Today, the customer journey is no longer happening merely on your e-commerce website or in your physical store. Rather, it is largely made up of instances of knowledge-sharing and conversations that are happening outside of your brand's owned channels.

And that's true of almost every stage of the customer journey—from research, to discovery, to consideration, to brand advocacy.

As social media becomes increasingly important to both ensuring a memorable customer experience and mapping the customer journey, marketers are using social listening to help formulate their strategy, gathering this type of data for three key reasons:

  1. Market research and consumer insights: Marketers find key conversations on social channels that should be monitored for insights, or identify conversations/new target markets to stimulate brand discovery.
  2. Customer engagement: Brands identify and participate in one-on-one conversations with customers and potential customers, often outside of the brands' owned channels.
  3. Customer experience and crisis management: Brands look for insights into customer perception across the various digital touchpoints of the customer journey, so that they might react accordingly.

The derived information provides a wealth of insights for marketers to better target those on the customer journey.

So, what social listening capabilities can you incorporate into your marketing strategy in 2017?

First, let's quickly consider what happened in 2016 and then move on to what we can expect.

Social Listening in 2016

Social listening capabilities grew by leaps and bounds in 2016, heralding new ways for marketers to better understand and target their current and potential customers. Here are a few big trends from the past year:

  • Image recognition. Images were a primary media format created and shared by social media users in 2016, leading to an increased need for brands to understand the trends within images. Brands need to be able to answer questions such as "How often is my brand or product appearing in the images shared by my target audience?" and "What can I learn about my target audience from the images they share?"
  • Sentiment analysis. Because of the challenges of natural-language processing, sentiment analysis itself is not an exact science; however, in 2016, more nuanced language analysis was developed, moving beyond the traditional "positive, negative, neutral" paradigm of sentiment.
  • Intent insights. With the advent of intent analysis, brands have been able to better identify where people be placed within the customer journey based on their language in relation to purchase intent ("I'm looking to buy a new car") or intent to move to a competitor ("Changing my contract to another provider next week").

...and in 2017

Brands need to further incorporate social listening into their larger marketing and social media strategy. Those who fail to do so risk falling out of sync with, and failing to grow, their core audience.

In the absence of social insights gleaned from listening, companies will be...

  • Likely misinformed about who their core audience is
  • Hard-pressed to properly identify, in real-time, when and why their audience is shifting and where they can involve potential new customers
  • Unable to implement an effective crisis-management plan, because listening enables a social media team to identify a crisis early on, develop a response plan, and monitor its effectiveness

Moreover, too many brands still view a social strategy as an add-on rather than a core component of campaigns. So, beyond social listening, marketers also need to be aware of other leading social media trends in 2017, including these:

  • Social as the new shopping hotspot. Social media sites will become optimized to support shopping without ever having to leave the app or platform, thus opening up new audiences to marketers. Pinterest is already doing this with buyable pins, and Facebook isn't far behind with Messenger's "Get a Quote," "Book a Time," and "Shop Now" call-to-action buttons.
  • Video, video, video. Digital video, a must-have for brands looking to stay fresh and relevant, will be the fastest-growing category on both mobile and desktop in 2017. Although YouTube is the most popular platform, Facebook Live has already surpassed YouTube as the preferred livestreaming medium, and Instagram and Twitter have both recently added live capabilities. Facebook's focus on optimization to its video features will make the network an increasingly attractive advertising medium for marketers in 2017. Brands will need to increase their investment in video content to engage their social audience, and video ad spend will play a large part in this model.
  • Better content all around. Although video is a buzzworthy topic, written content is still dominant. But, frankly, most of it is mediocre, and consumers usually don't read much of the content that companies generate. The top marketers will create segmented, personalized, and concise content on niche topics as a way to stand out and deliver value and high-quality writing.

The Bottom Line

If social media strategy isn't a priority for your company, then you're missing out on insight into a huge portion of the modern customer journey—not mention the unique ways you can engage with current and potential customers.

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Social Listening in 2017: The Next Frontier in Social Media

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image of Ulrik Bo Larsen

Ulrik Bo Larsen is the CEO and founder of customer experience platform, one of Europe's fastest-growing SaaS startups.

LinkedIn: Ulrik Bo Larsen

Twitter: @silentcrooner