By Heidi Myers, Meltwater

Historically, brands used focus groups to obtain feedback on products. Whether for prototype products or messaging and branding, getting reactions directly from the consumer has always been invaluable. However, traditional focus groups were often time and labour intensive, costly and not altogether reliable. Indeed, interaction of this kind could be said to be counterintuitive, with respondents feeling pressure to answer in a particular way.

That was before social listening came to fruition. By engaging in social listening we can better understand how our audience really feels, removing any potentially shy or misleading answers. In many ways it’s is like having access to a transcript of a chat between friends, rather than applying a direct line of questioning. People are simply more honest that way.

What can social listening unearth?

By using social listening tools we’re able to gain insight into how our audience perceives our product features, brand positioning, value offering and where we stand against competition. Such analysis can all be unearthed at a simple click of a button.

How brands are using social listening as a research tool

To use a celebrity example, Kim Kardashian is the ultimate marketing pro, a using feedback from her fans in a proactive way. Before launching her perfume she asked what colour the bottle should be. Asking our audience questions to allow them to contribute to the wider picture is also a great way of boosting brand advocacy. Nissan is another brand that benefited from social listening. After running a search on their 370Z sports car, it was presented with a pool of information which they then used to modify the car by taking on board the insights.

For example, you could do a simple keyword search on Nike using Meltwaters Media Intelligence platform. All we have to do is listen to know the ‘not so secret’ opinions of our audience. From the search we can see some of the most popular items in Nike’s portfolio. We can then drill deeper into the key themes and pin point what exactly it is about these items that has caused a buzz.

Social listening tools can save us time and money; and money saved is money earned. Now, we're not saying that social listening has caused the extinction of traditional focus group. It hasn't, and it probably never will. Rather, social listening has presented an entirely new research opportunity. For companies wanting to gain a quick, inexpensive and ad hoc snapshot into the brand perception, social listening tools are the way forward.

We have an engaged audience at our finger tips so let's have some fun and start using them!