key conversations.

🤜 Tacking privacy concerns

Social listening presents challenges in privacy and ethics as it monitors public social media discussions, raising concerns about data collection, privacy breaches and ethical considerations. Businesses must adhere to compliance and laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for EU residents and Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) for electronic communications protection. These laws require businesses to obtain explicit consent, implement robust data security measures and ensure transparency in data collection and usage practices.

How to create a social media listening strategy

Choosing the right social media channels for social listening is just as important as selecting the social listening tool itself. Conversations about your brand don't all happen in the same places, so knowing where to focus your attention can significantly impact your efforts. To spot the channels that matter most to your brand, consider your:

1.  Audience: Start by mapping out where your target audience spends their time online. Different demographics have preferences for different platforms. For instance, younger audiences might gravitate towards Instagram and TikTok, while professionals might be more active on LinkedIn and X. 

2. Past engagements: Check out your brand's historical data to see where you've gotten the most social media engagement. Do a thorough research to identify platforms garnering the most mentions, comments or shares. That's where your social listening efforts should be concentrated. 

3. Industry: Some industries have niche platforms where specific conversations happen. For example, tech discussions might thrive on Reddit, while fashion brands could find valuable insights on Instagram and Pinterest. 

4. Competitors: Keep a tab on where your competitors are most active and where they receive the most engagement. This can provide clues about where industry-relevant conversations are happening. 

5. Resources: You probably can't keep an eye on every single channel out there; it can be too much for your team. So, focus on the places where the real action is, where the talks are happening that matter most to your brand. Kick off with a couple of important platforms and then, if you've got the budget, spread out from there.

🚀Pro Tip: Stay ahead of the curve by continuously assessing and adapting your channel strategy to match current social media trends and audience preferences.

For more insights: Read 11 Social Media Trends in 2024 [+ 7 Actionable Tips]

4 Social listening tips and tricks to try in 2024

Knowing what to listen for, where and how to listen, as well as learning from your competitors, is how you create the best social listening strategies.

Here are a few tips and tricks:

Tip 1: Know what words and topics to listen to

Select the most relevant keywords. Social media listening tools help you know what words people use when mentioning your brand and industry. Some of the most important keywords and topics to track include: 

  • Your brand’s name, social media handles and slogan  

  • The names of your products   

  • Words related to your competitors such as brand or product names, handles and slogans  

  • Popular words related to the industry  

  • Hashtags including your brand’s hashtags, those of competitors and hashtags related to the industry  

  • Names of major leaders in your company such as CEO, COO or CFO   

 All of the above should also be monitored for standard abbreviations and misspellings.

Sprinklr offers a ready-to-use Topic Library with: 

  • 2500+ high-performing topics 

  • From 20+ industries 

  • In 3 categories - Brand & Competitors, Industry Trends and Crisis Management

A ready-to-use Topic Library

Go ahead, register for a free trial and use the library for 30 days, all free!

Tip 2: Know where to listen

Conversations about your brand or the industry can vary depending on the channel. For example, what people say on Instagram might not be what they're talking about on LinkedIn. You might also see your brand popping up a lot on Instagram but hardly ever on Facebook.

The solution: Get the scoop on where your brand and the competition are getting buzz and how the talk varies from one channel to another. This can clue you in on where to invest your resources.


If channels like YouTube are on your listening radar, you should know that YouTube places restrictions on listening to their video posts, comments and comment replies. YouTube public API has quota usage limits for different social listening vendors. This is done for fair quota distribution and unhindered service to users.

However, firehose applications like Instagram, Facebook and X don't have any such restrictions.

Tip 3: Avoid broad searches

Once you’ve determined what terms to track and where to find them, advanced search methods can be used to narrow your results. The narrower you make your search, the more likely you are to find your ideal target audience.

For instance, consider location-based filtering in your social listening strategy. If your business operates primarily in the U.S., you should focus on conversations happening there. Monitoring chatter in other regions, like France, won’t be relevant to your local business needs. By tailoring your social listening to specific areas, you can ensure that you're gathering actionable insights that are directly applicable to your business context.

Tip 4: Set up alerts as an early warning system

To enhance your social listening strategy, it's crucial to set up alerts proactively. These alerts act as early warning systems, allowing you to catch potential issues through specific keywords before they escalate. For example, Sprinklr’s social listening module offers two types of alert systems to monitor any looming crisis:

Smart alerts: These are tailored to identify crisis events swiftly based on metrics of your choice, like volume, engagement, sentiment, etc

Volumetric alerts: Customized to your business needs, they provide insights into crisis detection based on type of trend you want to monitor.

3 Best social listening tools in 2024

Let's talk about three of the best social listening tools: Sprinklr, Brandwatch and Hootsuite. Here’s the scoop on each, from their standout features to why they might just be the right fit for you:

1. Sprinklr

Sprinklr shines with its comprehensive platform that offers:

  • Social listening on 30+ social media channels

  • Web sources (news, Reddit, Blogs, websites, forums, podcasts, videos, WordPress, Classifieds and reviews) 

  • Traditional channels (TV, radio and print).

Its AI-driven insights help you make sense of vast data, pinpointing trends and sentiments. 

Strengths: What sets Sprinklr apart is:

  • Widest channel coverage, ensuring comprehensive conversation monitoring. 

  • Matchless accuracy of over 80%, providing reliable insights. 

  • Handling 10 billion predictions per day, showcasing scalability and performance. 

  • Custom dashboards for personalized analytics and data visualization. 

  • Topic Library for efficient management and organization of key themes and discussions.

Why use it: If you're looking for an all-in-one solution that goes beyond just listening to actively managing customer experiences, Sprinklr is your go-to. It's especially handy for larger organizations looking to keep a pulse on their global presence.

2. Brandwatch

Brandwatch is a powerhouse when it comes to deep dives into data. With advanced analytics, image recognition and trend spotting, it gives you a granular look at what's being said.

  • Strengths: Its real strength lies in the depth of its analysis. Brandwatch can dissect conversations, offering insights not just on the volume of mentions but the context and sentiment behind them.

  • Why use it: For those who love drilling down into the nitty-gritty of data and emerging trends, Brandwatch offers the detailed analysis you need. It's a great tool for brands focused solely on understanding the market dynamics and audience.

3. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is well-known for its social media management capabilities, but its listening tools are nothing to scoff at. It offers real-time updates and sentiment analysis across multiple platforms.  

  • Strengths: Hootsuite's integration with its social media management platform makes it a breeze to go from listening to action. You can track mentions, respond to comments and even schedule social media posts right from the dashboard. 

  • Why use it: If you're after a tool that lets you listen and then immediately engage with your audience, Hootsuite is a reliable choice. It's particularly useful for smaller businesses and brands with budget constraints. 

Each of these tools brings something unique to the table, whether it's comprehensive customer experience management, deep data analysis or seamless integration with engagement. Depending on your brand's size, focus and budget, one of these could be the key to unlocking a new level of connection with your audience in 2024.

How Marico used Sprinklr to improve social listening: An inspiring story

Now you know that listening to social media chatter gives you insights into what’s trending with your customers.

Marico realized the power of social listening long back. Spanning 25 countries in Asia, Africa and America, the FMCG giant was keen to tap brand mentions and sentiment across its widespread network of channels. In an industry known for innovation and agility, it was vital that Marico stay on top of trends and base their decisions on real data from social listening.

Enter Sprinklr.

Sprinklr created a proprietary digital framework called “Digital Quotient” for performance analysis and competitive benchmarking across 1250 data points, enabling the company to assess their metrics on all brand channels, including social, ecommerce, paid, influencer and direct-to-consumer.

The outcome: 

  • Instant detection of product issues across the globe 

  • Quick product launches on the back of trendspotting algorithms 

  • 92% improved brand mentions and 82% improved engagements 

Marico joins the league of brands that have benefited from Sprinklr’s social listening, such as Acer, Panasonic and Clarks. If you too want to orchestrate effective listening campaigns, here’s a free Sprinklr trial to give you a promising head start.

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