What is Social Media Intelligence (and How Can I Use It)?

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Social media intelligence is a must-have tool for marketers today. You already use social media platforms to engage fans, track your online reputation, and find influencers.

However, there’s so much more marketers can do with social media. A lot of brands are missing out on valuable opportunities to detect trends and opportunities, find customer tribes, and source inspiration for future campaigns and products. 

Social listening and scheduling posts just aren’t enough anymore - instead, you need detailed insights to drive smarter decisions. In this post, we'll show you how (and why) to move from simple social listening to the new industry standard: social media intelligence.

Keep reading to learn how to make better decisions and build winning marketing strategies with social data.

Table of contents

Social media as a source of insights

Right now, pretty much every major company uses social media to promote their brand and engage with fans and customers.

Few companies, however, are using social media to build a deeper understanding of their customers or of the wider market. We think this is a huge missed opportunity. 

Social media is, after all, the world’s largest source of customer insights. It’s a focus group with billions of active users, and opens a window into consumer trends to let businesses access valuable insights in real time. 

But what do we mean by consumer insights, exactly? 

As we covered in our dedicated guide, a consumer insight is when a business gains an understanding of how their audience thinks and feels. Analyzing human behaviors gives companies a better understanding of what their customers are looking for. 

Consumer insights go beyond simple demographics like age, gender, and location, and can explain shared interests and sentiment towards certain products. For example, they can tell food brands exactly what vegan customers care about in different markets:

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Consumer insights could tell McDonald’s how to market the McVegan. Source: Independent

With this new understanding, brands can develop marketing strategies, set advertising budgets, and evaluate and select influencers. They can even develop entire new product ranges

In each one of these use cases, social data provides an accurate representation of the consumer’s voice, helping businesses find new solutions to complex problems. 

Another great example of customer insights in action is Danone. By monitoring social media exchanges in different countries, Danone was able to discover a gap in the Spanish market for lactose-free products: 

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Danone used social media to spot a market gap around lactose-free yoghurt. Source: Danone

Eureka! Activia lactose-free yoghurt was born. 

So, what’s the difference between social media monitoring, listening, and intelligence?

Definitions: Social media monitoring vs. listening vs. intelligence

To find valuable customer insights, brands should know the difference between social media monitoring, listening, and intelligence. These terms are related, but distinct.

Social media monitoring

Most marketers and community managers monitor social media in one way or another. This helps brands stay on top of what’s being said about them online, and alerts them to any risks with their products or services.

While this monitoring is helpful and informative for companies, it’s largely reactive, and doesn’t generate new information or inspiration. 

Brands need a way to dig into the data in greater detail. This is where social listening comes in.

Social listening

With social listening tools, brands can gather data from the billions of daily exchanges and conversations between social media users around the world. 

With this data, companies can find new marketing opportunities. For example, wellness brands could track the popularity of their products on highly visual platforms such as Instagram, and could then roll out campaigns to gain even more exposure.

This helps with checking out the competition, too. With social listening, brands can get a clear sense of how they’re doing when it comes to share of voice, brand sentiment, and shares.

For modern marketing, however, social listening isn’t enough on its own. Instead, companies need actionable strategies driven by social media intelligence.

Social media intelligence

Social media intelligence gives brands the ability to make decisions based on customer insights derived from social media. 

Beyond simply tracking ‘vanity KPIs’ like hashtags and mentions, social media intelligence turns online data into actionable information. 

Companies can use these techniques to track their equity in greater detail, detect emerging trends, and understand customer tribes. This helps them make better marketing decisions, and can even help them understand how to interact with key audiences online.

Now, let’s look at the uses of basic social listening compared with advanced social media intelligence. 

Part One: Basic social listening

No matter what industry you’re in, your customers are using social media. 

That’s why you need to track your online presence with social listening tools and figure out what your customers are saying about your products and services. 

With social listening, brands can: 

  1. Monitor campaign performance
  2. Use tailored language their audience understands
  3. Track online reputation
  4. Identify and manage brand crises 
  5. Discover influencers and measure online presence

Even better, social listening makes these activities fast and accurate, saving time for busy teams and freeing people up to do more useful things. 

#1. Monitor campaign performance

With social listening, you can get real-time visibility over your marketing campaigns. 

By tracking the right keywords and hashtags, you can monitor the number of exchanges and conversations a campaign is driving, the sentiment of the discussions, types of consumers who respond, and what they say. 

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Topic wheel for ‘Lululemon. Source: Linkfluence Search

For example, social listening can tell Lululemon what its fans have to say about a particular campaign, including key demographics and shared topics of interest. 

#2) Track online reputation

Social listening isn’t static. With online communities, things are changing all the time. 

That’s why you need to track brand reputation over time across multiple platforms. Compile a list of the most common terms to describe your products, then look closely at sentiment regarding these.

And customers don’t have to tag a brand for their opinion to be heard. Social listening will catch any mention, regardless of whether it comes with an "@" symbol. And social listening tools feature AI image recognition technology which can identify logos and influencers no matter where the content comes from. 

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Social listening offers sneaker brands valuable information. Source: Linkfluence Radarly

For a great example of reputation tracking in action, check out our report on the dad shoes trend. Here, you can see how brands like Yeezy and Balenciaga use social listening to understand their reputation in different locations, and amongst different demographics. 

#3) Discover and assess influencers

Partnering with influencers and KOLs (key opinion leaders) lets you reach valuable new audiences. But choosing influencers can be a tricky business.

You need to know you’re partnering with the right person, and have to make sure influencers will speak to your target groups and enhance your online reputation.

Social listening gives you the tools you need to find the right influencer. By listing key stats like reach, impressions, and posts, brands can filter potential picks to get the best possible match.

linkfluence-radarly-social-listeningSocial listening can help to find and rank influencers. Source: Linkfluence Radarly

This information is critical for brands wishing to break into markets with a diverse range of influencers and social media platforms (for example, China).

#4) Tailor language 

As common as it is for brands to have a social media presence, most don’t engage their fans all that well. A lot of brand communications are either cringe-inducing, or worse, offensive

With social listening tools, you can access helpful information to guide the language you use online. By collecting and sorting online data, these tools make it easier to know which messaging will match audience culture and values.

esports-social-media-intelligenceSocial listening can help Intel tailor its communications to eSports fans. Source: Forbes

For example, brands like Intel and Red Bull are now backing the lucrative eSports market. Using social listening tools, these brands could know exactly what their eSport customer tribes care about, making embarrassing missteps and gaffes a lot less likely. 

#5) Manage company crises

With social listening, you can track their mentions in detail - including being alerted to any crises that may threaten brand equity. 

By providing you with helpful breakdowns about online exchanges, social listening offers a way to understand whether something could be a threat, and if so, how to deal with it. 

Using this information, you can then develop strategies to inform and guide an official response. 

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Part Two: Advanced social media intelligence

Basic social listening is a great tool for all kinds of businesses - but it has its limits. 

Now, social media can be much more than just a simple promotional, branding, or customer engagement tool. 

With social media intelligence, businesses can turn online data into helpful insights, like finding lucrative new markets to move into, or discovering exactly what your customers love so much about your products.

By combining online data with actionable analysis, these techniques allow brands to:

  1. Track brand equity in detail
  2. Detect emerging trends and opportunities
  3. Track and understand consumer tribes

With this information, you can make better decisions, and can take concrete and valuable actions to stay ahead of your competitors. 

#1) Track brand equity

By tracking brand equity, marketers can see in detail how their campaigns affect different brand attributes, and can discover what drivers are going up or down thanks to their campaigns. 

That’s because social media intelligence lets you go beyond simple stats like shares and likes. Instead, you can focus on the four key elements of brand equity:

  • Awareness
  • Desirability 
  • Proximity
  • Relevance

Linkfluence Social Brand Equity ADPR framework

Linkfluence’s Social Brand Equity ADPR framework. Source: Linkfluence

Understanding brand equity according to these four elements makes company reputation a lot more three-dimensional, and allows companies to track consumer perception of their products in greater detail

For example, a clothing brand may be particularly concerned about its message of environmental sustainability. It can measure this specific value in real time during a new campaign, and make real-time changes to improve it. More importantly, the brand can plan new products and campaigns to address these shortcomings next time around. 

#2) Detect trends and opportunities

Social listening can tell you a lot about existing trends and opportunities. While that’s useful, it doesn’t tell you a lot about what’s likely to be the next big thing.

By detecting emerging trends, social media intelligence makes it easier for marketers to keep up with their customers, and to anticipate future consumer demand as they plan and build new products.

With social media intelligence, you can also identify unmet needs, and develop fresh ideas and products to suit gaps in the market. This gives marketers a way to target new audiences with dedicated messaging. 


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Tracking sentiment towards the avocado can tell brands a lot. Source: Linkfluence

For example, by tracking online discussion around beloved superfoods like the avocado, brands can stay on top of emerging trends and opportunities, and can take advantage by designing new products and campaigns. 

In practice, this could give producers of avocado oil and butter a chance to target emerging communities of customers, and to respond to the rise of social and environmental concerns around the production of avocados. 

#3) Track and understand customer tribes

In today’s competitive marketplace, it isn’t enough to try to find a wide audience of fans. Instead, businesses must survive by appealing directly to customer ‘tribes’: networks of dedicated consumers linked by a shared passion or emotion. 

dad-shoes-social-media-intelligenceSneakerheads are a great example of an influential customer ‘tribe’. Source: Linkfluence

Social listening tools can tell you what these tribes are saying. Social media intelligence goes one important step further, combining this information with in-depth analysis to unlock actionable marketing insights.

A great example of a consumer tribe are fans of luxury ‘dad shoe’ sneakers like Yeezys and Balenciaga. These sneakerheads are united by their dedication to high-end footwear, and knowing their habits and preferences gives brands a huge advantage. 

We can easily know: 

  • Which brands and styles they prefer
  • What feelings and key topics they associate with each
  • Why they choose the shoes they do
  • What they're looking for in their next pair

All of this automatically, without countless focus groups and surveys. That's the power of this technology. 

By understanding what gets these tribes excited about their products, brands can tailor their messages, content, and language. They can also use micro-targeting to deliver specific messages on the smallest possible scale to truly die-hard fans. 

Why social media intelligence makes such a difference

As we’ve seen, social media intelligence goes beyond social monitoring and social listening.

Using these advanced techniques, brands can drill deeper into online data, and can use technology and expertise to find meaningful trends and observations. 

These observations aren’t just interesting: they offer actionable marketing solutions for companies, helping them to optimize marketing, messaging, and product development.

For example, let’s return to the online discussion around veganism

In this case, social listening can tell you how popular certain vegan brands or products are in different parts of the world. For brands competing in this market, that’s useful information.

With social media intelligence, however, companies could dig even further into this data, getting access to details about shared values and preferences, emerging food and lifestyle trends, and opportunities to develop and market new products. 


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Social media intelligence offers a window into what matters to vegans. Source: Linkfluence

For brands duking it out in competitive markets, these insights can make all the difference.

Find better solutions to complex problems

For digital marketers, the demands of the job have never been higher. Now, we’ve moved on from the days of simply running social media accounts and checking mentions and message consistency. 

If you’re in digital marketing, you need a way to: 

  • Manage your day-to-day marketing operations
  • Set clear and simple KPIs to track and monitor marketing performance
  • Develop a marketing strategy with clear tactics to reach particular groups
  • Use social media insights to shape future marketing campaigns

If you’re already using social listening tools, that’s a great start. 

However, if you’re ready to make the step to social media intelligence, you can partner with our dedicated social media researchers and find even better solutions to complex problems.

No matter what industry you’re in, we can work with you to understand your business needs and find actionable market insights. 

Make better decisions with social media intelligence

As thousands of companies around the world will tell you, social listening is an incredibly useful way to manage customer relationships and online brand reputation. 

Using basic social listening, companies can:

  • Monitor campaign performance
  • Track online reputation
  • Discover and assess influencers
  • Tailor their language to suit their audience
  • Manage company crises

These are all useful things. 

However, with social media intelligence, brands and businesses can go beyond simply monitoring their mentions and tracking online sentiment. Instead, they can make informed decisions about marketing, product development, and more.

That’s because social media intelligence allows brands to:

  • Track brand equity in detail
  • Detect emerging trends and opportunities
  • Track and understand customer tribes

These functions offer brands actionable intelligence, allowing brands to offer their customers more of the things they want and need, and to discover entire new markets. 

If you’d like to talk about what social media intelligence can do for your brand, get in touch - we’d love to hear from you! 

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And to see how we’ve helped your favorite global brands, take a look at our customer case studies

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