Today’s companies know how to listen better than ever to create quality marketing messaging, connect with current and potential customers, and understand how people are talking about their company. How do they do this? They ask the right questions. 

Author and educator Stephen R. Covey famously said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

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Social media strategies start with listening to understand. The future is all about hearing and understanding what your business ecosystem (key stakeholders, customers, business partners, constituencies, employees, competitors) has to say and collaborating internally and externally to meet their expectations.

To understand your customers and your company better, you should know which questions to ask and the listening tools to help you answer them.

What is social listening? 

social listening

And why do you need to do it?

Social listening is a social media strategy about distilling information from digital conversations happening in real time between your customers, competition, influencers, and the media. It is not about finding things to respond to, it is about understanding your customers and target market to know their needs inside and out.

Listening to digital conversations helps you find opportunities to connect with your customers, learn about the marketplace and/or your marketing segments, and keep up with the trends.

Every 60 seconds there are 3.8 million Google searches, 3.3 million Facebook posts, 500 hours of YouTube videos uploaded, 448,800 tweets on Twitter, and 1,440 WordPress posts. Click To Tweet

Like any digital marketing activity, you need a plan. The content that exists in today’s social media sites is overwhelming. There are over 2.9 billion active social media users as of April 2017 according to Hootsuite’s 2017 Digital Yearbook.

Every 60 seconds there are 3.8 million Google searches, 3.3 million Facebook posts, 500 hours of YouTube videos uploaded, 448,800 tweets on Twitter, 1,440 WordPress posts, and the list goes on. The amount of content out there is enormous. How do you listen to – and understand – all that buzz?

First, identify who you are listening to and what you are listening for. Determine your target audience, identify the influencers, know the keywords and trends, and craft a social media strategy.

With that, you need to define the questions to ask and the correct tools to answer them.

12 Essential Questions to Ask

I compiled this list based on the questions Matrix Marketing Group asks when listening and learnings from additional success stories.

To understand, not just reply, learn these 12 things from digital conversations:  

  1. Who is talking about you?
  2. What they are saying?
  3. Is it positive or negative?
  4. Which platforms are your target audience most active on?
  5. What communities talk about you?
  6. What are your competitors doing on social media?
  7. What is the buzz about your competitors?
  8. What content is gaining the most engagement/clicks?
  9. Are there subjects of interest you could provide content on for your audience?
  10. What social sites have the most conversation?
  11. Who are the influencers in these blogs or communities?
  12. Where are the opportunities and threats for your business?

Although you may not need to understand all these questions, this is a great starting place to determine what information is most valuable to you. Pick out what you need to learn from this list and check out the following tools to help you answer these questions.

Social Listening Tools

Forty-eight percent of consumers say companies should listen to digital conversations to improve products and nearly 58% want companies to respond to complaints according to a survey of 1,062 U.S. consumers, ages 18+, conducted by the J.D. Power Panel.

Consumers expect companies to listen and believe it is imperative to improve products based on their learnings. Check out these 7 leading tools to help you become an understanding listener.


Buzzsumo is a great place to get started even if you are using the free search. Buzzsumo allows you to type in any word, say content marketing strategy for instance, and it will generate a list of trending websites that have the most shares. You can also sort by total shares, Facebook engagements and LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest or Google+ shares. Regardless of which sorting method option you use, it will tell you the number of shares on each platform.

This tool is great if you are trying to figure out which platform your target audience is using the most. It also provides insight into what topics are gaining the most traction. You can use this information to plan content that has high shareability and will reach a large audience. 

The content research feature is free, but there are many other great aspects of Buzzsumo to explore for all your social media strategy needs.

Best for addressing questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10 in our list above.

Below is an example of a Buzzsumo search on content marketing strategy.



Facebook Insights

Facebook Insights is an essential tool that everyone with a Facebook Page should be using. It allows you to look at the data of all Facebook users and segment it to look at the audience you want to communicate with based on interests, location, marriage, gender, age, whether they have already liked your page, and more. 

It also allows you to look at affinity and see how closely two groups of individuals are related based on their interests. For example, people who like Google probably like Samsung, LG, or Huawei as well.


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Pro-Tip: The benefit of looking for affinities is that some audiences, even similar audiences, are cheaper to advertise to than others. The overall popularity of your keywords will determine the price in much the same way as Google Analytics. 

The tool also provides a list of ‘Suggested Pages to Watch,’ the reach and engagement of your posts, what people are talking about, and page-level data that you can export into an MS Excel document.

Best for addressing questions 4, 5, 7, 8, and 12 in our list above.

Below is an example of a Facebook Insights page. 



Crowdfire was designed with social media managers in mind. This tool tells you exactly what to post and when to post it based on your preferences and objectives across social media sites. The free version allows you to configure two social media accounts (e.g., Facebook and Twitter or Twitter and Instagram). Crowdfire helps more than 16 million users worldwide connect with their audiences and/or customers.

Enter your information, goals, and topic or industry, and the tool will intelligently generate what content to post when to post it, who to follow, and which hashtags to use. This tool is “cheating” because it does the listening for you, but it helps answer questions 8, 9, 11, and 12 in our list above.

Below is an example of Crowdfire getting you fired up about your social media strategy!





In the context of social listening, Feedly is your digital ears. This tool helps you understand who the big players are in your industry or topic area and accelerates your research to understand the digital landscape.

It allows you to follow influencers’ and competitors’ content and receive updates whenever someone you follow publishes new content. It organizes the day’s content into easily digestible feeds you create based on your preferences. (The free version allows you to create three feeds.)

For example, I have three feeds: content marketing, marketing technology, and design thinking. It helps me do my job more efficiently and gives me great sources so I don’t have to sift through unrelated content.

Best for addressing questions 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12 in our list above.

Below is an example of how Feedly makes listening fun. 



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Google Alerts

Perhaps the most basic and functional free listening tool, Google Alerts connects right to your Gmail account. Get pre-selected alerts in your inbox every day to listen to that day’s content. I have set this up when I am working on specific clients to stay in touch with what their world looks like. You can enter alerts for anything from ‘MarTech,’ to ‘Vermont farms,’ to yourself [‘enter your name here’] or your company [‘enter your company name here’].

They are just as easy to turn off as they are to turn on, and they are completely free for up to 1,000 alerts (plenty!).

Best for addressing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11 and 12 in our list above.

Below is the home screen for Google Alerts. 


Social Searcher

Social Searcher shows your content posted by real people about anything you could hope to search. It even allows you to type in a Facebook URL and see posts made from that page about your search term.

It gives you a breakdown of which platforms the term is being used on most and which day and time the topic was most popular. This website will also give you a list of hashtags related to your search item. Social Searcher has a limit to the number of searches you can perform in a day so use them wisely!

Best for addressing questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 in our list above.

Below displays the power of Social Searcher!



Case Studies: Who is a good listener?

Examples of companies who successfully implemented social listening into their social media strategy gave me the ‘aha’ moment I needed to start listening better (both digitally and in person).

Penguin Random House

Penguin Randon House, a multinational publishing company, uses listens to bring new books to market. Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, published in March 2016, came out right around the same time the LIGO gravity wave detection was making headlines. The Penguin Random House team queried a search on hashtags people were using to talk about this issue. The team learned popular words people used to describe this physics concept and targeted writers of these news publications with messaging for Rovelli’s book. It was an instant New York Times Best Seller.

Matrix Marketing Group

Matrix Marketing Group listens to digital buzz to follow events in our niche. For example, we gathered popular hashtags during Denver Startup Week – one of our biggest prospecting events – and inserted ourselves into the conversation.

We published a blog that addressed the topics being discussed during the event, learned from the insights shared on Twitter, and responded with comments and blog posts based on what we learned.

When we shared the blog posts, we used the event hashtag (#DENStartupWeek) to drive traffic back to our website. We saw people coming into our site through direct traffic and organic search because our post was relevant to what our audience was talking about.

Check out Denver Startup Week Wrap Up: Another Successful Year as an example of understanding the digital conversation and contributing with meaningful content.


Listening is a constant practice that is necessary to keep a strategy fresh and ready for action. It enables decision-makers to find and better understand opportunities and stakeholders.

Take the time to ask important questions and then listen to understand your consumers. If you do it well, you can create an inimitable connection with your customers and followers throughout your social channels.

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