Social Listening: Tools Retailers Can Use to Monitor Online Chatter

Social listening for retail | Shopify Retail blog

Social media provides a great space online to be, well, social. That should be obvious, but too many retailers use their social media accounts as platforms from which to shout about their products to the virtual rooftops.

The problem with this approach? It’s not effective.

And we know this offline. We’ve all been to a networking event or a party and run into that one person who just does not stop talking. Their favorite subject? Themselves.

This behavior is just as annoying and unappealing online as it is in person. Yet retailers continue to use social only to talk, talk, talk about their products, events, and sales.

There is a different way, and it’s much more effective.

It’s a strategy where, yes, you share a little bit about your brand and what you offer — but you also spend a lot of time interacting and engaging with your customers, followers, colleagues, and other important individuals who follow you.

To practice this approach, retailers must first quiet down their own digital voices and practice social listening skills instead.

An Introduction to Social Listening

Social listening is the process of tracking conversations in digital space. You can also “listen” for specific keywords, terms, and phrases.

You might listen for mentions of your company name, your competitors, or your products. You could tune in to any theme or specific idea that is relevant to your business goals.

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This doesn’t just mean constantly hitting the refresh button on your notifications tab. Social listening is a more active form of listening. The purpose is to seek out helpful information and opportunities that you can leverage to benefit your business.

Yes, social lsitening includes watching your mentions and tags. But it also means monitoring full conversations in which people might not tag your account.

You also want to analyze those conversations to find meaningful patterns or information that you can act on.

Quantitative data is important. But with social listening, it’s also important to pay attention to the qualitative information you can gather from conversations taking place on social media.

Social listening can help you tap into what people actually think about you (and your products, your competitors, and even your industry as a whole).

Thinking trying to track conversations on social sounds complicated and time-consuming? It’s not always easy and it can require an investment of your resources. So, is it worth it?

Should You Take the Time to Tune in on Social?

Social listening for retailLet’s imagine a group of people were out to dinner. One of them mentions they made a purchase recently that they loved — and it happens to be one of your products!

They share their experience with the group, talking about what they like and what could make the product even better.

Then another person in the group speaks up, expressing disdain for your company. They don’t look at your products favorably. As it turns out, they had a bad experience when trying to buy from you once and it went unresolved.

If you had the chance to eavesdrop on this conversation without the participants knowing you could hear their comments, would you take it?

Of course! It’s a great opportunity to learn more about your customers, what they think, and what they experience when interacting with your brand.

So is social listening. Just because the conversation happens on social media doesn’t take away any of its value.

Many retailers dismiss the importance and gravity of social media. That’s a big mistake. Social media isn’t this mysterious entity or something light and fluffy. It’s simply a different channel or medium for something human beings have always done: communicate and share ideas.

Retail is an industry that’s hugely influenced by public opinion, preference, and perception. How people see your brand matters

Here’s why some large companies with 500 employees or more are exerting more effort to tune in on social — and why you might want to consider it yourself:

  • Customer service: Social media allows you to catch customer requests, concerns, and questions. Careful listening and quick responses can help boost positive sentiment and loyalty around your brand.
  • Research: You can use social listening to better understand and track your competition and stay up to date on industry trends. Paying attention to the chatter can also help spark new ideas for your business.
  • Marketing: Good social listening allows you to identify influencers to work with who may be able to help you expand your reach on social media. You can also quickly respond to industry reporters and bloggers who may be looking to connect with retailers like you.
  • Product development: You can even use insights gathered from social listening to adjust the products you offer to fill gaps, address needs, and meet demands.

It’s worth your time to engage in social listening. If you don’t, you risk missing out on a wealth of data that can help you better understand your customers and what they want.

And it’s a great way to stay up on what matters to your retail goals and provides an opportunity to make connections with influencers and media who can help boost your retail PR efforts.

The bottom line is that social listening allows you to tap into vital pieces of information that can inform your choices and help you make better, more profitable business decisions.

And what retailer doesn’t want that?

How to Get Started with Social Listening

Social listening for retail | Shopify Retail blogThat being said, what’s next? How can you as a retailer get started with social listening? Follow this simple process:

1. Identify Your Objectives

Trying to monitor all of social media is impossible. The more intentional and targeted you can be in determining what you want your social listening to accomplish, the easier it will be to keep up with what’s essential and important to you.

Identify what you hope to accomplish with your social listening. Here are some common objectives:

  • Provide better and more timely customer service online.
  • Identify influencers to work with — or identify advocates for your brand to further develop productive relationships with them.
  • Connect with reporters and other members of the media to provide timely information and story ideas.
  • Find keywords and phrases your market uses when looking for relevant products (so you know how to optimize your site and content to better resonate with your market).
  • Get feedback and insights into how your market perceives your brand and/or your products.

2. Know Best Practices

Even with a specific objective in mind, there are some general practices you’ll want to put into place when you start monitoring online chatter.

Keep an eye on the following:

  • Your company name (you might also consider monitoring for employee names or specific product names)
  • Established competitors and new startups
  • Buzzwords relevant to you and where you exist in the retail space
  • Both positive and negative reactions to your social media content
  • Developing issues or PR problems (this requires you to imagine the kind of backlash that could come your way, so you can listen for those terms before something happens)

Don’t just make note what’s being said. Be aware of where it’s being said.

Knowing where most of the important conversations happen lets you know where you need to establish a strong presence.

3. Listen Using the Right Tools

You’re almost ready to get started. Before you do, let’s look at some of the best tools that will help make it much easier to listen to the online chatter happening around your brand or topics relevant to your business.

The Top Social Listening Tools for Retailers


What it is: Hootsuite is a social media management and marketing tool that integrates directly with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, and more. You can also connect to other interfaces through its App Directory, including MailChimp and Tumblr.

Why we like it: Not only does Hootsuite allow you to manage multiple social media accounts, the platform provides a number of social listening tools to help you track conversations and important topics.

It’s an all-in-one dashboard that’s quick to learn and start using. The fact that it contains so much functionality means you won’t need to toggle back and forth between several different tools, making your social listening more efficient.

However, it does seem to work best with Twitter, so you still may want to use other tools for other social networks. Social Mention is a great alternative (or addition).

Talkwalker Alerts

How it works: Talkwalker is an alert service that hunts for mentions of specific terms and keywords that you set up in your dashboard.

Why we like it: Talkwalker combs the web to deliver you the pages where terms you specify appear. This is great for tracking mentions of your brand, products, and other important topics that appear in articles and blogs.

Meltwater is another option to help you monitor more of the web beyond social media.


How it works: Reputology specifically helps businesses monitor reviews customers leave on various review sites, including Google and Yelp.

Why we like it: Customer reviews are critical to retailers, and Reputology helps you track them across the web.

Listening to reviews is important because their content and tone could be very different from the conversations happening on social media. This gives you a complete perspective on what’s being said about your brand and products.

Want more? Check out this Buffer guide that walks brands through setting up their own complete, robust social listening dashboard.

But remember, you don’t need a customized control station set up in order to start monitoring online chatter. Start by setting alerts for your brand name or specific products, then build from there.

By tuning into conversations on social media, retailers can respond quickly to customer feedback and concerns, adjust products to fill a gap in the market before competitors do, and make more informed business decisions in the future.

Social listening FAQ

What are social listening tools?

Social listening tools are software programs that monitor, analyze, and report on conversations taking place on social media. They can be used to measure public opinion and sentiment, identify key influencers, generate insights from customer feedback, and track competitors and industry trends. In addition to monitoring conversations, these tools can also generate data-driven insights and reports to help businesses make informed decisions.

What are the three benefits of social listening?

  • Identifying brand advocates: Social listening allows businesses to identify potential brand advocates and build relationships with them. This can help to increase brand awareness and loyalty.
  • Gaining customer insights: Social listening enables businesses to gain a better understanding of customer needs, preferences and opinions. This can be used to inform product and service development.
  • Monitoring the competition: Social listening can help businesses to keep an eye on their competitors and stay ahead of the curve. This can be done by tracking conversations, sentiment, and trends related to competitor products and services.

What is the goal of social listening?

The goal of social listening is to monitor conversations across social media channels and online platforms in order to gain insights into customer behavior, attitudes, and preferences. This data can then be used to inform marketing campaigns, product development, customer service, and other business decisions.