Intelligent Communication Technology: Social Listening Tools

Every day on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, millions of consumers and business customers rant, rave, brainstorm, offer help, and ask for help. Smart companies recognize that this global chatter is a gold mine of valuable insights, and they use social listening tools to figure out what people are saying about them and their competitors.

Companies listen to social media traffic in various ways, including following hashtags and monitoring keywords, such as the company’s name, the names of its products, competitors’ names, and any terms that might suggest relevant conversations. These tools can often detect when a social media user is talking about the company, even if the company and brand names aren’t used or the company isn’t tagged directly.

Today’s smart listening tools take this mass of data and use artificial intelligence to analyze the conversations in which these terms appear. By using text analytics, the systems judge whether conversations are trending strongly negative, strongly positive, or somewhere in between.

Companies can then use these sentiment readings in a variety of ways, including responding to individual requests for help, gathering ideas for new products or new product features, and generating ideas for social media content. For example, if a company detects a surge of complaints that one of its products is difficult to use, it can reach out to individual users with advice, begin improving the design of the product based on this feedback, or perhaps create a video or other media elements with advice to help people use the product more successfully. By jumping on the situation quickly, the company might be able to contain the dissatisfaction and avoid a public relations headache.

Firms can capitalize on positive sentiments, too. For instance, a food company could monitor for discussions of where and when people enjoy particular snacks, such as while camping or on road trips. It might then launch its own hashtag campaign with #CampSnacks or something similar to tap into these positive vibes.

With consumers increasingly relying on social media for purchasing advice and customer support, social listening tools are becoming vital for any company that wants to protect its reputation and jump on emerging opportunities.

Class activity ideas

  1. Ask students if they ever complained about a company’s products or services on social media. If so, did they get a response from the company or from anyone else? How would they characterize social media’s usefulness in resolving customer satisfaction problems?
  2. Do your students think is it ethical for a company to “eavesdrop” on social media conversations? Why or why not?


Sources: Christina Newberry, “What Is Social Listening, Why It Matters, and 10 Tools to Make It Easier,” Hootsuite blog, 27 November 2018,; Dominique Jackson, “What Is Social Listening & Why Is It Important?” Sprout Social, 20 September 2017,; Patrick Whatman, “A Beginner’s Guide to Social Listening,” Mention blog, accessed 5 December 2019,

Image credit: ky_olsen on Visual Hunt / CC BY