By now, most brands engage in some type of social media monitoring, watching for mentions of their company or products on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the other popular social networks. Some take this a step further, engaging in "social listening," joining conversations to provide customer support or helpful information. But you could do more.

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You could analyze social posts for insight into your audience: What do they talk about other than your brand or your industry? Do your B2B buyers have an interest in art, for example, or do users of your graphic design software like fashion more than the average internet user?

With this kind of insight into your audience, you could create a content strategy that would reach not only existing customers but also people with similar interests. You could attract more people who, like your current customers, might just love what your brand's about.

Jason Falls is senior vice-president of digital strategy at digital marketing agency Elasticity. He's a leading digital strategist, author, and speaker in the digital and social media marketing industry. He's worked with General Motors, AT&T, Maker's Mark, Humana, CafePress, and Fireball Whisky, among others. 

I invited Jason to Marketing Smarts to talk about how brands can go beyond social monitoring and keyword strategy, and use conversational research to create an audience strategy. Deeper insight into your audience will enable you to create the kind of content that attracts the people most likely to want what you offer.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Social monitoring is a good first step, but you need to go deeper (05:05): " very reactive, and it is the first step in using social listening as a strategy. It's a required step almost, when you see people having conversations about you whether they're positive or negative, reacting to those conversations is a very good thing to do (in most situations) for brands.

"Social listening takes that a step further and you approach it as not a reactive strategy, but a proactive strategy. You're saying 'I want to understand the conversations. I want to understand what people are saying about us and why, so that I can inform our brand, our product team, our company, so that we can be better.... It's actually proactive, purposely going to the conversation and trying to pull insights out that inform your brand.

"Conversational research is just getting into the weeds there and saying, 'OK, instead of looking at this as a route and respond feature and instead of looking for insights that will just anecdotally inform my product team...I'm actually going to use online conversations, not as a replacement for traditional market research, but as a supplement to traditional market research."

Conversational research doesn't replace traditional research, but it can offer a much larger sample size (09:54): "Instead of going out and commissioning a $30,000 or $50,000 research project or focus group determine what the market is saying about your brand or what they're saying about a product that you've can actually invest in software for as little as $600 or $700 a month over the course of a three-, six-, nine-, twelve-month period...and pull similar—not the same, but similar—insights, and similar insights from a much, much larger audience set....

"You can monitor millions and millions of online conversations and you can say, 'OK, well, this 150,000 talk about this particular industry and within that 150,000, these 50,000 talk about this particular product or service,' [and] now you can analyze those."

Conversation schmonversation. Can this kind of research increase sales? (Yes.) (18:20): "Vespa, the fancy little scooter [company]...their idea was 'we want to acquire more customers just like ours.' This was a customer acquisition play. And so they decided...'in order to understand who we're going after, we need to understand the customers just like ours, first.' So they turned to social listening and said 'let's do a really good analysis...from a conversational research standpoint, what do they talk about online?' But they specifically said 'we don't care what they talk about when they mention Vespa. We want to look at what they talk about when they don't mention Vespa.'

"Now that changes the parameters of social listening, because social listening tools have always been built with a keyword-centric approach. Type in my brand name and go find mentions of my brand name. Type in 'dinner' and go find mentions of dinner. This changes the game, though; they said 'we don't care about the topic, we care about the audience...'

"So they [analyzed] their audience—their Facebook fans, their Twitter followers, all of the people who identified themselves online as being owners of Vespas or fans of Vespas—and they analyzed all of their conversations, not just when they mentioned transportation or Vespas or scooters or whatever. And what they discovered was that their audience had a much higher...index to speak online about the topics of art, design, fashion than the average online consumer.... Well, Vespa took that insight back and said, 'OK, how do we use this to acquire more customers?'

"They realized that their blog on their website talked all about Vespas. So they said, 'You know what, let's change it. Let's even change the title of it. It's not going to be a blog anymore, it's going to be a magazine, because that appeals to that sort of higher-brow, artistic online person, and we're going to make this magazine all about art and design and fashion and style, because we know that that's what our audience likes to talk about, think about, that's the type of content they want to share.... If we provide that type of content, we're going to attract not only our customers, but people just like them.'

"In the course of a three-month period of time, they measured everything to see if this was going to work. They had 50,000 new visitors to their blog/magazine in that time frame, but more importantly, they had more than 2,800 leads...saying they were interested in buying a Vespa scooter, and almost 50% of those leads were people who were new to Vespa, new customers. So it was a customer acquisition play, spurred by using social listening to understand their audience better, that turned around an insight that led to more sales."

To learn more, visit and, and follow Jason on Twitter @JasonFalls.

Jason and I talked about so much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by GoToWebinar:

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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