What this section is about
Our Insight team uses social listening as a tool for research. We use a social listening software tool to identify, capture and categorise thousands of online conversations from different media sources. We then pull out the most relevant and useful information by analysing and identifying topic themes, sentiment and more. This allows us to gather first-hand insights on specific topics from online conversations to understand how visitors view Scotland as a destination. To help you get the most out of social listening, here are a few pointers on how you can leverage it for your business.
In this section:
Questions on social listening
Social listening is about being aware of what visitors are saying about your region, or business on social media. It's not limited to mainstream channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but also includes comments made on blogs, forums, news and review sites.
Social listening is a good methodology if you're looking to gather first-hand insights about what visitors and potential visitors are looking for, for example their interests, experiences and expectations. This information helps you to discover new opportunities, and to tailor your message or offering to appeal to your audience and raise awareness of your region or business.
You don’t need expensive tools or a big marketing team - the principles can be applied at a small scale to allow you to gather useful information by monitoring online ‘chatter’. However, if after reading these top tips you are stilll unsure about implementing social listening - we're here to help. Take a look at the new findings published as a result of social listening in our Research and Insights section.
You can look for different types of information, ranging from reviews of your own business to visitors’ preferences and expectations when visiting a specific area or tourist attraction. It's also a valuable tool for spotting new trends in tourism which you can engage with. Some examples of this include:
- Conversations about your business | Listen to what people are saying about your business by searching for your brand or product name online and on reviews sites. This will help you gather insights, give you an understanding of what is working, pinpoint any areas for improvement and help you build your brand’s reputation.
- Conversations about regions | Understanding visitors’ preferences could help you increase your customer base. A visitor might go to your region to visit an attraction or landmark or to attend an event. Knowing what your region can offer can give you ideas to make your business more attractive. For example, offering discount to customers attending an event or exhibition might be a decisive factor in choosing a place to eat, sleep or just have a coffee.
- Customer expectations | Understanding customers’ needs is vital and listening to online conversations can enable you to spot ways in which to improve your business offering. For example, allowing late check out at your hostel, advertising that your pub is dog friendly or your cafe has a vegan offer, letting potential visitors know that you shop is accessible for people with reduced mobility – all of these could have a great impact on your business.
- Potential opportunities | Listening to what visitors are doing, the way they plan their trips or what they are looking for in the planning process could give you a competitive advantage if you adapt your message to address their needs.
- Competitor analysis | Social listening can be used to find out what your competitors are doing and identify ways to improve your offer and stand out. It’s not about ‘copying’ or ‘spying on’ your competitors but about spotting opportunities and identifying gaps where you could offer something visitors are looking for, that your competitors don’t offer. This could help to make what you do more unique and tailored to visitor needs
Visitors, and potential visitors, use social media to post about their own experiences and desires, voicing their likes and dislikes openly. Social listening is a great way to gather information directly from the source. Remember, for your business to be visible on social media you need a social media profile to make it easy for potential visitors to find you on different channels.
Here are some tips and tricks on how to listen for the right conversations across six different channels. We've also compiled a useful glossary at the end to help explain any words or phrases you may be unfamiliar with.
Using Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google for social listening
Use Instagram to look at hashtags relating to your area or business (if you have an active online presence) and see what users are talking about. Accompanying hashtags are a good indication of the type of experiences that people are seeking and a good way to spot potential opportunities. For example, a quick search on Instagram shows that the hashtags #arran and #isleofarran, usually go with hashtags like #adventure, #hiking, #greatoutdoors and #nature. This is an indication of the type of experiences that visitors to the Isle of Arran are looking for and can help you tailor your product/message so that your business stands out.
Looking for hashtags on Instagram:
Using the search function on Instagram, you can look for posts about specific topics, themes or areas and see what the main trends and conversations are.
To do this, log in to the mobile app and use the search function at the bottom of the menu (second icon from the left) to look for a specific hashtag or keyword.
For example, if you want to know what Instagram users are posting about Ayrshire, you can select any of the top hashtags and check the individual posts for ideas. In this example we selected the hashtag #ayrshirecoast and were able to see several posts where this hashtag had been used.
By seeing the text and hashtags that accompany the images, you can get a better understanding of what visitors like and what they expect from their holiday in the area.
Not on Instagram?
Not a problem, here is a trick: go to the browser and type the following: www.instagram.com/visitscotland
This will load our Instagram profile and, from here, you can use the search box at the top to search for specific hashtags of interest to you, your business or region. Easy!
If you want to know what people are saying about Ayrshire, for example, simply type the hashtag #ayrshire into the search box. The first thing you’ll see are the top hashtags relating to your search, in this case #ayrshire, #ayrshirecoast and #ayrshirecow.
What's the chat?
You can also use Instagram to identify visitors’ opinion about your local town and your business.
Repeat the same process shown above and search for your town or business name to find out what people are talking about. These are examples of the kind of quotes found on Instagram:
“I’ve been there!!! I loved Scotland, the Isle of Skye, the hairy coos, all of the wonderful places and things you can’t find in the USA.”
“Best cheese scones ever!”
“A table 4 November please.”
You can adopt a similar approach to look for relevant conversations on Facebook. Using the search box at the top, simply scroll down to find the right channel. You can find groups dedicated to specific subjects (for example camping, golf or fishing) or groups about a specific region or town, where visitors look for advice on things to do and how to move around the area during their visit.
“I’m really hoping we can come in September (we are from England). We plan to drive and stay at Airbnbs. Obviously, we will only come if lockdown is eased enough but I’m really hoping we can.
Another tip is to go on our Facebook page and check for comments on posts relating to areas or attractions relevant to your business. For example, under one of our posts, a user said that Sumburgh in Shetland is their favourite place because they can go whale watching. This gives you an idea of what attracts visitors to a specific area. Another user commented on a post about Cairngorms National Park, listing all the things they love about the area and tagging other friends to show them the area.
“Animals, canoeing, walking and biking, quadbiking, food and drink, zip lining and bungee jumping… what more could we want.”
Facebook is a private channel and you do need to have an account and be logged in to access content posted here. You can sign up to create an account from their homepage and check out this article on how to use Facebook effectively.
You can look at potential trends and conversations about a region on the ‘micro blogging’ site Twitter. This is an open channel and you can access its content without having a Twitter profile. Simply go to your browser and type in www.twitter.com and you’ll be automatically redirected to the ‘explore’ section of the site (https://twitter.com/explore) where you’ll find the top trends and hashtags for your country on that day.
If you find this is too broad and not relevant for your business or region, you might want to search directly for relevant hashtags. As an example, look for conversations about camping in Scotland by using the keywords ‘camping in Scotland’ or the hashtag #campingscotland.
Keywords and hashtags sometimes bring slightly different results so try both and see which brings up information that’s most relevant to you. Below are some examples of holidaymakers looking for information and sharing their experience about camping in Scotland.
“Where’s good for wild camping in Scotland & accessible by public transport? Preferably by some water. I want to escape for a few days (once it’s allowed of course!).”
“Our last BC (before coronavirus) #camping & #hiking trip was to Torridon in #Scotland. This magnificent area is perfect for all levels of walking @camping_holiday @VisitScotland”
Using the advanced search option
If you want to step up your game, use the advanced search option for a more thorough search.
Type the relevant keywords or hashtags into the search box (as you did before) and press the enter key. Once the search results load, you’ll see an ‘advanced search’ option on the right hand side, as shown in the image below.
Click to open the advanced search box and you’ll find several options enabling you to search for specific keywords, hashtags or exact phrases and/or to exclude tweets including specific keywords that you are not interested in. You can look for tweets from specific accounts (such as a competitor) or tweets that mention an account that’s relevant to you, for example tweets mentioning @VisitScotland. You can also apply filters to see original tweets only or tweets with responses too (it can be useful to see conversation threads between different users) as well as tweets that include links.
Another useful filter allows you to search for tweets based on specific dates so that you can focus on the most recent or relevant conversations. You might want to look for conversations for this week only or for a specific period of time when an event took place to see what people were talking about then. For example, during the Highland Games, people might look for information and advice on places to stay and where to go for food after events – these conversations could help you to understand more specifically what visitors are looking for and allow you to tailor or promote your offer accordingly.
If you are looking for something that goes a bit further, check out Tweetdeck. This free tool from Twitter allows you to gather more information and manage your Twitter account. For example, you can schedule tweets and easily see responses to your tweets and direct messages. Tweetdeck is a social media management platform as well as a listening tool and requires a good understanding of Twitter to use it, but it’s useful if you have a business Twitter account that you’d like to manage more effectively. The image below shows a search of trending topics by location.
Figure 1: Example of search of trending topics by location on the left-hand side. Source: Tweetdeck.
Although the tool itself is free, you need to have a Twitter account to access it. Here are some instructions on how to create a twitter account.
Google Alerts is a free service offered by Google. The tool monitors the internet, looking for any new content relating to a specific search term, for example ‘staycation Scotland’ as the image below shows. Whenever new content about this topic is published on the internet – on news sites, blogs or other posts – Google Alerts will send you an email notification so you can keep an eye on the topic. This can be particularly useful for monitoring your brand’s name and online reputation.
You can view the results on the site or you can set up an alert to your email address so that you’re notified when new content is published.
Another free tool to monitor online conversations is Google Trends. Use this to find out how popular a specific topic is or to do a wider topic search, and also to customise your search to show trends in a specific country or region as well as to filter by different time periods.
The example below shows search results for ‘camping in Scotland’ filtered by location, conversations in Scotland, and dates of conversations during the past 12 months. As you can see, camping in Scotland was a popular topic during the summer last year and started to peak again in June 2020, probably influenced by the season and the fact that, with travel restriction still in place at the time, camping close to home became a popular ‘staycation’ alternative for many people.
You can also look for conversations about ‘camping in Scotland’ at a UK level (see image below) to see, for example, that this topic is more popular in Scotland than in England or Wales.
You can see that related topics give extra context and insight into what people are looking for. For example, people are talking about National Parks, fishing trips and camping during August (once travelling restrictions are lifted). In addition, ‘wild camping in Scotland’ and ‘camping sites in Scotland’ are also related searches to our original query, giving an extra level of detail on what Scottish holidaymakers are looking for.
We’ve shared several ways to look for online conversations across different channels. You’ll no doubt find that some methods are easier to use than others, as you may already be familiar with some channels. Bear in mind that these are all ideas you might want to investigate further. It’s up to you to decide which tools, methods and topics are most relevant for your business and where you want to invest your time.
Social listening can be time-consuming, especially at the beginning. There are thousands and thousands of mentions online and not all of them will be relevant to you. Remember that you don’t need to listen to every online conversation or monitor all channels, only those relating to your business.
As you get more familiar with social listening, you’ll learn which tools and topics are relevant for you. By refining your searches using filters or by looking for specific topics on specific channels, it will become easier to differentiate relevant conversations from ‘noise’ and obtain useful information. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!
Once you have gathered valuable insights, it’s time to act on them. Use your own website, social media channels and other review sites to update information about your business and ensure your potential customers are aware of your offer.
For example, your shop is dog friendly and you have a sign on the door but is this also clear on your website or Facebook page? Many visitors plan their trips in advance by using online sources and even make a decision on where to stay or to eat before they reach their destination. Having the right information available for them at the right time might just be key in their decision-making process.
Beyond social listening, having an active presence online is a great way to build relationships with your customers. This is also known as ‘community management’. Social listening and community management are two sides of the same coin and work best when used together. If you have a business website, Facebook page or Instagram account, allowing customers to post comments and share their experiences will give you more insight into their expectations, as well as making it easier for you to maintain an open and direct channel with them.
Responding to online reviews, whether positive or negative, is another great way of letting people know you are listening and willing to help. For example, if you use booking sites such as a Booking.com or Freetobook, it’s important to check the reviews and scores, to better understand your customers’ needs and any areas of improvement you should address. All feedback is valuable, and understanding the information that your customers took the time to give you allows you to improve your offer in the future.
- Social listening is a methodology that looks at online conversations to uncover first-hand insights on a particular topic, including customer trends, markets or competitors. Social listening includes but is not limited to traditional social media channels (see below) but relates to anywhere on the internet where conversations are taking place, including blogs and forums, reviews sites such as TripAdvisor, and news sites.
- Social Media traditionally refers to online sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, where users register, create a profile, post content and connect with other people (friends, relatives or other users with whom they share common interests). Some social media sites are private and require you to be a part of the channel to be able to access content, for example Facebook. Other channels are open, and anyone can see content directly from the internet; Twitter is a good example of an open or public-facing channel.
- Sentiment is about analysing online conversations on a specific topic or theme and then defining them as positive, neutral or negative, depending on the ‘sentiment’ expressed by the user.
- Hashtag is a way to categorise content on social media. It allows users to easily find messages related to the hashtag topic. It is always introduced by the hash symbol (#) and originated on Twitter in 2007. Nowadays its use has been extended to other channels and it’s also popular on Instagram.
- Booking sites or web booking engines allow businesses (usually accommodation businesses) to advertise their offer on a wider platform so that visitors can book their accommodation online ahead of arrival – for example, booking.com.
- Community management refers to the process of building an online community around your business or brand. You can build and manage a community formed by your customers and potential customers as well as other people and businesses in your area and further afield. Maintaining an active online community increases your visibility online and can help you raise awareness of your business.
- Mentions mean social media posts, forum threads, blog entries, reviews, responses, etc. Every single interaction online is considered to be a mention and they are the individual messages that form part of wider conversations.
- Noise refers to irrelevant conversations online that are not related or relevant to the subject being researched, making it more difficult to ‘listen’ to the conversations that matter.