A Small Business Owner’s Guide to Social Listening

January 5, 2021 - 11 minutes read

How to use social media to improve your campaigns and understand your customers.



Not many business owners know this, but marketing is most effective when it’s a conversation instead of a one-way street.

Studies show that 68% of customers stop buying from a brand because they feel it’s not listening to them.

By taking the time to observe your audience where they’re most engaged, you will uncover insights that will allow you to reach out to them with communications tailored to their needs or interests. Rather than pumping out sales messages, you will be able to speak their language.

But how can you do that? By embracing the art of social listening. In our hyper-connected digital age, more than half the world uses social media (that’s a lot of potential customers). By tapping into the right conversations, you will uncover a wealth of business-boosting gold.

Here, we explore how to use social listening and selling techniques to engage your audience and grow your business.


What is social listening & why do you need to start doing it?


Before we dig any deeper, let’s consider what social listening is:

Social listening is the concept of monitoring social media channels for mentions of your brand, competitors, products, and relevant conversations related to your industry.

By engaging in social listening, you will gain a deeper understanding of your target audience and industry, uncover potential leads, engage with your customers naturally, and build trust.

Social listening is a powerful promotional tool that empowers small business owners to grow their audience without taking up all their time or draining their budget.

In addition to connecting with your audience in a way that will boost engagement and build trust, social listening will also allow you to transform a negative into a positive. Ninety-six percent of unhappy customers won’t inform you directly but will tell 15 friends about a negative experience with your brand. 

By keeping your finger on the social pulse, you can tap into these negative comments, spark up a conversation, and demonstrate your value in the public arena. This, in turn, could help you gain new long-term customers.


Excellent examples of social listening


Now that you understand the business-boosting power of social listening, we’re going to look at two solid examples from two renowned American brands—starting with Hilton Hotels.

Hilton Hotels—crisis management

Hilton Hotels receives an average of 1.5 thousand Tweets every day. Twitter is one of its most engaged social media channels, and Hilton uses social monitoring tools to uncover any brand mentions and respond accordingly.

As a brand that sees engagement from celebrity guests, Hilton is excellent at responding to negative comments in an approachable, conversational manner and nipping any potential issues in the bud before they reach a crisis point.

Arby’s—brand insight

As one of America’s most iconic sandwich chains, Arby’s is a firm favorite across the nation. It’s also an early innovator of social listening.

To gather intelligence for its marketing campaigns, Arby’s taps into relevant hashtags and conversations related to its industry.

After discovering that one-third of Twitter comments linked to Arby’s were about its sauce, the brand decided to shine a social light on it with its #saucepocalypse campaign.


By creating messaging and visuals centered around its signature sauce and inviting customers to share their ‘sauceless meal disaster stories,’ Arby’s earned droves of engagement and increased its brand reach significantly.


How to approach social listening as a small business owner


Now that you know what social listening looks like in action, let’s explore how you can approach social listening as a small business owner.

Work with social listening tools

Rather than manually scouring through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, you can work with tools that will help you schedule content while setting up alerts based on relevant brand mentions, hashtags, and industry conversations.

The tools you decide to invest in will depend on your specific aims and goals, but here are some effective social listening and monitoring tools you should consider:

  • Google Alerts for monitoring specific social media keywords
  • BuzzSumo for searching for key social media influencers in your industry
  • Hootsuite for scheduling content and analyzing engagement data across social media channels
  • Followerwonk to help you monitor your competitors’ followers and conversations
  • Awario for advanced social media engagement analytics across channels

Identify who to listen to

Armed with the right tools for the job, it’s important that you consider who you want to listen to and why. 

Do you want to improve your social media service levels? Are you looking to gain inspiration from your competitors’ campaigns and build on them? Is sparking up a topical conversation with your followers to drive engagement and grow your audience your current goal?

By setting clear-cut strategic aims, you will give your social listening efforts direction, which will empower you to monitor the right topics, keywords, hashtags, and people. If you track the right conversation, you will do the right thing, leading to more sales.

Check up on your competitors

Circling back to the competition for a moment: by exploring what your competitors are doing and how their audience connects with them, you will gain a level of intelligence that will make your social media communications more effective.

To perform competitor analysis and access a treasure trove of information, take the time to identify your direct competitors.

Once you’ve uncovered two to three main competitors, you should use your social monitoring tools to gain an understanding of the type of content that resonates most with their respective audiences.

Doing so will give you inspiration for your own campaigns while allowing you to build upon gaps in your competitors’ messaging, content, or service.

Identifying weaknesses or gaps you can exploit will empower you to connect with your competitors’ audience and deliver content that offers direct value at the times where they are most likely to engage.

Competitor research is a powerful technique that should be one of the central parts of your social listening strategy.

Respond well & keep the conversation going

Consistent social listening will give you the tools you need to respond to compliments and complaints in a confident and timely manner.


When you receive negative comments or complaints via social media, it’s important to remain level-headed and take direct measures to resolve the issue.

Respond to every complaint swiftly by first apologizing and addressing the problem before offering a practical solution.


If a consumer compliments your brand in the public domain, they will have made a special effort to do so.

Much like complaints, you should respond to every positive comment as soon as possible, offering a like, share, tag, or personalized thank-you in return. You can use your social media monitoring tools to discover who is talking about your brand or business and make sure you never miss a mention.

Collect dialogues & data

Keeping a digital log or spreadsheet of notable followers, influencers, comments, and brand mentions will give you the additional data you need for social listening success.

By noting down and categorizing consumer comments and responses, you will be able to spot trends that will give you the insight you need for better brand reach and growth across all platforms.

For instance, if your log or spreadsheet tells you that there has been an influx of complaints in a certain area of the business, you will be able to get to the root of the problem quickly and take the right course of action.

“Listening to customers is more important than it’s ever been because their feedback is manifestly public where it’s historically been private.”—Jay Baer

Social listening is about sparking up conversations, gathering insight, and turning insight into action. We live in a social world, and the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter aren’t going away anytime soon.

Work with the right tools, take the time to observe, and you will connect with your customers in a way you never thought possible.

When you meet your customers where they are most comfortable, they are likely to open up more. As a business owner, knowing your audience is the best way to ensure long-term success. Keep on listening to keep on learning.

We hope this advice leads you to social listening success. For more promotional pearls of wisdom, check out our practical guide to Instagram marketing.