How Social Listening Can Inform Your Brand Strategy

If I asked you to define your brand right now, could you? Would your response be based on your gut or tangible evidence? If you can't, did you just panic a little bit? Don't worry; you're certainly not alone.

It can be hard, especially as a marketer, to peel back the layers of what we know (or think we know) about our beloved brands. After all, our brands are our foundations—what we base every little thing we do upon, from business decisions like setting strategic goals and building teams to communications and interactions with our audiences. What if in peeling those layers back you find something you didn't know, like that your audience perceives you in a way you’ve never considered? How will you incorporate something new and possibly unexpected into your already super busy everyday work? Or worse yet, what if you find something you don't like or that doesn’t fit with how you want your brand perceived?

These are all legitimate questions, and worthy of exploration. How we talk about ourselves as organizations should be based on truth of how we're actually perceived. And if how you’re perceived isn’t aligned with how you want to be—especially if that’s hurting your brand—it may be time to hit the proverbial (or literal) drawing board.

So whether you're braving an introspective search (and if you are, kudos!) or building a new brand platform or strategy, where do you start? What do you pay attention to, and what sorts of questions can you even ask to try to determine things like your brand attributes, brand pillars, community, etc.?

You listen—and social listening can help. And just like the saying goes, you listen not to reply but to understand. Then to incorporate into your planning and strategizing—they must have forgotten that part of the quote.

Gauging Your Existing Brand Image of a guage to show how social listening can guage brand perception

If you already have what you believe your brand attributes or pillars are, great! You have a solid place to start. Let's take an example and break it down a bit to see how social listening can gauge if conversation from and about your institution aligns with your brand attributes or pillars.

Let's look at the brand attribute "forward-thinking" as it relates to an organization. It’s one thing to say you want to be seen as a forward-thinking institution, but it’s another to understand what that really means—and how to measure it. A good place to start is to examine the intent behind what forward-thinking really means to you. Then how we can start to identify how we’d measure those intentions becomes much clearer.

Brand Attribute Intent: Forward-Thinking   Social Listening Measurement
Be a thought leader by producing research of x volume, impact, or type. arrow Volume of earned conversation generated around research.
Be engaged in media conversations (e.g., faculty and students quoted in the media). arrow Volume of earned news media related to trending topics.
Be engaged in conversations with innovative companies like x, y, and z. arrow Volume and type of mentions from identified innovative companies that talk about the institution and its research, or hire their graduates
Be engaged in online conversations that move the higher education industry forward. arrow Volume of conversations about new processes, technology, culture, hires, etc.
Be an institution employees believe in, support, and enjoy working at. arrow Volume and sentiment of employee conversation about job satisfaction, career growth, career motivation, work culture, etc.

Now this is where social listening can add a touch of magic. In the situation we’ve laid out, Campus Sonar analysts would write a query in our social listening software that captures all relevant aspects for the entire institution, and then segment that conversation by your attribute intentions. The conversation can be analyzed for owned content (i.e., what your institution is putting out there) as well as for earned content (i.e., what is being said about you, but not created by you). The results would give you a real picture of whether the work you're doing on your brand strategy resonates with your audience the way you want it to or not. And depending on that outcome, you can continue with your strategy or make adjustments—continuing to listen to monitor any changes. If you do need adjustments, having real data to support your need will help tremendously to secure the necessary backing and funding.

Starting from Scratch Image showing website under construction

If you're starting from scratch in building your brand attributes, pillars, or overall brand platform and strategy, the world is your oyster! You can decide if you want to take a stab at what you think your key brand attributes or pillars might be and then follow the previous process, or a more general conversation analysis could uncover existing patterns. This can be a great first step to traditional research to inform your brand strategy; conversation analysis can help you determine research questions you may want to ask, and surface vocabulary that makes sense to use. Or, if your budget is more limited, the insights from conversation analysis can be a great place to start building your strategy—especially if you uncover some strong themes.

For a real-life example of how this process can work, check out our blog post on how Campus Sonar worked with Ashley Rains of Spring Hill College to help them gauge their brand, and the awesome outcome they discovered that's helped them refresh a very important brand attribute.

I've Done My Listening—Now What? Image showing online conversations from a mobile phone

The key to performing social listening to define your brand is to actually use what you get, and to use it strategically and consistently. Here are some possible actions you could take based on social listening analysis.

  • Consider owned and earned conversation, and specifically if owned conversation is as brand-aligned as you’d like it to be. If it isn’t, adjust your marketing strategy or help staff who generate content understand what brand-aligned content looks like.
  • If you have content performing well for specific attributes, consider using those attributes more frequently or consistently to help increase the impact of your owned content.
  • If you have brand attributes you want to highlight, create content that embodies those attributes and ensure your staff—especially high contributors to owned conversation—use that content.
  • Evaluate trends of your most consumed owned social posts that relate to your brand attributes. Determine if you can increase the impact of any low-performing attributes by replicating efforts from high-performing posts.
  • Earned content can be harder to influence, but if it’s misaligned to your brand, consider ways you may be able to impact it, such as reevaluating your media outreach strategies.

Whatever level of social listening you’re able to do and whatever action items you define, commit to the process. Put in the work to determine where and how you can incorporate insights. Give the folks who execute on it the direction, resources, and time needed to get it done. And make a plan to continue listening. It’s important to have an ongoing understanding of perception about your brand to inform your strategies with real data. This is your brand after all—it's worth it!

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The post How Social Listening Can Inform Your Brand Strategy originally appeared on the Campus Sonar Brain Waves blog.