6 steps to create an org-wide social listening strategy
6 steps to create an org-wide social listening strategy 3

The rise of social listening. As more companies realize the strength and benefits that come from social listening, they continue to integrate it into their org-wide strategies. It opens up a whole world of opportunities not just for advertisers but also for sales teams, marketing teams, research and development, and more.

Although your brand's social media team will most likely guide your organization's listening efforts in a tool like Sprout Social, teamwork is needed to build a listening strategy that works org-wide.

It's time to look beyond the marketing department and start working with other agencies, defining their priorities of listening and finding out how to tie it all back to the bottom line.

Follow these six steps and this cheatsheet to develop a communication strategy that will position you as a company that is innovative, in-touch, holistic and data driven.

Step 1: Get started 

You have a unique understanding of social listening as a social media manager that places you as an expert on the subject. Staff in other departments may not be familiar with the importance of listening so put on your teaching hat when you start discussions with new stakeholders.

Get to the heart of what it's all about listening: your audience and your client. As social media expert Olivia Jepson of Sprout puts it, "Listening gives us a glimpse of what[ our customers] do every day, how they feel and what their problems are. If we want to build more raving fans, we should know exactly who we are talking about, what their motives are, and how we can affect their daily lives".

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Leading on listening with a bit of education can eliminate roadblocks when it comes to brainstorming objectives.

Step 2: Identify the business goals that listening can support

Now you have (hopefully) got some new cross-departmental listening supporters behind you, continue to work with them on setting targets for departmental listening. Some common overall business goals that might help are:

  • Market research
  • Lead generation
  • Product research
  • Competitive analysis
  • Customer service
  • Reputation management
  • Event monitoring

Although these big picture goals are crucial to keep in mind, you'll have to dig a little deeper. When Sprout's own marketing team began developing their communication strategy, Rachael Samuels, social media manager, set up interviews with key collaborators, such as corporate sales and customer engagement managers and product marketers.

"We described interviewees who have direct reports that pose specific challenges to them, as well as people throughout the company who often interact with loops of customer feedback. This made the answers to the questions we asked concerning their problems far richer," Samuels said.

You will be able to form more specific, oriented priorities when you meet with each team and hone in on their challenges. Here are just a few examples:


  • Find new leads from our rivals, or redirect leads
  • Creating your ideal customer
  • Addressing a new demographic
  • Educate yourself how customers are looking for new products

Step 3: Set up your listening tool and topics

When you understand why you're listening, concentrate on how you're going to listen and what particular ideas you're trying to uncover to help your goals.

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This much data can't be listened to and aggregated "by hand," so it's important to choose a listening tool that reaches the deepest corners of society, produces actionable data, measures emotion, and integrates seamlessly into your business strategy.

The bread and butter of listening are the topics of inquiries, and producing strong ones depends on the channels, hashtags, keywords and phrases you include or remove. Here are a few things to consider when constructing your queries:

  1. Not every social network is created equal. Choose your priority networks based on your business objectives, and where your audience is most involved. Twitter, for example, could be your go - to source for customer complaints, while your people's team would favor Facebook for insights into recruitment.
  2. Don't forget the social discussions around "secondary." Listening can even crawl on Youtube, Reddit, blogs, and forums! For software developers, tailor-made communities such as GitHub could be where you can find top talent or get inspiration for your next product.
  3. Big topics are noisy. Be precise and deliberate about achieving oriented results with your keywords.
  4. The creation of queries involves a bit of guesswork so precision is important. Preview the results of your query, edit, remove spam users or the usual phrases that cloud the waters.

Step 4: Make a reporting plan

Progress in listening comes down to three letters: ROI. Your social team will review your listening topics frequently to get the most out of relevant developments and results, but you'll also need to introduce a daily reporting cadence so that you can consistently demonstrate the relevance of your efforts to other departments and stakeholders.

As Samuels says, "This is where the art of social strategy comes together, and the art of data analysis." It's not enough just to throw numbers at someone. Search for social evidence indicators and ways to give importance to observations when you are reporting. Examples of such markers might be frequency, influencer interactions, high engagement, etc. Look at the data for spikes. Has the same question ever come up? Who has said this? Have a lot of people got involved with certain messages?

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"Not only do we get more confidence from those value points, it makes the people you share your data with trust that your ideas are grounded in value," Samuels said. To further reinforce the feedback they provide to clients, the social team at Sprout displays two to three media posts that help them.

It is also important to consider how you are going to package the data for presentation. Users can export visually appealing graphs and listening data easily with Sprout.

Step 5: Share your idea with your key listening team and stakeholders

The last piece is to present the plan and get an executive buy-in to the stakeholders. If you've been struggling to get executive buy-in to listen, first, Samuels recommends you do some "quick and dirty listening runs" for your social strategy.

"Write a query that is focused on responding to one question," she said. "Answer that question with feedback and if those results are good, share the method in your presentation."

This approach will help build more trust and faith in listening to your plan as a center of influence.

Step 6: Stay nimble

It's part craft, part science, listening. When you trigger your listening strategy, you may find that reassessing your original goals, reviewing additional social networks, or incorporating new or expanded keywords to your questions is necessary. Stay snappy, continue to collaborate with your bigger "listening team," and continue to refine your approach to optimum listening success.

You have read all the steps and you know the importance of listening. It is now time for action.