Marketing is a two-way conversation. Just as you listen to what a friend says in conversation before you respond, it makes sense to listen to what your constituents are saying before you ask for their support. Doing this in the digital space is called social listening.

Social listening is a powerful tool that can deliver real-time insights into what your supporters are saying in the digital space about your organization, your mission or related issues. By monitoring certain keywords, hashtags and profiles on social networks, you can gain better understanding of your supporters’ opinions, needs and wants. Then, you can tap into those insights to develop your fundraising strategy and create content that will resonate. For example, listening helped Save the Children Action Network discover a surprising sentiment among a majority of its supporters just in time to adjust its content strategy at the last minute.

Social listening tools yield two types of data: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative data consists of hard numbers: for example, how many people posted to a certain network using a certain hashtag during a certain time frame. Qualitative data, on the other hand, consists of the actual posts people are making about relevant topics. This is where you can really get to the feelings and attitudes of users — if you have the time and the resources to comb through it thoroughly.

Specific Benefits of Listening

In addition to gaining insight around the themes of your supporters’ conversations, social listening can also help you understand what other nonprofits are doing that is working (or not). Think about campaigns that have gone viral, like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Millions of people became invested in ALS research because of that social campaign, not the other way around. Through social listening, you can start to figure out the recipe for the special sauce that will get new supporters on board with your mission.

Listening is also a great way to identify influencers, or social media users who have an extremely engaged following with which they carry a lot of influence. Tapping into these high-profile personalities to spread your message or call for support is one of the fastest-growing digital marketing techniques.

Finally, listening can help your organization serve its supporters better. If your supporters are frustrated or unhappy with your methods, they may not let you know directly — but they will mostly likely discuss it on social media. It’s important to know about any discontent among your supporters so you can make necessary improvements that will ultimately increase your fundraising revenue.

Channels You Should Listen To

In general, it’s ideal to cast a wide net. You definitely want to monitor the major sites such as Facebook, but other sites like blogs or news sites can give you a wider perspective on the current digital conversation. Be aware that social listening tools can only gather public data, i.e., all Twitter data (because all profiles are public) but only data from Facebook or Instagram profiles that are set to “public.”

Also, the type of user data each channel will release is slightly different. For example, Facebook will not release full copy of individual posts or user names, even of those with public profiles. Note that some channels have APIs that won’t allow listening tools access to data at all. It’s important to have an experienced professional compile these varying data types when trying to gather insights that will guide your future fundraising efforts.

How to Start Listening

While you can technically conduct social listening by visiting and searching each site manually, using an established tool will save you a lot of time and increase the accuracy of your data. There are many social listening tools available, each with its own pros and cons. Tools range from free online sites that only gather general, high-level data to expensive, complex dashboards that can display highly customized data. We like Attentive.ly for its easy interface and integration with Luminate.

Whichever tool you choose, social listening is quickly becoming table stakes for any nonprofit. Charity Dynamics can help you launch social listening research at whatever level makes sense for your organization. Contact us to learn more and get started.