Trajaan just won LesBigBoss award for the most innovative startup in data & digital marketing 🏆

Search Listening vs. Social Listening? Why You Need Both Technologies As a Consumer Insights Manager

men going around a warehouse

Social & search listening are two faces of the same industry: consumer & market intelligence.

Consumer and market intelligence is the art of detecting patterns in human behavior to assist brands in launching the best products and offers based on genuine demand. It focuses on understanding consumer expectations, motivations, and fears, with the lowest bias possible.

All brands need to listen to consumers

The ultimate goal is to get insights into all steps in the purchase journey â€“ to get a 360° understanding of markets & consumers.

  • What do consumers want?
  • Where do consumers want to buy products?
  • How many people could be reached with our product?
  • Why do consumers prefer our solution/brand over others?
  • How do consumers experience our product?
  • …

Multiple methodologies have been developed in the last decades to help marketers answer these questions through different kinds of consumer surveys:

  • focus groups
  • direct interviews
  • evaluation forms
  • in-store videos
  • retail panels
  • consumer panels
  • …

Social listening is useful to learn from promoters & detractors.

The rise of Web 2.0 offered a new opportunity for consumers to express their opinion through online forums & social networks. Giving birth to social listening at the same time.

Engaging brands to start listening to what customers were saying online, promoting or trashing on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or news story comments – but also listening to how customers reacted to branded or sponsored posts.

Social listening essentially allows you to follow the advocates and detractors of your brand – aka consumers who already experienced your brand or your competitors.

Your brand has no choice but stays aware of spontaneous reviews left after purchasing on online platforms like Google, Amazon, or Trustpilot.

It is a direct way to discover & understand why people did or did not enjoy your product and its features. 

While most social listening leaders like BrandWatch or Synthesio pretend monitoring reviews from different sources, a few great startups have emerged as specialists in online review analytics:


Social listening is also great for comparing the effectiveness of different social media marketing campaigns by monitoring the number of likes, comments, shares… The principle consists of gathering data tracking on social media and is ideal for monitoring ROI or A/B testing campaigns.

With these results, you can understand what content tends to buzz online and which codes you can use on your audience. So, search listening is not only about collecting data. It allows you to examine what has already happened using indicators to adapt your speech and try to reach as many people as possible on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Twitter…

But what consumers say online is not what consumers want.

Social listening emerged with the solid ambition of capturing everything that is said online by Internet users through their posts, comments, reactions, and interactions. The truth is that very few consumers express themselves publicly online (less than 1% of social media users).

When they do speak up, it is usually to critique a brand, make a complaint (detractors), or recommend a product or service (advocates). Unfortunately, it leaves the silent mass unmonitored and outside of the analysis.

If people are living their best lives on Instagram, they’re experiencing their real lives with Google.

With social listening, brands cannot learn anything about their market dynamics, i.e. trending products, brands, or services people want to consider buying. Brands must find other ways (and data) to survey the masses to find answers to these questions:

  • What do consumers want?
  • Where do consumers want to buy products?
  • How many people could be reached with our product?

Surely social listening is not the most effective way to monitor consumer needs.

Social media platforms are public spaces where anyone can view everything. Being overly cautious about posting or placing more emphasis than necessary on brand criticism has a significant bias effect.

As a brand, you only get access to what people want to tell you, not what they genuinely believe or feel.

Why search listening is the best solution to understand what consumers want

Nobody is worried about being listened to when using search bars on Google or Amazon. Online searches truly represent people’s minds, interests & hidden desires. Search engines provide unparalleled access to the largest existing consumer panel. You don’t only have access to social media users, you have access to anyone using search engines, which is almost everyone.

Today 83% of consumers use Google or Amazon before buying something. Search engines are now totally part of the customer journey. Ignoring online searchers would be shooting your foot!

Amazon search engine / moto helmet

Search engines are the real mirrors of the world. Studying Internet users’ queries is like diving directly into the psychology of users without bias, deduction, or restraint. Search listening platforms has naturally emerged with the rise of e-commerce & increasing usage of search engines.

Analyzing search queries is powerful to uncover market dynamics such as …

  • Trending brands & products, emerging categories by season/months.
  • Regions/cities with higher affinity for specific products or features
  • Weak signals with low volume & huge growth that might become your future best sellers

Search listening and social listening are essentially different. These two technologies provide different but complementary insights at distinct steps of the customer journey.

  • Use search listening to drive your innovation, optimize your offers to make the brand perfectly match market trends, and get visible when consumers start to consider buying something.
  • Use social listening technology to reveal your customer’s pain points & improve your products.

Long story short, you do not have to choose between social or search listening. It all depends on your use case & the challenges you need to solve.

  • Use social listening when you need to better understand why consumers love or hate your brand & engage online with your brand
  • Use search listening when you need to size emerging markets & prioritize topics for your content marketing

Table of Contents