The silence of brands is golden 

2021, the year of social listening and new brand strategies. The UK has endured multiple national lockdowns during this pandemic, which has meant, for many businesses, their physical doors were closed and they had to turn to digital channels.

The silence of brands is golden 

2021, the year of social listening and new brand strategies. The UK has endured multiple national lockdowns during this pandemic, which has meant, for many businesses, their physical doors were closed and they had to turn to digital channels to engage with customers. From the very first lockdown, this created a dramatic uptick in social media use. For some companies, this presented an irresistible opportunity to put themselves front and centre in conversations and churn out social content in an attempt to remain relevant with their customers and prospects. But, for others (the real ‘winners’ of social), this switch to ecommerce strategies  allowed them to stop, listen and then act. We are now at a pivotal moment, where the lessons from previous lockdowns can be acted upon in order for brands to make better, more informed decisions about how to engage on social this time around. 

This starts with social listening.

Social listening has become an invaluable tool for marketers, with 66% of organisations saying that social listening has become more important to them over the past year. Social listening is a two-step process:

  • Step 1: Monitor social media channels for mentions of a brand, competitors, products, and keywords related to the business
  • Step 2: Analyse the information to find ways to put what’s been learnt into action. That can be something as small as responding to a happy customer, or something as big as shifting an entire brand positioning based on a trend

The most important part is to look beyond the numbers to consider the sentiment behind the data — this is what will differentiate real insights, from what can feel like ‘just a load of numbers’. 

Understanding how people feel about a business can give a steer on sentiment, but what lessons can we learn from the events of the past year when it comes to social listening, and how can brands use it to meaningfully engage with their customers? 

A big no-no

At the start of the pandemic, businesses had a decision to make. Either they could rush to create advertising content that addressed the pandemic but reassured customers of their continued presence. Or, take stock and re-evaluate their marketing strategy, putting social listening at the heart of it. After a short while, it became evident that many companies took the first option. It felt like we were witnessing a conveyor belt of overly sentimental campaigns being pushed out by businesses, resulting in a wave of nearly indistinguishable adverts that people began mocking on social media. A big no-no for brand reputation.

Virgin Media is just one company that has received some backlash for its COVID-19 focused campaign ‘stay home, stay safe, stay connected.. The advert features members of the public ‘vlogging’ their lockdown experiences and celebrates the UK’s resilience and togetherness during challenging times. Of course, this is something that needs celebrating, but the criticism comes from it being ‘just another’ advert that ‘ignores the fact that people are looking for ways to escape their realities, not be reminded of the dreadfulness of it all every 15 minutes’. Some expressed fatigue around seeing the same sorts of COVID-19 related content over and over again and thus campaigns that took that angle looked out of touch by not recognising the community sentiment. To avoid that outcome in future, social listening has to become a marketer’s best friend. The insights it can provide are invaluable, not only in terms of what customers are saying but in terms of the industry and competitors. Silence doesn’t have to be filled straight away, brands should ride it out and only enter the conversation with valuable content that customers actually want — a key part of creating meaningful engagements. 

Social listening = smart business decisions 

Like all retailers, Clarins, one of the largest skincare and cosmetic brands in the world, shut its doors for much of 2020 and this meant having to flip its sales strategy on its head. Well known for its highly crafted in-store experiences, the beauty retailer had to completely reinvent how it communicated with its customers. It needed to shift its focus to ecommerce while continuing to provide the expert skincare and beauty guidance it’s known for. To inspire this step-change in strategy, it used social listening to analyse customer conversations and sentiment towards the company during the first lockdown. By doing so, it discovered that many of its consumers were indulging in self-care whilst confined to their homes and were swapping out makeup for skincare products. These insights meant the retailer’s previously planned content would miss the mark, but also presented substantial new opportunities. 

As a reaction to the social listening analysis, Clarins pivoted its strategy to highlight skincare products and regimes, tailored at combating the effects of stress. However, without any additional budget to create new ad campaigns, it tapped into a key asset it already had — its Clarins beauty coaches. By reimagining the offline experience for online shoppers, Clarins’ beauty coaches promoted much-needed self-care rituals on Instagram Stories, driving 30,000 website visits in just a couple of months and a 42% week-on-week increase in product line sales attributed to social ads.

Clarins is just one example of a business that used the period of lockdown last year wisely, to re-evaluate strategies, listen to customers and meet their changing needs. It’s these brands that will see success long after the pandemic is over, because they have the tools in place to listen to their most valuable assets; their customers, and react to challenging times accordingly. 

Creating meaningful engagements 

In 2021, the smartest brands will understand where they fit into customers’ lives on social media. And they’ll find creative ways of fitting into the conversation instead of trying to lead it, creating content that breaks through the wall of indifference. For businesses looking to bolster their social listening strategies this year and create meaningful engagements with their customers, here are our top three tips for success:

  • Listen everywhere, and utilise other sources of insight 
    • Find out where audiences are talking about your brand — not just what they are saying. Conversations around your business on LinkedIn are likely going to be very different than those happening on Instagram. Knowing where they talk about you is as important as how they talk about you. Search analysis is a powerful tool that can work alongside social listening, which goes beyond what people are publicly willing to talk about and reflects more of what they’re privately thinking. Combined, these insights can be gold dust. 
  • Collaborate with other teams 
    • Social listening provides a wide range of information that is useful for the whole business. From a customer post that needs a response right away to an idea for a new product, the customer service, content marketing, and product development teams could all benefit from what you learn when you’re listening on social media. Make sure to communicate those learnings. 
  • Roll with the changes 
    • Given the events of the last year, this tip couldn’t be more important. As brands start to collect social information, they will develop a sense of the regular conversation and sentiment around the business. Once you know how people feel about you on a regular basis, you’ll know when that feeling changes. Major changes in engagement or sentiment can mean that the overall perception of your brand has shifted. If this happens, you need to understand why so you can adapt your strategy appropriately. That may mean riding a wave of positivity or correcting a misstep to get back on course.

Social listening has a role to play in every business’ marketing strategy. We’ve seen first hand the benefits that companies such as Clarins have had, from using social listening to determine brand direction and deepen relationships with customers – even through the toughest of times. Customers are a business’ lifeline, without them, they would fail. So why wouldn’t marketers want to tap into their thoughts and feelings and shift their brand strategy accordingly?

Social listening is there to support companies in making smart, strategic decisions, to meet customers’ changing needs while also building business resilience. Those that want to see success, not only as we ride out the rest of the pandemic, but far beyond, are the ones that recognise why, sometimes, silence is golden. 

Henk Campher
Henk Campher

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