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Social listening: what brands need to do with what they hear

Liliana Esposito, The Wendy's Co.

If your organization has never had a social media presence, you can’t expect to create a following overnight

Liliana Esposito, The Wendy’s Co.


With social media conversations happening constantly – staying tuned in isn’t simple. As a result, social listening has become a critical component of any successful digital communications approach. Choosing a listening platform is important, and the deluge of marketing solicitations in my inbox suggests there are quite a few. However, even more important is figuring out what you do with what you hear.

When your brand is part of the social conversation, first consider who’s doing the talking, and who’s listening. Is it customers, consumers, or interest groups? The answer should impact what you do with what you hear.

Simply put: Customers buy your things. Consumers buy many things. Interest groups care about specific things.

How should you engage?

With customers, engagement is a must and should be as personalized as possible. Even if they’re not happy, feedback from customers is truly a gift.

At Wendy’s, we have an in-house customer care organization solely focused on acquiring customer feedback, responding to it promptly, and genuinely thanking our customers for helping us get better. We act on this feedback every single day and we’re a better organization because of it.

Consumer conversation about your brand may mean you’ve become part of a broader narrative – and then you must decide whether and how to engage.

#NuggsforCarter was one such example. As Carter’s famous tweet went viral, a humble customer request – who doesn’t want a year’s supply of nuggets? – became a worldwide consumer conversation. Had we at Wendy’s tried to control that conversation, we very well could have ruined it. Sometimes the best thing you can do is cheer from the sidelines and remember that it’s a conversation, not a stump speech for your brand.

A willingness to listen

Interest groups aim to generate conversation on specific topics. We engage regularly and constructively with groups whose interests somehow intersect with our business. That could involve our products, our sourcing practices, or our community endeavors. We believe effective stakeholder engagement requires all to have a willingness to listen and a shared commitment to finding common ground.

It’s tempting to just engage with those that yell the loudest, but any malcontent with a Twitter account and a few bucks to spend on paid search can create the “fake news” appearance of broad support for a particular agenda, at least for a short period of time. This makes looking at volume of comments alone a deceiving metric. We anchor our engagement around our values, specifically the idea that we treat people with respect and we do the right thing – and we think it’s fair to expect the same from others.

How will you share your point of view?

Once you’ve decided to engage, how will you do it? First, know who you are as a brand and make sure you are acting in a way that is consistent with your voice and your values.

Second, cultivate, in advance, the channels through which you’ll engage. If your organization has never had a social media presence, you can’t expect to create a following overnight. Your channels should also marry with the substance of your conversation.

Although already active with social and traditional media, two years ago we created The Square Deal blog to invite conversation on a broader range of issues. It now provides an outlet to share our point of view on topics that don’t lend themselves easily to a press release or tweet. So listen carefully, follow your brand voice, and create spaces where customers, consumers, and interest groups can find you and strike up a conversation.

Liliana Esposito is CCO at The Wendy’s Co.


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