The Power of Social Listening

social listening

The Most Successful Content Begins With No Talking at All

Are you aware of the holes in your content marketing? Do you know the buzz is among your consumers and what they’re talking about within your industry? Failing to practice social listening is a great pitfall among what could be highly successful companies. At Avalaunch Google Day 2020, Adam Durfee identifies ways to hone in on your audience and market to them more effectively. 

I was asked specifically to talk a little bit about social listening. So I’m going to guess, without taking a poll of the room, that not everybody is super familiar with the social listening space. Software for social listening runs anywhere from $20K to $30K all the way up to a quarter of a million dollars a year. But social listening at its base form is just understanding what people are saying about you online, right? Your cheapest social listening software is social media. Some of you tend to just crawl Twitter, maybe Pinterest to see what people are saying about you and then you try to use that information to make important decisions. 

I’ve taken social media or social listening to a different level. We like to find out what’s being said about you on all social media platforms. I’m also on YouTube, in news, in forums, all over the place. We think that getting a complete picture of what’s being said about you, your industry, your brand, et cetera, will help you make better business decisions. So that’s ultimately what we’re playing with in this social listening space.

Three Areas of Social Listening

We’ll talk about just a few basic parts of that today. I’ve got three here that we’ll discuss. 

Our first area is identifying mentions. That tends to be where the majority of companies stop when it comes to the social listening space. I was at the Social Shakeup Show in Atlanta a couple of years back, when social listening was first getting on its hot side. All people would talk about is these great big command centers. With eight to 10 screens in front of them, they would use those to do nothing more than just find out who was talking about them at any given time. You’ve probably seen live media mention streams. If you ever tweeted an airline, you’ll know they’re pretty common and they’ll respond back to you and see what you’re saying.

To me, that was just about the least important use of social listening. If we’re just listening to what people say directly about us in a social listening space, we’re leaving opportunities on the table. So I put a few ideas in the social listening space, tried them with our students, and then last year, we presented a few things at Social Media Week out in New York to talk about some stuff we can do. You guys will get a small taste of some of those things here today. 

Honey Bunches of Oats

To start out, we’re going to use a brand I care a lot about — Honey Bunches of Oats. It’s also the brand that you have to fight people for in the grocery store. Now, if you want to bring a box home, we’ve hit peak popularity here and we’re going to pretend that we are the digital marketers for Honey Bunches of Oats for about 10 minutes and talk about how we might use social listening on this brand to create this sort of content that’ll engage people and sell a whole lot more boxes of cereal. 

Tracking Mentions and Sentiment

First things first, we need to track our media mentions and our sentiment. We call this our brand context in house. We’re gonna use social listening just to understand where we are in the space of the market. Below, you’ll see the people that are people talking about Honey Bunches of Oats as a brand. 

All I’ve done is taken all of those mentions and I’ve run them through simple sentiment analysis software, which helps us understand if those people are talking about positively or negatively. Honey Bunches of Oats generally gets a fairly positive set of reviews online, which tells me I might be okay to do some marketing. If I come up in this space with super negative sentiment, I might decide some brand management or some brand messaging that may be a little bit more important to me in my brand because people don’t like me very much.

In this case, I’m going to greenlight the project because I’ve got a lot of good things going. If you want to understand where you stand in the face of competition, all you do is take the same process I just ran for Honey Bunches of Oats and run it against Grape Nuts, Cheerios, Rice Checks, and all the other cereals that play in your space. You could check media mentions for all of them as well as positive negative sentiment, and that would give you an understanding of where you stand contextually within your market. 

Instead of competing with other cereals, I wanted to know where I stood in the industry context as a whole. It’s not necessarily against a competitor but simply in the space of the healthy breakfast cereal market. Does Honey Bunches of Oats appeal to people who want to eat healthy? We’ve got to find out if we’re there not. When I do sentiment analysis, I tend to eliminate all neutral mentions because if somebody just says they ate the cereal this morning, I don’t know if they liked it or if they didn’t like it, which doesn’t particularly help me understand where my brand stands. I eliminate most neutral mentions and focus on people who have passion one way or the other. 

In the graphic above, you’ll see a massive spike towards the beginning of August with around 5,000 people talking about Honey Bunches of Oats across the United States of America. Then, suddenly one day, there are over 30,000 people talking about it. We have to investigate that and find out what it’s all about. I sourced it back to Twitter and I find this guy right here:

He looks a little bit like that lady who used to do the Honey Bunches of Oats commercial. Someone pointed it out, and everybody started making memes about it. It became a short-term August 8, 2019 phenomenon.

Now that we’ve tracked sentiment, now we should look at topics and find out what are people saying when they talk about Honey Bunches of Oats. I put together a topic wheel because for me, this graphically helps me understand pretty clearly what people talk about in this space. When they mention the brand, what other words show up? Once again, this includes YouTube comments and forums, transcripts of news articles, you name it. If it’s on the internet, we grab it, and run it through a text analyzer.

We build out neural networks to find a correlation between words, and then we chart those in a way that makes more sense. We find out when people talk about Honey Bunches of Oats, they also talk about cereal, milk, eating, love, almonds, et cetera. Then, if you talked about Honey Bunches of Oats and milk, you would talk about those things on the right. These are in degrees of importance, so if you say you love Honey Bunches of Oats, you would also say “whole family breakfast,” et cetera. This is what the conversation from Honey Bunches of Oats looks like. 

Next, I want to know what people talk about when they talk about healthy breakfast cereal. As somebody who loves Honey Bunches of Oats, I’m interested in this market. I want to know if you’re not talking about Honey Bunches of Oats, but you are talking about eating a healthy breakfast cereal. What matters to you? Notice the difference in our charts here.

What I want to point out is the word protein on the second ring. You’ll see it twice. It’s linked once on “bullet cereal” and once on “peanut butter.” Then we’ll talk about proteins. You’ll see protein when people talk about healthy breakfast. Cereal protein comes up in two separate conversation chains. Backing it up, we see Honey Bunches of Oats. You don’t see the word “protein” on that list. So we realize there’s a discrepancy in our content gap. Honey Bunches of Oats is positioning themselves to be healthy, but they’re not talking about protein. People who talk about being healthy are talking about proteins.

Content Landscape

Now we’re starting to get our clues, and we’ll put them side by side. 

I tell my students to think about that gut instinct. When you’re reading these, what do we think? What are we missing here? All of a sudden, it’s happened. You identify when protein matters, and that’s going to be important to our messaging. We’re going to make that note, especially talking to our content people that way, and we’re going to say, “Listen, guys, we’ve got to be thinking about messaging,” and we think about the content SEO. I want to talk about SEO.

How are we going to rank? What should I be talking about? I need to talk about healthy breakfast cereal. People want protein. It’s silly to think that Google doesn’t pay attention to what people say about something. Therefore, they probably care about us saying protein. You want to rank for “healthy breakfast cereal.” Currently, Honey Bunches of Oats does not rank on page one of Google for that. Maybe we should be considering the protein play. 

Audience Research and Profiling

Last thing I want to take a look at is our audience profiling. Now that we know what people are saying about our product and our industry, we want to know who these people are. This is one of the most fun parts of social listening that, to date, almost no brands do — and that’s why I like it.

First, we want to map out everybody who talks about or likes Honey Bunches of Oats. 

  • Who are they? 
  • How old are they? 
  • What are they interested in? 
  • What are their behaviors? 
  • Do they travel? 
  • Do they commute? 
  • Do they play games online? 
  • Do they like Netflix instead of Hulu? 
  • Who are these people? 

Understanding who those people are helps us identify possible content opportunities. That’s where most companies stop. Most of you build a persona for your own audience, so this is not unfamiliar territory, but how often do you build a persona for your industry? I call it a reference audience. We choose X number of people across the planet: people who eat breakfast, people who live in the United States of America, people who commute to work, you name it.

We pick them as our reference audience and chart everything about them using all the social data available. We find out who they follow on Twitter, who they like on Facebook, what are they talking about on Instagram, what channels they subscribe to on YouTube, and use this information to map them. Then, we look for overlap. Unfortunately, the overlap is what tells us our audience is the same as everybody else. In all of these ways, we’re far more interested in finding out what makes our audience unique. At Y Digital, we call this “affinity.” We want to find out if our audience has an affinity towards certain products, celebrities, or behaviors that are significantly greater than the affinities they may share with our reference audience.

For example, we know a lot of people like Apple. Does our audience like Apple more than the average person? If they do, that’s a brand we now care about and if they don’t, we don’t care as much about it. In the graph below, we’re comparing a reference audience to a standard audience. 

We’re finding out our audience is 66% female. Our target audience is the outside ring. You’ll notice the target audience is about 55% female, which tells us our audience is significantly more female than our average audience.

You can run a simple T test on this and prove statistical significance. Next, we’re going to find out our age categories. You’ll see that our audience skews a little bit older than an average audience — probably what most of you would expect for Honey Bunches of Oats. Along the bottom are what I call “five-star affinities.” Our audience likes these 10/20/30 times more than the average person. They love Barbara Streisand. They love yogurt, they like lemonade, they love true crime dramas, they like TMZ, and they like these a lot more than an average person should like any of those things. So for me, these are content clues. This is something that speaks to my audience in a unique way.

So what should we do with this? We could launch a true crime podcast and get Barbara Streisand into the studio, or make it about her. Guess who might actually enjoy that? People who like Honey Bunches of Oats. You’ve just spoken to everything they care about, and now we’re talking about creative content production that becomes incredibly interesting to our audience. That’s how we brand ourselves. That’s the purpose of all of this messaging.

Eventually, we have to pay the Piper to get links, make money, and get a return on the investment. We can start on that by charting where we might find content opportunities. If we fast forward, we have an option to take a look at articles. I know a lot of you are thinking. “You know what? If I could get a link from an Emily’s recipe blog, I could tell my client I got a link and I’m in good shape.”

Most of us in the SEO space understand very clearly that if we could land a couple of big domain authority links — a couple of real references — we could drive actual traffic and authority and be much better. That’s how we tend to look inside Y Digital. We’re not usually looking to build links anywhere. We’re looking for the biggest, baddest links we can find out there. So I went ahead and thought, “Let’s think news. Let’s think huge blogs. Let’s look at domain authority. Let’s go as big as we can go here.” So I looked at everybody who talks about healthy breakfast cereal and writes articles about healthy breakfast cereal and chartered that volume. These are companies that have written at least 10 articles about healthy breakfast.

On the overlay line graph is the average engagements they get on those articles for breakfast cereal. There’s a big flaw in this, and the flaw is that we don’t know how many engagements the average article for that company gets when they write about cereal. Are they getting more or less than you would expect? As it turns out, this chart is a little less helpful than we want it to be, so I made some adjustments and charted it this way. 

Now, you’re looking at the average engagements that any article on that particular platform gets. It’s how I’m defining this versus the engagements they get when they write about cereal. If you’re CVS news, your average article on social media will get somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 social media engagements on average.

If you read about breakfast cereal, you get, on average, 17,000 views. Your audience is three times more interested in cereal than whatever else you talk about on a regular basis, which tells me when I want to create something really cool about cereal, I get to talk to a CVS news reporter, find the one I like, and tell them their engagement levels inside the company. I get it. We’ve all been there. If you read about mine, there’s three. You can see a three times higher engagement rate than on your standard article. Now we’d considered interest in somebody writing. I would sure hope so because now you can take social data into their warehouse and explain to them how they can be better at their jobs by doing this. Pretty neat, huh? We also find out on the far right that Simple Most gets an insert amount of engagement on everything they write, period.

So it turns out they may not be our best source. We can also look through to see who ranks in Google, and how. We take all the information from all the top 10 websites, run that through a text analysis, compare it to what’s on our website, and find out which words they used across the board unanimously that we don’t use and rig Google’s algorithm that way. And we find out that if you went to the Honey Bunches of Oats website right now, as of two weeks ago, the words “healthy,” “protein,” “fiber,” and “breakfast” do not show up on their webpage. You’re thinking, “Holy cow, that’s crazy.” I agree with you. 

If anybody knows somebody at Honey Bunches of Oats, let me know. I’d love to pitch this deck to them for a few thousand dollars and I’ll give you a cut for the introduction. But there it is. They don’t use those words, so from an SEO standpoint, we incorporate those words to build up our authority. Then we get into our content wheelhouse and try to create something far more interesting that appeals to this unique audience of Barbara Streisand lovers that we just discovered existed. That’s how we use social data to create something interesting. 

Presented by Adam Durfee

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