90% of data in the world today was created in the past two years. Using social media, brands have an unparalleled opportunity to hear what their customers and potential customers think and feel about them. 

Brands have always monitored what is written about them, but social listening is something different.

Listening is active. It usually requires you to do something as a result of what you’ve heard: spotting issues early, righting wrongs, surprising and delighting customers, marketing in real time, and gathering insight and intelligence to help you develop better products. 

It’s easy just to focus on the influencers, and ignore the small voice in the crowd. But this can be a mistake. US insurance company Harvard Pilgrim didn’t respond to a customer complaint, first offline, then online, when the customer published a blog post about the problem.

Although the readership of the blog was barely in double digits, when the post was tweeted it went viral and 1,000 people read the post.

So why don’t all brands listen?

Social media is noisy. A few years ago you might have got away with setting up a free alert for Twitter mentions, but now you have to invest in technology that not only tracks mentions, but monitors sentiment, emotion and intent (and maybe even predicts what people will think of a future product or service).

That means investing in people with the skills to analyse and use data.

Seven ways brands can use social listening

Product development

By using social listening US fast-food chain Wendy’s discovered that people were worried about eating at its restaurants as they didn’t know the nutritional content of the food, and didn’t want to break their diets.

So the company developed an app with the relevant nutritional information. Wendy’s also changed the branding of its value burger to encourage social sharing (finding that people weren’t keen to share that they’d eaten a cheap burger).

More recently, Microsoft showed that it was listening when it was revealed that the Xbox One would need constant internet access.

Fans took to social media to complain about it, saying that one of the best things about game consoles was the ability to take their consoles and play somewhere else. The brand listened and made changes to the final product.

Customer service

Dell launched its social media listening command centre in 2010. Using Radian6 software it was able to monitor customer conversations in 11 languages. Its main purpose, to listen and respond to what customers had to say, and to pull the feedback into the business.

Now, Dell is famous for being a social brand and even offers social media listening training to other businesses. 

Identifying advocates

US restaurant chain Morton’s Steak House picked up a tweet by a man who had more than 100,000 followers, which said that a steak dinner from them would be the perfect end to his flight.

The company then sent a tuxedoed waiter to greet him with a full steak dinner as he got off the plane.  

Issues hijacking

Most people in social media will have heard of the United Breaks Guitars music video, but the Taylor Guitars video response is less well known.

The brand that made the guitar in question posted its own video response in support of Dave Carroll. 

By keeping up with what was trending on social media, the guitar maker was able to notch up almost 700,000 views for what was really an extended infomercial.

Addressing concerns

In February, US whiskey brand Maker’s Mark announced that it was going to start reducing the alcohol content of its drink. Loyal customers started protesting, first on the brand's Facebook page and then on Twitter.

By the end of the week Maker’s Mark reversed its decision, citing customer feedback.

When the pink slime scandal engulfed US fast food chains, Wendy’s used social media listening to find out what customer concerns were.

It was able to respond with reassurances that it had never used the controversial product – thus distancing itself from the crisis.


Dell has developed an entire site dedicated to social listening. IdeaStorm serves as a place for customers to discuss product ideas, ask questions and provide feedback on current products. 

Monitoring sentiment

When Kmart ran its 'Ship my Pants' ad campaign, it used social listening to analyse people’s responses. The campaign started on YouTube and became a viral hit, garnering 13m views in a week. 

The positive sentiment towards the video prompted Kmart to take the ad over to television.

Brands can’t control what people say about them on social media. People are going to talk about a brand whether or not it’s listening, or reacting. Before you engage, listen. You’ll gain valuable insights.

Tamara Littleton

Published 8 January, 2014 by Tamara Littleton

Tamara is CEO and founder of social media agency The Social Element and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (6)

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David Somerville

David Somerville, Strategy Director at Fresh Egg

Hi Tamara. Some really great examples there which highlight how crucial it is for brands to ensure they are not only monitoring, but also then responding in innovative and creative ways that will resonate with the customer.

I recently pointed out to a potential client that a fairly well known and influential celebrity was not only following them on Twitter, but also mentioned them a few times and they had not spotted this, let alone responded.

over 4 years ago


Eric Forst

Great post, Tamara. That Peter Shankman story really points to the power of "social currency." Even before Dell started their social media command center in 2010, they were pulled into social media listening by "Dell Hell." Back in 2005, in influential blogger named Jeff Jarvis wrote a damning post about Dell's customer service and lack of follow-up or response, and it unleashed a fire-storm of criticism that went viral across the blogosphere and mainstream media. It really points to customer service as an obvious entry-point for most brands to beef up their social listening.

over 4 years ago

Tamara Littleton

Tamara Littleton, CEO at The Social Element

Hi David and Eric

Thanks for commenting. These are both great examples of why brands need to focus on social listening, both to take advantage of possible partnerships with advocates, and to quell any customer complaints before they become a torrent.

over 4 years ago



Great post! Now an impartial review of some of the enterprise listening solutions out there would also be useful, particularly with reference to their different capabilities (across different platforms), and cost. There are so many out there, all claiming to be the best, it can be difficult to know exactly where to start looking...

over 4 years ago


Carrie Morgan

Any specific social listening tools you recommend?

over 4 years ago



Good read. I agree with your viewpoint. Social listening definitely has great potential in marketing programs and is still relatively nascent. Marketers need to fine-tune their strategies when it comes to utilizing the social data. Read something along similar lines at http://bit.ly/1eg88UJ http://bit.ly/11GYsz9

over 4 years ago

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