The Consumer Intelligence Blog - Infegy

The importance of social listening research

Why your brand needs a social listening tool

Successful marketers and brand managers understand how important it is to remain apprised of consumers’ preferences and needs. After all, many spend millions of dollars conducting focus groups and surveys in order to better understand their target customers.

Instead of spending countless hours conducting market research, what if there was a way to access real-time consumer data that gets to the heart of what your target customers are thinking and saying?

With social listening, there is a way!

Social listening provides real-time insights into what consumers across multiple social media platforms are saying about a brand, industry, product, or product category. These insights can help businesses and brands better understand their target consumers’ needs, preferences, and behavior trends and tailor their strategies accordingly.

Not only does this allow your brand to meet consumers where they are with products and services they actually want, it also gives you a competitive edge in the marketplace… all with a faster turnaround and significantly lower price tag than traditional market research.

Let’s take a look at several examples of how social listening can provide the research insights you need to help your brand thrive.

Examining consumer preferences

We’ll start with a very basic example of something a good social listening tool should be able to do. For this, we looked at how people mentioned the word “beer” over the last four years. This provides us with millions of posts that we can then classify by sentiment, theme, and interest.

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Figure 1: Analysis of themes pertaining to beer; Infegy Social Dataset, January 2020 through December 2023.

Social listening provides us insight into themes, or phrases that are classified into different categories. These can be action-based (i.e. “Intent” where users discuss wishes to do something like purchase or go to a location), or more description-based (Like Quality where users talk about the worth around a particular research topic). Figure 1 provides a visual depiction of how often social media users talk about those themes when discussing beer.

Notice an upward trend surrounding “Place,” which refers to locations where beer is consumed. When we dig into this, we find that much of the underlying conversation mentioning locations deals with people talking positively about going out to drink in bars and restaurants. There is also an upward trend in “Intent,” which refers to discussions surrounding a purchasing decision or desire to do something, namely, consume beer. While “Intent” can also refer to the “Intent->Churn” (i.e., dissatisfied customers looking to move on to a different brand or product), that underlying churn conversation looked to make up only 4% of the the beer conversation, with the overwhelming majority being quite positive.

For a marketer, this can provide valuable insight into consumers’ changing preferences for where and how they drink beer.

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Figure 2: Analysis of interests related to beer; Infegy Social Dataset, January 2020 through December 2023.

In developing marketing campaigns, it can also be helpful to understand target consumers’ other interests. Figure 2 provides insight into beer drinkers’ other interests and their sentiment surrounding those interests.

Notice beer drinkers’ interest in sports, such as football and college baseball. The sentiment surrounding these interests is overwhelmingly positive, with 81% positivity for college baseball, 71% for college football, and 65% for American football. This is possibly why we see beer commercials so often during sporting events.

This can be valuable insight in helping a beverage company develop better messaging and media to target consumers.

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Figure 3: Beer mentions compared to alcohol consumption data; Infegy Social Dataset and YouGov Survey data, January 2012 through July 2023.

Continuing with our analysis, let’s examine how social posts that mention beer correlate with other forms of real-world data. For this, we used data provided in a YouGov survey of Americans who had consumed alcohol at a bar or restaurant in the last two weeks.

Figure 3 shows that social media volume is strongly correlated with action. In other words, a person who makes a social media post indicating that he or she plans to consume beer at a restaurant is highly likely to do so.

What does this mean for marketers and brand managers? It means you can probably access similar insights using social listening data to what you would gain through more traditional research methods, such as surveys and focus groups. And, you can access these insights in real-time for a fraction of the cost and effort of traditional market research methods.

Understanding competitive advantages

Moving on from understanding consumers, let’s examine how social listening can give your brand a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Social listening tools allow businesses to keep an eye on competitors’ activities, strategies, and missteps. Understanding how the public perceives competitors can help a brand differentiate itself, find market gaps, and avoid other brands’ mistakes.

We refer to this as “competitive intelligence,” and it is an incredibly valuable benefit of implementing a social listening strategy because it allows a brand to monitor its competitors in real time in order to make better-informed pricing, marketing, and advertising decisions.

To illustrate the value of social listening’s competitive intelligence insights, let’s take a look at three popular fast-casual burger chains: In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys, and Whataburger.

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Figure 4: Post volume pertaining to In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys, and Whataburger; Infegy Social Dataset, January 2020 through April 2024.

We start by analyzing post volume trends. In Figure 4, notice that over the last three years, Five Guys consecutively had the most social media mentions, with a surge in post volume around February and March 2024.

At a glance, one may assume that more social media mentions are good for Five Guys. It’s always good when people are talking about your brand, right? Not necessarily, but we’ll dig deeper into that in just a moment.

First, however, let’s take a look at competitive geographic data.

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Figure 5: Geographical post volume pertaining to In-N-Out, Five Guys and Whataburger; Infegy Social Dataset, January 2020 through April 2024.

In Figure 5, notice how the volume of social media posts is highly correlated to each chain’s geographic location within the United States.

  • Five Guys was founded in Virginia and has expanded across the northeastern United States.
  • Whataburger started in Texas and has firm roots in the Midwest.
  • In-N-Out is well known for its presence on the West Coast.

As one might expect, the geographic distribution of social posts lines up consistently with the region in which each brand has restaurants. This information may be valuable for a new restaurant wanting to expand into a certain region, as it provides insight into what potential competition the new brand may face.

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Figure 6: Positive sentiment related to In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys, and Whataburger; Infegy Social Dataset, January 2020 through April 2024.

Next, let’s examine consumer sentiment related to the three burger chains.

In Figure 6, notice the volatility of positive consumer sentiment related to Five Guys. As you can see, Five Guys has experienced sharp spikes in sentiment, both positive and negative.

What could be causing this volatile sentiment?

To answer this question, let’s dig deeper into the topics associated with Five Guys’ negative sentiment.

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Figure 7: Negative topics related to Five Guys; Infegy Social Dataset, January 2020 through April 2024.

As we can see in Figure 7, many of the negative-sentiment topics have to do with the increasing cost of food at Five Guys. Notice topics such as “prices,” “overrated and overpriced,” “dollars,” “paid,” “worth,” “charge,” etc.

This data shows us that consumers are upset with Five Guys for increasing its prices over the last few years.

If you were in charge of marketing at either In-N-Out Burger or Whataburger, this insight into consumers’ price sensitivity can help inform your decision making and (hopefully) avoid a similar drop in consumer sentiment.

Understanding changing trends

Finally, let’s take a look at how social listening can help a brand better understand changing trends.

We’ll use the example of sports betting, which has exploded across the United States since a 2018 Supreme Court decision allowed states to legalize the practice. Now, 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized sports betting in some form.

(To learn more about the recent rise in sports betting, read our recent insights brief.)

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Figure 8: Sports betting-related post volume; Infegy Social Dataset, June 2018 through March 2024.

Since that Supreme Court decision, we have seen an exponential increase in sports betting-related posts, as illustrated in Figure 8.

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Figure 9: Sports betting post volume compared to sports betting revenue; Infegy Social Dataset and, June 2018 through March 2024.

When we compare that post volume spike to sports betting revenue, we see a strong correlation (Figure 9).

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Figure 10: Sports betting post volume plotted against sports betting revenue: Infegy Social Dataset and, June 2018 through March 2024.

Digging deeper into the data, we see an R-squared value of .775 (Figure 10), indicating that the strength of the correlation is strong. This type of quantifiable correlation is important when you’re examining trend-based data, as it shows that social media conversations are a true reflection of real-world behavior.

Using social listening to drive success for your brand

The examples above illustrate the value of integrating social listening strategies into your consumer, competitor, and industry intelligence efforts. Social listening offers important insights that can change your business for a fraction of the cost and time required to obtain similar information from traditional market research efforts.

With social listening data on your side, your brand is in a better position to pivot, evolve, and compete in a dynamic competitive landscape.

To learn more about how Infegy can help kickstart your social listening strategy, request a custom demo.