How social listening shapes place and PR campaigns

a metal sign saying 'listen' with a backdrop of blue sky

There’s a phrase I heard many years ago that I keep returning to in these noisy times: we have two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion with each other. 

The point it’s making is that good communications is as much about listening as anything you have to say.

We see this in our daily lives, like when skilled presenters make a killer line after taking time to understand who they’re speaking with. 

By contrast, those who fail to read the room can come unstuck. Without taking time to listen, what passes for debate can become a shouting match. 

It’s why we always take time to see things from other people’s perspective when we’re developing a PR or engagement strategy. 

Social listening explained

On any project, we’re big believers in using insight to inform our work. 

There are many different ways to do this, and our strategy sessions cover these in more depth. One area we have invested time, effort and money in since setting up Distinctive last year (2022) is social listening.

Used well, it’s a big help in understanding what people are saying and feeling about important topics, brands or subjects that are relevant to our clients. We find this tool can play a key part in understanding the audiences we want to engage. 

One higher education client uses the tool to measure its relative share of online voice against its competitors across four key topics.
Another client has used it to better understand public conversations about its industry, and who shapes the debate. 

We can also look at hot topics to understand the mood around them. Below, we take our recent insights on 15-minute cities as an example of how this can work.

15-minute city listening

Using the tool, we looked at posts mentioning 15-minute cities across Twitter, Facebook and online news posts and forums during February.

The tool can monitor many more channels – although not LinkedIn. But we focused on these to illustrate what’s possible across these main platforms.

Here are some of the insights we gleaned through this exercise:
The search pulled up around 2,100 posts, with an estimated reach of around 5.7m. These aren’t huge numbers in the scheme of things, even though it has become a hot topic. I’ll return to this point shortly.
Twitter was where most of the conversation took place. There were also around 40 online news stories featuring in the search.
Sentiment towards the topic was 43% negative and 18% positive. Remaining posts identified as neutral (or neither positive nor negative).

Here were some of the most shared posts during this period, to give a flavour of what’s generating attention.


Top 15-minute cities posts by engagement

a collation of Twitter posts that share views on 15-minute cities

And here are the main topics discussed – red is negative, grey is neutral. It’s febrile territory.

word cloud of topics regarding 15-minute cities

We can also use it to dig deeper and see who is most visible in this space. It seems there is a mix of media organisations, commentators and high-profile people. Posts by the FT (the largest blue circle below) generated about 615,000 impressions.

This information can also be filtered to exclude trolls, your colleagues or accounts displaying bot-like behaviour so that your insights are representative.

Influencers by impressions

This helps us to build a picture on what’s being said on this issue before we dive in with our thoughts.

It won’t be the only solution to our clients’ campaign challenges, and it’s often used alongside other research methods. Our team uses surveys, interviews, workshops, door-knocking and face-to-face chats.

But if content rules the roost, context helps it to take its place. Listening to what people are saying is a good place to start shaping your content.

How are you listening?

Whatever method you choose, the bottom line is that if you’re going to speak to people you should be prepared to listen to them too – even if you don’t like what they’re saying.

It’s also important that you declare how any data is used. We do this openly in line with our commitment to transparency and ethical practice.

If properly captured, these insights can form a vital part in shaping communications and engagement activity. It can also help to build understanding and support for what you’re doing. That’s surely what any good communicator wants.

Next time you plan a campaign, start with listening before giving any thought to what you want to say.

By doing that, you’ll stand a much better chance of being heard when you’re ready to speak.

Drop us a line if you’re interested in social listening and strategy support.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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