Social Media Monitoring & Listening

Article 4 min
Review how social media monitoring and listening fits into the Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation (RPIE) process.

In a digital media strategy, social media monitoring and listening (SMML) is the strategic process of tracking the information environment and extracting key insights about your social media performance. The authority for public affairs to use publicly available information is found in DoDD 3115.18.

Monitoring vs. Listening

Social media monitoring is the process of identifying and determining what is being said about a brand, individual or product through different social and online channels. It involves tracking and measuring your command, your commander and your brand mentions, including hashtags. It focuses on individual messages and the mitigation of risk. Monitoring is ongoing, consistent and oftentimes automated. It's used to track what stakeholders and your audience are saying about your organization and relevant issues or crises when they arise.

Social media listening is the process of watching specific social media channels, mentions of your brand, competitors and product to learn more about a specific narrative within the information environment. The goal is to understand the effect of Public Affairs decisions and actions by taking an active and strategic approach to knowing what and where to listen. Listening gives you insight into why people are responding a certain way so you know how to better communicate.

Social media listening is the research and monitoring of narratives within the information environment to understand dynamics that affect PA decisions and actions. By keeping the proverbial "ear to the ground," listening gives you insight into why people are responding a certain way, so you know how to communicate better.

Monitoring and listening are often used synonymously, but there is a distinct difference. Monitoring is about tracking the data that you need to gain insight into your brand, while listening is about analyzing data, verifying or defining your strategy and taking action. Monitoring tells you what is being said, and listening tells you why it is being said. Social media monitoring is reactive, and listening is proactive. The two combined are very powerful tools.

Why Monitor & Listen?

Your overarching social media strategy is guided by the principles of DoDI 5400.17. Effective social media monitoring and listening can help you to:

  • Gather valuable feedback on content performance
  • Improve digital communication efforts
  • Mitigate risks and crisis
  • Keep a pulse on the information environment
  • Humanize public affairs actions
  • Leverage research for planning campaigns
  • Move from being reactive to being proactive
  • Know the trends
  • Get ahead of a story to develop talking points
  • Understand what your audience is talking about and ways to reach them
  • Find out where people need help or information

Helpful Tools

There are a variety of tools that can be used to collect and analyze SMML data. Prior to acquiring and implementing a tool, it is critical to establish your SMML process. Most importantly, remember that the tools are just that, tools. A hammer alone won't build your house. There are free and paid options. Some of the more popular options include HootSuite, ZohoSocial, Sprout Social, Meltwater and AgoraPulse. Carefully research the tool before purchasing to ensure it does everything you expect. Check out G2's list of Best Social Media Monitoring Tools.

Applying RPIE to SMML

Research, planning, implementation and evaluation are the core pieces of the communication planning process. It is built into all military planning processes, and SMML is a perfect application of the RPIE process. 

Explore each RPIE component to learn how to incorporate SMML into your social media strategy or campaign.

Click a target to reveal more in-depth information.


Circular process diagram for social media monitoring and listening using RPIE: 1 Research, 2 Planning, 3 Implementation and 4 Evaluation.
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1. Research

Provide the data and analysis for future steps. Use platform analytics and the SMML tools available to you.

Consider the following:

  • What are people talking about?
  • What’s trending?
  • What do you find when you audit a hashtag?
  • Did using the hashtag further your reach?
  • Who else is using the hashtag?
  • What are the primary and secondary keywords?
  • Are key stakeholders present?
  • Are there any influencers that can be leveraged?
  • Who is talking about your brand?
  • Where is your brand being mentioned?
  • How are people talking about your brand?

Articulate your responses to these questions in a narrative that summarizes your answers. This will help you formulate your objectives, strategy and tactics and drive assessment planning. Additionally, it will help you understand your audience and allow you to target your content and brand to their specific wants and needs.

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2. Planning

Make decisions about what you'll post and how you'll reach your audience.

Consider the following:

  • Identify target audiences
    • Who does this problem or opportunity affect?
    • Where is the target audience in the information environment?
    • Which conversations should you engage with to reach the target audience?
    • What hashtags should be used to reach the target audience?
  • Craft post
    • What did our SMML data tell during research?
    • What, when and how will you communicate?
    • Where are messages coming from?
    • What trends should you worry about?

Articulate your responses to these questions in a narrative that summarizes your answers. This will help define your goals, objectives and strategies. Be sure to think about what you want your post to accomplish.

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3. Implementation

Continue the process of monitoring and listening as you send your posts out. Social media provides instantaneous and ongoing data for reach, response and relevance. You have to be able to keep up. 

Consider the following:

  • How are messages resonating with the audience?
  • What is trending?
  • What is working?
  • Which hashtags penetrate?
  • Which hashtags get abandoned?
  • What is the real-time discourse?

Articulate your responses to these questions in a narrative that summarizes your answers. Remember that implementation is all about execution. This is where you take your goals, objectives and strategies and put them into action to reach your audience. Make sure you track your milestones and note any implementation issues or crises that arise.

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4. evaluation

Decide prior to posting when you'll evaluate. Assess the progress and results of the campaign and process.

Consider the following:

  • How did the messages resonate?
  • Did the discourse cause changes in attitude, actions or behaviors?
  • How can this support a holistic assessment with SMML?
  • How do you compare to the competition?

Articulate your responses to these questions in a narrative that summarizes your answers. Take time to measure the results of your messaging against your original goals, objectives and strategies and determine if your messaging has accomplished what it set out to do.

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