June 9, 2020

Why Social Listening is Not the Right Way to Measure Brand Awareness

by Joy Corkery

Social listening is good but it’s not great. Discover a better way to measure your brand awareness and get those eyes on the prize.

Imagine you could be a fly on the wall during the conversations of your target audience. Imagine being able to gather all these conversations in one place, analyze them, and then respond to your audience’s collective perception of your brand via your messaging. You can with social listening.

Social listening is a big buzz word in the marketing space right now with many brands using it to better communicate with their audience. They feel they are gathering lots of great insights by using social listening. But they are wrong, to an extent at least. They are gathering some interesting tidbits about their brand but they are certainly not getting the insights they really need to give their brand awareness a boost. Let us tell you why social listening is not the right way to measure brand awareness - and what you should use instead.

What is Social Listening?

Let’s start at the very beginning.

Social listening is a more sophisticated way of snooping. Just kidding, but it does allow you to find out what people are saying about your brand. By using social listening, you can track commentary about your brand, analyze people’s perceptions, and respond to conversations. Having this information about your target audience is crucial to building a strong brand strategy.

How Does it Work?

Social listening is run via software that monitors and analyzes online conversations about your brand. It can also be used to do the same for your competition.

Social listening can run for any period of time, for any language you require, and in any market. For the software to work to the best of its ability, you need to feed it with the keywords that will help collect the relevant information you require. It is also possible to insert keywords that you have no interest in so that your analysis is not skewed.

Once the information has been collected, the software will aggregate it and divide everything into three groups: positive, neutral, and negative sentiment. This helps you understand the bigger picture of your brand.

Sounds Cool, What’s the Problem?

Although it sounds as if social listening is gathering a wealth of data, it actually is only providing the perception of a teeny, tiny part of the population. The 90-9-1 rule explains why.

We don’t hear from everyone that uses an online platform. In fact, 90% of online communities simply lurk and observe. Of the remaining 10%, 9% of these people might comment from time to time. The insights that social listening gathers? That comes from just 1% of the total online users.

These figures change, but not drastically when you zone in on different pockets of the internet.

- Blogs have awful inequality with a ratio of 95-5-0.1.

- Wikipedia is even worse with 98-0.2-0.003.

- Amazon also has a participation rate of less than 0.1.

What does this tell us about social listening? The overall system is not representative of web users, let alone a brand’s target audience.

That’s not all. Social listening also isn’t accurate.

Social listening isn’t accurate

Krista Neher, CEO of Boot Camp Digital, told us about a time she used social listening, but sadly it didn’t work out.

I recently consulted with a big global brand on a social listening project. The challenge with social listening is that it still isn't always accurate. Even when it is, the posts are usually tagged as positive or negative, which is helpful in assessing overall sentiment, but doesn't provide the detail of brand tracking, and certainly isn't a substitute.

Krista is a much bigger fan of using brand tracking for the same purposes: “Brand tracking allows us to know exactly how people view our brand (beyond those who post opinions online) and is a more accurate metric for brand health. While social listening is valuable, it isn't a substitute for brand health.”

More on why brand tracking is the better option later.

Social listening cannot be used in isolation

Another issue that social listening has caused people is that it cannot be used in isolation from other assessment tools. Matthew Crouch, Brand Journey Consultant at Soto Consulting, tells us why this has been a problem for him.

Any marketing metrics are only as powerful as the context within which you consider them. This is as true for metrics relating to social listening as any other. Brand awareness as a broader concept is as much about how people perceive other people’s brands as your own. So solid quantitative data needs to back up your conclusions.

We apply the following caveats to how we assess validity in social listening as a brand assessment tool:

  • How engaged is the audience for this product or brand? Whilst most people are active on social media to some degree, many do not use it for any actions relating to purchasing/product and brand engagement

  • How singularly is a brand based on social media? From our experience, the only caveat to this is that the more singularly social media a business or brand is, the closer their social listening metrics will be to reality.

Social listening on its own only shows the potential for trends in brand awareness, and should only really be considered as the stimulus for a broader brand awareness testing exercise.”

Mathew, we totally understand how you feel. It brings us neatly to our next point: why brand tracking is a better option for measuring brand awareness than social listening.

Why Brand Tracking is the Better Option

Matthew and the rest of the team so Soto Consulting identifies the following flow-on effects from social listening to brand awareness and the steps required in between:

My social listening shows my engagement is dropping – but why is this? How can it be turned around? Is there a better way?

My social listening indicates that my brand is unpopular – is this specific to your brand or the industry? Is this just according to the social media audience and not the broader audience?

Their solution here is usually to deploy a survey, but there is an easier option at hand: brand tracking software.

For those not already familiar with brand tracking software, it is a tool that allows you to track overall brand health, including brand awareness, brand usage, brand consideration, brand perception, and brand associations. Good brand tracking software is also built with a brand funnel option so you can see how people are passing through the brand funnel, and a campaign tracker and track the direct effects your marketing efforts have on your brand health.

This already helps Matthew:

- Track brand awareness

- Tie specific campaigns to drops in engagement

- Tie specific campaigns to people’s preference in choosing Soto Consulting over a competitor

Then there is the issue of those who have a negative sentiment towards his brand.

With social listening, we already learned that the data gathered is not representative of the general population, let alone a brand’s target audience. With brand tracking, you can break down the data gathered into specific audiences. For instance, let’s say that Matthew’s target audience was men aged between 18-35 and living in London. Because brand tracking gathers its information via surveys rather than a spur of the moment comments online, Matthew can feed his target audience into the software before launching and make sure that he is able to obtain information on the perception of a nationally representative target audience of his choice. That sure deletes a lot of the extra steps required after social listening, and it ensures he is hearing from the people that actually matter for his brand.

And what about the inaccuracy of social listening that Krista Neher mentioned earlier? Can brand tracking resolve that too?

Yes and no. Brand tracking can have a very high level of accuracy (think a mere 1% margin of error) but, as a brand, you will only get this with the right brand tracking software. This is especially important if you are curious about a specific target audience, which most brands are.

There are several good brand trackers on the market and they can be split into two different categories: those that use traditional quota sampling and those that use advanced data science. Quota sampling cannot zoom-in on niche audiences and measure their perception. If you try, you end up with data that you cannot trust.

When you choose an AI-powered brand tracker, its innovative approach allows you to increase the precision of results dramatically, especially across niche audiences. Your brand insights are created by considering all the available information in the sample, which means you get better data.

If you are using social listening, you are already doing something good for your brand. But why do good when you can do great?

Markets are oversaturated, consumers have too much choice, and the mind can be very fickle. You need to stand out from the crowd for your brand to be seen. For something so important, why base your marketing strategy on just 1% of the crowd. Instead, choose brand tracking and get accurate insights from the people who matter - your target audience.

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