The Most Important Marketing Tool You’re Overlooking: Social Listening

Yes, we've all heard about centralizing data and creative assets or the importance of turning data analysis into actionable insights, but what many marketers overlook in these processes is social listening.

Social listening can be a scary concept — it's hard to track and cultural change often happens quickly (especially because of social media). However, meeting consumer needs and pain points, and speaking to them in an authentic and organic way, doesn't just happen from tracking the customer journey. It has to happen through understanding what the journey should be to begin with and what kind of experience a customer wants.

At its simplest, social listening is tracking and monitoring social media channels to understand trends, cultural movements, and essentially, how people are communicating with each other in the present.

Understanding how people feel makes it possible to be agile and respond to feedback, both positive and negative. It can also prevent campaign mistakes (such as a culturally insensitive ad).

Conversely, social listening also allows a brand to interact with their fans, such as Ben & Jerry's, as seen in this personal interaction:

Here's what other industry leaders have to say about social listening and its importance:

Blake Caldwell, general manager Los Angeles at Day One Agency, stressed how social listening can increase brand awareness with a target demographic, is key, stating at an ANA event:

"Being aware of the moment and doing a lot of social listening was a key part. Having a long-term partnership with an organization like The National Forest Foundation brought credibility to the campaign. One side of this is how do you break through in a crowded space? And on the other side of this is how do you do it in a way that's authentic? Our long-term partnership created the right context to launch something even during complicated times."

Meanwhile, Ewan McIntyre, VP Analyst at Gartner, echoed how cultural change is at the forefront of successful marketing, stating, "Perhaps the largest obstacle to agile strategy adoption is cultural change. It takes time and diplomacy to transform long-entrenched attitudes."

Christopher Thomas-Moore, VP of digital marketing and global e-commerce at Domino's, similarly discussed the importance of testing, allowing failure, and finding ways to innovate to better the consumer journey and experience, stating at ANA conferences in 2019:

"We do a ton of social listening and have a few different platforms we leverage. We leverage [social media] to get an understanding of the conversations going on. We also do a lot of quantitative and qualitative research to get directly to customers and understand what's going on in their lives and how we can improve it.

It starts with culture. You have to build a willingness to accept failure. That being said, we do a ton of research before trying these things. When we're in the ideating process, it's not that we're always thinking about tech, though we know we can execute on those items. We're thinking about those cultural, customer, and category tensions, which guide us into what we should be pursuing, as opposed to forcing technology."


"The Most Important Marketing Tool You’re Overlooking: Social Listening," ANA, 2021.