Social media monitoring versus social listening

    Social listening and social media monitoring are often used interchangeably, though they are in fact different actions, aimed at accomplishing different goals. 

    So what are they?

    Social media listening

    Social listening for the Coca-Cola brand can reveal who's posting images of Coke bottles

    Brands, like Coca-Cola, above, may want to monitor different aspects of their mentions. Here we get a sense of how many images of the Coke logo are being posted, and if they’re engaging.

    Social media listening is the act of pulling conversations from social media and analyzing the conversations in aggregate for insights. This is the view from 30,000 feet. 

    It is one of the best ways for companies to understand more about their brand perception, their competitors’ activities, and the market they operate in, in general. 

    Social listening can be used by brands in a similar way to surveys or focus groups, but it can be deployed far more rapidly, broadly, and cheaply than most focus groups. 

    It provides the immediate feedback of the social media-using public on whatever issue is being searched for. It is designed to give data and intelligence to brand teams and their agencies, so that their strategies and next moves are informed by data.

    Social listening helps brands to understand things like:

    • Whether their mentions went up or down this month.

    • If people enjoyed their content.

    • What makes someone purchase their product. 

    • It can lead brands to identify niche groups of fans, for whom they can create specific content. 

    • Social listening can of course inform a brand that a campaign’s not going well. 

    • Or even worse, that people are reacting negatively, and the brand is getting thrashed on social media. 

    There's more inspiration on what you can do in our complete social listening guide.

    Its real value, however, is giving those strategists and creatives the context they need when creating the campaign, such that those bad reactions are avoided from the start. 

    Because social listening is designed to inform deliberate and active decision making, the actions taken from the data are the kinds of things hashed out through many meetings over weeks and months. 

    A single negative mention will rarely break a campaign, so that’s best left handled by social media monitoring.

    Social media monitoring

    Social media monitoring is the practice of putting in place protocols to monitor incoming mentions of a given topic or brand. Often this will be done with automated social media analytics and monitoring tools. Most crucially, it is designed to alert and enable quick responses from brands, so that negative mentions that may harm the public’s perception of the brand don’t linger. 

    Social media monitoring then, is a system that allows for informing people who need to get out rapid responses. It deals with mentions of a given topic on an individual basis. It is the ground-level view.

    A strong monitoring system will be able to pull in any and all mentions of the topic you are interested in. It will cover all your bases, meaning it will include common misspellings, visual inclusions of the brand (like Nathan Apodaca’s swig of Ocean Spray), or slang references of a brand. 

    So while it might be easy to search for the biggest mentions of McDonald’s, a rigorous monitoring system will also include terms like “Mickey D’s”, “Golden Arches” or “McFonalds” to really ensure that all of the mentions, positive or negative, slang or visual, are received.

    Brands aren’t the only ones who can use social media monitoring tools. 

    There are numerous ways for individuals to use social media monitoring for their own benefit, without paying any money. They can use Talkwalker Alerts to set up notifications for things that are important to them and also require taking quick action.

    Using Talkwalker Alerts social media monitoring tool can inform you when a good deal is happening

    173 euros can buy a lot of things, but roundtrip from Hungary to Brazil is rarely one of them.

    • Fans of a musical artist for example, may want to be alerted when a new surprise album is released. 

    • Sneakerheads may use it to know exactly when new HTMs or other fresh kicks drop. 

    • Avid travelers like myself, use it to find alerts on mistakenly-priced air tickets, usually these tickets are only available for a matter of hours at most, so quick action is needed. 

    • There’s also one novel (The Water Knife) I’d love to see get turned into a big Hollywood movie, so I monitor that topic for any developments.


    Okay, I need Alerts of my own

    No matter what topic it’s used to monitor, social media monitoring is the best way to stay informed of critical developments that require your immediate reaction.

    What’s the difference between social media monitoring and listening?

    Action, when it’s taken, and what the goals of those actions are. It’s as simple as that. 

    Social media monitoring is a system set in place in order to allow for quick reaction. Monitoring is most commonly used to watch out for negative mentions of the brand. It can also be used to identify potential customers ready to buy, keeping tabs on events, or monitoring partners, influencers or competitors. 

    Social media listening moves slower. The mentions are pulled in, they are seen and assessed by the social media analyst or intelligence officer. They are then placed in the appropriate context for consumption by executives who use it to study their best course of action. 

    • Do people want our products to be different? 

    • Do our goods arrive damaged?

    • Are there environmental concerns about our packaging?

    • Will this influencer make a good fit for our brand?

    • Why do people prefer our competitors’ products to our own?

    These are the types of questions that social media listening hopes to provide data around so that brands can best respond. 

    Now, look at those questions again. 

    None of them can be resolved with a quickly timed social media reply in the brand voice. They all require the brand or company to consider strategic objectives and take offline steps to resolve these problems. 

    The actions that social media listening prompts are slow, deliberate, and most importantly - informed by social media data. 

    The actions social media monitoring prompts are reactive, timely, and in pursuit of a specific short-term goal.

    Social media listening, analytics, and monitoring: which one’s for me?

    Individuals probably only need to know how to set up a social media monitoring alert for the topics and issues they care about. Whether it’s to monitor social media for an important topic, or snag a deal on a limited-time purchase, social media monitoring helps individuals navigate the breadth of the internet quicker and with less clutter. 

    Brands on the other hand, must use all three of these practices. 

    My brand doesn't use these. Get me up to speed!

    The better brands become at monitoring, the better they understand customer pain points, and what works for them on social. 

    The better brands become at social listening, the more powerfully they’re able to resonate with their target audiences. 

    The better brands become at social media listening and monitoring, the more rigorous too they will become at their own social media analytics. 

    The three practices combined make for a powerful combination in brand communications that can evoke strong emotions in social audiences, including even, love.

    But wait, you’re asking: I’m an individual who does business as a brand. Which of these practices is right for me? My very name is a brand. I’m an influencer. 

    Good for you. If your goal is to make money influencing others on social media you should dig deep into your own social media analytics. Because that’s what brands will demand too. 

    Now, stop asking.


    Talkwalker recognized as a Leader in Forrester Wave Social Listening Platforms 2020 report.