Social ListeningYou’ve heard the buzz about social listening, but aren’t sure what the hype means or how to actually get what you want out of it. What does it take to be successful with social listening?

At its heart, social listening is the process of analyzing online conversations, and creating actionable insights to inform business decisions.

To make informed business decisions, you must first know what your questions are. Sounds simple, but developing and refining a business question takes work. Some people try to skip this step, and find themselves drowning in a sea of data with no answer in sight—because you can’t find an answer if you don’t have a question.

Step 1. Start with a well-defined business question.

A well-defined business question sets parameters on your social listening. It sets up the framework for knowing what decisions will be informed. You then start your research with the end in mind. This allows you to stay focused on your goals—and not get distracted with information—and to focus on the insights relevant to your business question.

So what makes a well-defined business question?

Imagine this situation: You’re launching a new support program for your drug. In order to successfully launch your support program, and communicate and measure its value, you need to better understand your patients. You’d like to take the pulse using social listening.

Consider the strategy and objectives of the support program. What decisions will be made, or impacted, by the results of your social listening? While your specific questions will be unique to your business problems and situation, you can probably already see how the questions below would lead to more actionable information and better insights than, “What are our patients saying on social media?”


  • What challenges do patients who’ve just started our drug face?
  • Where do they go for support online?
  • What are the current unmet needs?
  • Is there awareness of our existing patient adherence programs?
  • What is the sentiment around our patient adherence programs?
  • How can we maintain or improve those perceptions?

2. Use a multipronged, iterative team-based approach.

Social listening is a discipline. It’s the combined resources of human strategy and insight coupled with the power of machine-based tools to filter and distill the right data set, which human review then evaluates and contextualizes.

At the most basic level, everyone is dealing with the same large unrefined dataset—as there is only one Facebook, one Twitter, etc. So while there are plenty of sources that make up “social media,” it can nonetheless be seen as one shared global data set.

Looking at diabetes conversations in general, over the past year, there were over 6 million conversations about the topic on social media (excluding news articles and press releases). Dealing with data of that volume means as much as you use tools to refine your subset of that data, you will still potentially have a large volume of data to review.

Here is where having a team-based approach can be helpful, not just in dealing with the sheer volume of data, but in gathering and refining the data set or subset. While team members can use the same strategy and approach, the application will be different by each member of the team. So one person writing all the search queries that support the business questions to define the data sets will have a slightly different approach than another team member. Using the combined results and queries written from multiple perspectives can help gather the richest data set with which to work.

Example: Put yourself in the shoes of someone suffering from nasal congestion. How many terms or phrases can you come up with for that? Perhaps you’d think of “stuffy nose,” “stuffed up” or “bunged up.” Now ask a colleague how many terms he or she can think of, and you might hear “stuffy nose,” “blocked nose” or “plugged nose.”

3. Take the results beyond data to actionable insights.

Once you’ve fully defined your business question, structured your queries, conducted your social listening, refined the results and categorized your data, it’s time to draw your insights. While a social-listening team can draw insights, it’s working in conjunction with the business teams and subject matter experts (SMEs) when truly actionable insights, aligned with the business questions and objectives, can be defined.

Social listening can clearly answer the “who, where, when, what, how, why,” but it takes human insight to develop the “so what.”

Example: A U.S. pharma company is trying to improve its brand recognition and patient awareness in a crowded therapeutic area. Its product is not very differentiated from its competitors and there is an active level of communication online about the therapeutic area. Without increasing the current marketing spend, how can the pharma company improve patient awareness—and potentially market share? Looking at the conversation in that therapeutic area online, we can see that the greatest volume of discussions is happening at about 11 a.m., by region. The medication for this indication is recommended to be taken once a day with breakfast, so at 11 a.m., it’s taking effect and patients notice a change in their condition, it’s top of mind and they are communicating about it then. The company could time when it posts content to match this peak in communication to spark a better engagement rate of its messaging and content – leading to greater patient awareness of the product.

In summation, social listening is all about finding actionable insights to drive strategy, so it’s imperative to ensure you’re focused on which decisions will be made or impacted by the results of your social listening. Remember, social listening is conversation. You are dealing with millions of people’s perspectives, so ensure you incorporate that multiperson perspective into your approach. A strategic team approach will unlock the value of the conversations happening right now on social media and get better insights on how you can and should join that conversation tomorrow.

Topics: social media strategy, social media, social intelligence, Social Listening, Jackie Cuyvers, Pharma