Can tools replace human intellect?

As a few of you may already be aware, I am a researcher, practitioner and instructor; my area of interest has been digital marketing.

Very recently, I demonstrated several social listening tools at Indian Institute of Management Ranchi (IIM Ranchi). My focus was not merely demonstration of tools; I wanted students to learn the art of uncovering actionable insights to solve real-world challenges.

In this article, I wish to summarize how I conduct the social listening session in my classroom. I believe that a few of you reading this piece may find it useful.

Social Listening or Digital Listening?

My session begins with basic theory; I provide an overview on three components of social listening – social monitoring, social analytics and social intelligence. This may sound basic, however let me clarify that the term “social listening” is not limited to listening on social platforms; it covers several digital platforms such as news, blog, forums, blog comments, comments in various portals and so on.

Can tools replace human intellect?

The answer is obvious! It’s unfortunate but true; most tools have huge scope for improvement. Many a times one will notice that tools of high repute offer poor accuracy. Tools simply make data mining easier and provide basic analytics. Further, no tool is all-inclusive, one has to use multiple tools to arrive at the conclusion.

Same, same… yet different?

Everyone views data through his / her lens. It’s the same data that’s available; but objectives and perspectives of professionals determine what they see. For example, when a marketer and a publisher are doing keywords research, they will use same tools and will view same data. However, their perspectives will differ. One would wish to minimize usage of keywords with higher CPC while the other would wish to maximize usage of keywords with higher CPC.
In the first place, what should I listen to?

Your objectives will outline what you will listen to. Well, it’s common sense to have an eye on objectives to be able to summarize conclusions. Once you know the purpose of social listening, you should create a list of keywords or key phrases of interest. This could be the name of your brand with all likely spelling errors.

You may also like to track certain industry specific keywords or keywords that hint any user’s need. Brand name of competing products may be of interest to you. You can add more to create your tracking list. One bit of advice, make social listening your daily habit; you will never lose out on any opportunity or get trapped in to a sudden surprise!

Are the primitives the most sophisticated?

We will take a look at several freemium tools. However, let me begin with the so-called primitives, which I still believe are the best! Google SearchGoogle Trends, Google Suggested Searches and Google Related Searches.

These tools provide a plethora of information; your objective will decide how you wish to use them. Google Trends provide search trends over time and across locations. One can also identify related keywords used along with main keyword.

Next are a host of tools to identify keywords of interest; I recommend you play around a bit with Google Keyword and Display Planner, SEMRush and Moz Keyword Explorer. Once you spend a day or two with these tools, you will realize that no tool is all-inclusive; looking at multiple tools will help you get closer to your objective.

Let your phone beep occasionally!

If you have not set alerts via Google Alerts (mainly for news) and Mention (scans multiple sources), you should do it right away. In addition to alerts, you may like to keep an eye on breaking news and blog by visiting Google News Search, IceRocket and

For those who are unaware, Google retired its Blog Search in 2011 and have started offering blog search along with Google News Search. Don’t miss the most popular sentiment analysis tool, SocialMention.

This tool will help you identify influencers too. By the time I am done demonstrating these tools, students (read as: sincere ones) feel overwhelmed (read as: confused, yet excited). But I have more to share…

It’s all about the digital authority…

Did you know… Every web domain and web page is authoritative; you can use Moz Open Site Explorer to find out how authoritative is your page or that of your competitor’s. Use Alexa to learn how your website ranks globally and in your country.

You will gain insights in to upstream traffic, commonly searched keywords, domains linking back to your website and more.

Do you manage a Facebook page and a Twitter handle? If yes, you must use LikeAlyzer and FollowerWonk respectively to check what’s working for you, how you are placed against your competitor and how you can improve your performance. Don’t forget creating you own Klout account and also use this tool to check social authority of your brand and that of potential inflencers.

Crazy about  #Hashtags?

There are several tools to analyze Twitter / Instagram performance (read as: hashtag analysis) –, Hashtracking, TweetReach and TrendInAlia. I personally use TweetReach to monitor hashtag campaign success. I love as it helps me drive actionable insights with its related hashtag chart. TrendInAlia helps me understand the actual strength of any hashtag over a period of time.

Once up on a time…

By the time I demonstrate all these tools, I start feeling nostalgic; I have used several amazing tools in the past that no longer exist today. I refer to them as the dinosaur group (once dominant; now extinct). Last but not the least; there are several premium social listening tools that you can use.

Still reading to further understand how we actually use these tools to achieve our objectives?

Here comes my agency experience in to play. When we first meet any prospect, we do social listening to better understand the prospect’s social authority. We identify the prospect’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We dive in to industry dynamics and gain consumer and competition insights.  When we create a digital marketing plan, we propose budget based on keyword research. Our approach to social listening is highly structured; we have created three buckets and place all these tools (and more) in one of the three buckets.

Tools in our first bucket help us appreciate industry trends

We get insights in to what’s latest, who are industry prominent players and challengers, how each brand is performing in terms of marketshare, share of voice (media and social media). Based on what we are looking for, we can further dive deeper to learn more. A few tools that we use out here are Google SERP, Google News Search, Google Trends, IceRocket, Mention, SocialMention and more.

Tools in our second bucket help us understand brand’s dominance online.

We check how the brand is performing on owned media and earned media. We understand its website performance and compare the same with that of its close competition. We also measure the brand’s social authority and analyze its performance on various social platforms. Once again, we extend our research to other competing brands. A few tools that we use out here are Alexa, Klout, FollowerWonk, LikeAlyzer and more.

Tools in our third bucket help us understand budget allocation.

We get a fair idea on industry keywords, average cost-per-click (CPC), competition etc. This helps us in planning and proposing advertising budget (if client is keen on lead generation). A few tools that we use out here are Alexa, Google Suggested and Related Searches, Google Keyword and Display planner, SEMRush and more.

Now that students had basic understanding of various social listening tools and their application, I divided the class in to three groups.

  • Each group had one brand on hand and a definite objective for social listening exercise.
  • In the next step they were asked to identify tools that they would use to capture data of interest.
  • Last but not the least; I asked students to think of a presentation technique to summarize their finding.

Group 1 assumed that they were the product management group at LeEco that had recently launched two smartphones brands, LeEco Le 2 and LeEco Max 2. Their objective was to understand how successful the launch was? Based on market reception, what should be their marketing strategy? You can read Social Listening: Monitoring pre-release & release buzz for LeEco Le 2 to learn how students used social listening tools to solve the challenge. Based on their social listening, they reached a conclusion that the launch was unable to create huge interest and hence their marketing strategy should be stock clearance via advertising and promotions.

Group 2 assumed that they were the marketing communications group at Renault. The commercial launch of one of their brands, Renault KWID AMT, was just around the corner. They observed that recently another automobile brand, Maruti Suzuki Ignis, experienced a surge in online searches. The objective of this group was to understand what worked well for Ignis? They were asked to make suggestions on how they would optimize their marketing communications. After all, both brands were first showcased at the Auto Expo 2016 and their commercial launch was timed during the festival season in 2016. You may like to read Social Listening: What contributed to recent surge in search trends for Maruti Suzuki Ignis? to learn how students used social listening tools to solve the challenge. Based on their social listening, they reached a conclusion that they should mirror Ignis’ strategy.

Group 3 assumed that they were the sales promotion group at SpiceJet that had introduced monsoon bonanza to lure travelers in the non-peak travel season. Their objective was to understand how well the promotion was received? You may like to read Social Listening: Was SpiceJet’s Monsoon Bonanza Promotion successful?. Students observed that despite the low demand period, Monsoon Bonanza campaign was able to create sudden surge, though not throughout the campaign period, but mostly during the launch and end of the campaign.

Last but not the least; I wish to draw your attention to the fact that all class exercises will give you fair understanding of the approach to social listening. You may like to ignore recommendations as they may not be cent percent accurate. After all, students who have worked on these assignments are neither industry experts nor have they worked with the brands in question.


Ami Shah - Creative Director, IntelliAssist. For over a decade,Ami Shah has been involved in the profession of creating brands, managing customer expectations and creating demand for complex solutions. An engineer by qualification and a marketer by choice, Shah has worked with multinational B2B and B2P companies. She specializes in identifying appropriate value proposition, developing persuasive key messages and creating a mindshare with the target audiences by running integrated campaigns. She has worked with diverse organizations across industry sectors and geographies; this includes global multinationals, Indian businesses and start-up ventures.