Staying Ahead of the Competition with Social Listening

Social media, in all its glory

New contributor Shawn Kemp is co-founder of ActionSprout, which helps power people’s ability to create lasting change by connecting organizations with their supporters. Read more from ActionSprout on, and see also Why Social Listening is Key to Donor Retention. For examples of social media monitoring in action, check out our weekly CrowdTangle-fueled lists of Top 10 Advocacy Campaign and Top 10 Presidential Campaign Facebook Posts.

In the past, campaigns have been blindsided by the impact of opposing candidates’ use of digital marketing and social media itself. However, as we’ve collectively become more sophisticated at using omni-channel approaches to campaigning, understanding what opposing campaigns are doing across their social channels is imperative to avoid being caught by surprise — and even more importantly, can help strengthen your political or advocacy campaign. Here’s how:

Social listening develops and strengthens your social media management skills in terms of:

  • Navigating through comment section arguments.
  • Adding to conversations in a valuable way.
  • Adroitly dealing with trolls and negative comments without making them worse.
  • Effectively communicating with those that disagree with you on a given issue.

As Neil Patel states: “Social media marketing isn’t just about publishing information and releasing updates… social listeners see their social media efforts explode with power. They’re pulsing with interaction and expanding every day. That success starts with listening and grows with action.”

Bring Potential Weaknesses to Light

Social listening to opposing parties can shine light on your weaknesses so that you can quickly address them and be stronger in the long run. For instance:

  • How’s the architecture of your arguments?
  • How structured is your stance?
  • How much credibility is there in what people are saying about your campaign?
  • What are the most powerful points being made by the opposition online that is helping them grow their engagement and reach?

By monitoring the opposition, you uncover perspectives that challenge you to really think through issues and how you are positioning them. When you step back, it’s not those who agree with you that force you to bloom and expand, but those who disagree and put you on the spot. Regularly conduct searches for keywords central to your campaign and learn what the “other side” is saying about them. This will expose holes in your argument and one by one, you can seek out and turn weaknesses into strengths.

Expand Your Knowledge Base & Perspective

Think of social listening as investigative journalism or research: listening expands your knowledge base and general wisdom around your issue. Creating a healthy social-listening habit will help you address challenges that would have otherwise stump you. To gain this kind of knowledge, search for social links to bring up trending, relevant articles. You don’t have to read these word for word, but just skim a few to get the general idea. Pay attention to why they feel the way they do and what they ultimately want. This will help you gain a 360-degree view of the issue.

The Three Basic Steps to Social Listening:

1) Define Your Social Media Monitoring Plan

First, you’ll want to define the goals of your social listening behavior:

  • Who will you follow?
  • How often will you check in?
  • What criteria decides if this is something worth responding to?
  • Will you keep a record? What will this look like?
  • The primary questions to answer in this stage are: how will you conduct the monitoring and what will you do with the data that you gather?

2) Look at Competing Page Performance

This is a relatively simple — yet necessary — step on Facebook. Follow the instructions on this Facebook Help Center page so that you can see how competing Pages are performing through Facebook Insights. Since you can’t fight every battle, this will give you an idea of which statements are worth responding to.

You can see how many likes they’re getting, how many people are talking about the topic, the demographic they cater to, how dense their visuals are, etc. Depending on the topic and your campaign strategy, it may be worth addressing some of their points on your own Page. As you can see, this can be a great way to gain new content ideas as well.

3) Follow Chosen Pages

Several tools on the market (such as Hootsuite, Buffer, ActionSprout, where in full disclosure I am co-founder, Crowdtangle, etc.) can help automate and streamline the process of finding which of the opposing campaigns’ content is trending or performing best. Additionally, you can use these tools to search and filter for keywords, links, etc. all while following people you would never follow publicly.

Parties pay large sums to test and understand what language and phraseology resonates most with voters. Using social listening to learn what language works (or doesn’t work) is worth its weight in gold, helping you hone your messages while allowing you step into constituents’ shoes and see the issue from their point of view.

Analyze what kind of images opposing campaigns use and what they communicate: fear, anger, optimism, etc. Lastly, look for patterns in their content. What are they and their supporters most passionate about? What topics can they not stop talking about? Are they worth addressing or a distraction that allows you to focus on a different demographic?

To avoid being blindsided and to make your digital campaign as strong as possible, social listening is no longer optional. Rather, it’s a necessary component of any social media campaign that will help you better understand opposing campaign strategies, more adroitly navigate opposing views and be better situated for the campaign season, which is already a very fluid environment of news events, changing consumer sentiment and October surprises.

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Shawn Kemp
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