What’s The Difference Between Social Media Monitoring, Social Listening, And Alternative Data?

by Felix Yim

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59% of consumers who reach out to brands on social do so because they had a great experience. 40% do so because their experience was poor, and 47% do so because they have a product/service question. What’s undeniable is paying attention to social media activity can do a lot for your business. 

Right now, a few critical concepts are one that is easy to confuse with each other: social media monitoring, social listening, and alternative data. Social media monitoring, social listening, and alternative data each have their specific priorities or goals, approaches and strategies, scale, and tools. There could be a role for all three types of analysis in every organization.

Social media monitoring

Social media monitoring and social listening both involve interacting with social media content for brand benefits. With social media monitoring, marketers are interacting online with the specific goal of conversion or retention. The focus is micro, on selling and customer care only, and you’re reacting to customer activity. You might not be using any tools other than the social media site or the app itself.

An example of social media monitoring is checking Facebook for mentions of your product. With a review, you might thank the customer and invite them to take further action by sharing a discount code. If it’s a neutral or negative review, you apologize and try to resolve their problem. You might direct them to contact your customer care team for a refund or replacement.

Social media listening

If social media monitoring is a tree, then social listening is the forest. With social listening you can have a range of goals, including observing, collecting data, and interacting in conversations. The focus is macro, and you’ll be looking at the bigger picture, like what’s been said about your brand, products, services, customer service team, competitors, and industry. 

Instead of concentrating on specific conversations, you’re working with large amounts of social data and analyzing it to extract specific insights, including through sentiment analysis. This can be used to raise your brand profile, refining products or services, or something else. In most cases, you’ll be using dedicated tools to carry out social listening. 

An example of social listening is using a tool to track all mentions of a specific product for actionable insights. For example, McNeil Consumer Healthcare’s Tylenol used social listening to find out how they could better help their customers. Their social listening strategy was to identify sources of pain and frustration from people who have migraines. 

Through their social listening campaign, the team behind Tylenol was able to find out a high number of consumers were experiencing a pain point around hobbies that needed heavy eye focus, such as knitting, and how these caused migraines and headaches. From this social-listening insight, the brand was able to shift its marketing and SEO strategy to engage with a new audience they hadn’t known existed, and thereby boost website visits and brand visibility.

Alternative data

Alternative data is quite different from both social media monitoring and social listening again. Typically it’s used by investors to assess a company or investment, but some businesses use it to learn more about their own business. The data sources aren’t traditional ones like a company’s earnings reports. Data sources include web-scraped data, credit-card transactions, and public social media content, which is where the slight overlap with two social media terms comes in. 

Alternative-data strategies can draw on some of the same data sources like social media monitoring and social listening. Additionally, as with social listening, alternative data is macro in focus and requires tools like algorithmic models to analyze collected data. An example of alternative data is using foot-traffic data from apps and satellite imagery on car numbers in a retailer car park to help forecast a company’s earnings well before the quarterly report is released. 

Final thoughts

Social media monitoring, social listening, and alternative data can each involve capturing and analyzing social media content, but they’re distinct concepts and each focused on different goals. That’s why it is important to understand that a career in marketing is very broad because as it touches on different areas of expertise (I.e. Google Ads, social ads, CRO, social media marketing, social listening, SEO, big data, web scraping, etc).

All three concepts are great examples of how increasing computational power and social tools that weren’t in existence 10 or 20 years ago are now inhibiting a crucial role. These tools and techniques are helping business learn about consumers and market trends, prospective companies to invest in, and even their own operations. 

While social media monitoring and social listening are accessible, alternative data strategies are probably affordable only to large enterprises and investment funds right now. However, this is not to say alternative data won’t become more feasible for SMEs in the coming years.

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