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Social Listening Versus Social Understanding: Why Dashboards Are Not Enough

Last year, one third of brands reported spending more than $100,000 on social media analytics tools. But are brands gathering the right insights from the dozens of social listening dashboards they’re subscribed to? 

Brands often make the mistake of assuming that they’re mining all the data that social media has to offer. They tap social listening and community management tools to answer customer service tweets, clean up the comments on their Facebook posts, and review their brand mentions across the web. While all the above contribute to the success of a business, brands leave valuable insights behind by relying too heavily on social listening, and failing to strive for social media intelligence. 

Social media intelligence is not to be confused with social media listening. Traditional social listening approaches to social media analysis are too passive to fuel insights that brands can meaningfully act upon. 

Social media intelligence takes a holistic approach to understanding consumers. It adds another dimension to the tech-led approach. It incorporates human analysis and thinking to contextualize conversations and draw meaning from the earnest, stream-of-consciousness interactions unfolding every day across the social landscape. By analyzing organic conversations among macro and micro-communities across the entire social media landscape, brands can maintain a strong pulse on the challenges consumers face. 

While it may be tempting to use a dashboard tool to pull out a word cloud and round up neat trendlines, these data points should mark the beginning of your analysis, not the final output. Storyful recently worked with a UK-based brand to understand how to better connect with a sought-after audience segment: runners. 

The brand deploys numerous social media listening tools, but quantitative data points alone fail to contextualize and explain the challenges and motivations runners face. While social listening can reveal what percentage of conversations about a brand or a competitor are positive, negative or neutral, social media intelligence goes deeper–it reveals the context behind these sentiments and why.

Storyful’s Customer Intelligence team went beyond the standard dashboard tools, qualitatively analyzing hundreds of discussion threads across Twitter, Reddit and fringe sites (think: comments sections of running publications, review sites) related to running in the UK. 

Our analysis revealed an appetite for recommendations around products (i.e. running apps and podcasts), physiotherapists, recovery tactics (i.e. strength training), and local running groups. Storyful was also able to identify highly engaged communities of runners discussing the connection between mental health and running on Twitter and Reddit. 

Armed with our actionable insights, our brand partner was able to craft content and influencer marketing strategies that authentically fill these whitespace opportunities by addressing the pain points that matter most to their audience.

Technology and dashboards should mark the beginning of your analysis, not the final output. 

Truly understanding your audience requires a shift from social media listening to social media intelligence. Let us know if you’d like to get started.


Learn more about how Storyful analyze conversations and content across digital platforms – from mainstream to fringe networks – to make sense of what’s happening on social media.

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Jeff Perkins
Jeff Perkins
Jeff is Executive Director of Storyful EMEA. Storyful are the world's Social Media Intelligence and News Agency. They combine world class journalism with unique data and proprietary technology to provide Social Intelligence for brands. They identify what's real, what's relevant and what's useful across the visible web, deep web and fringe. Prior to Storyful, Jeff worked for Reuters in London and New York where he launched Reuters TV and Reuters Wider Image. More content by

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