It may sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked: a key element of any communications activity is listening. Without it, the chances of engaging with our target audience is significantly reduced.

The same goes for social communications. For a social campaign to be successful, you need to listen to what’s going on in the social stratosphere. Think of some of the most successful social media campaigns to date: Always’ #LikeAGirl, or WWF’s #EndangeredEmoji; they didn’t happen by accident. They came about in response to careful research and listening. The brands listened to what users respond to, who the influencers are, what matters to them and which channels of communication resonate the most.

There are a few things to consider before conducting a social listening exercise:

  1. Have the right tools

For any social listening programme it’s recommended that a social analytics tool is used. At Makara we use a platform called Meltwater, but there are many others out there with various capabilities and price options. The biggest advantage of these platforms is they do much of the hard work for you, analysing the data and reporting it into meaningful graphs and visuals that you can then mine for insights.

  1. Choose your keywords carefully

The crux of social listening is ensuring that the keywords in your search are relevant to what you’re looking for. This is another big advantage of social listening platforms; you can perform much more sophisticated searches, using Boolean queries which allow you to include and exclude certain keywords. See a basic example below:

((“diabetes” AND “kidneys”) OR (“diabetes” AND “heart failure”))

This will show results that include posts mentioning both diabetes and kidneys, as well as posts showing both diabetes and heart failure.

  1. Identify the keywords you don’t want

It’s more than likely that your first search will bring up many results that aren’t relevant, especially on social media where users tend to go off-topic! This is where the “NOT” search function comes in handy.

For example, if your diabetes search above brings up many results on Type 1 diabetes, but you’re only interested in Type 2 diabetes, you can refine this search as below:

((“diabetes” AND “kidneys”) OR (“diabetes” AND “heart failure”)) NOT (“type 1”)

You can add as many exclusion words as you like, and you’ll find that the more you chip away at your search, the more refined your results will become.

  1. Get your hands dirty

Sophisticated social listening platforms are incredibly useful at finding quantitative data effectively and reporting it in a meaningful and visually appealing way, but sometimes it’s worth doing some extra digging of your own. What this means is going through the results and really looking at individual posts. Maybe someone has spoken about a personal experience that is particularly relevant to your campaign. These nuggets of information and little anecdotes are just as important as the overarching quantitative results. They can provide the real insight that you need to inform the campaign message. It might even prompt you to refine your search further, looking into this particular aspect of the topic that you’ve discovered.

  1. Know when to stop

The world of social media is vast, and you can find yourself searching forever. But your campaign will only need a certain chunk of insights. Spending months on end gathering insights and evidence is generally not feasible and not always helpful. If you find there’s nothing out there in the first few weeks, then that’s a telling insight in itself. Give yourself two or three weeks to set up your audit, do your research and record your findings. Then call it a day and use the great insights you have!