| Jun 13, 2023 | | 12 min read

What is social media intelligence? And why your clients need it


For most businesses, social media is a powerful tool that lets you engage target audiences, build community and trust, and foster connections that encourage people to enter your sales funnel. But the power behind this web of social media comes with great responsibility — responsibility no one else will shoulder for you or your clients.

Be successful with social media on behalf of your clients by downloading “The ultimate guide to effective social media for business” now.

Gathering social media intelligence for your clients with the right tools help you take charge of that responsibility, gaining insights about audiences and activity to inform strategies and help you protect your brand — or your clients’ brands.In this article, we’ll provide you with a better understanding of what social media intelligence is and how you can leverage it for your client’s business.

What is social media intelligence?

Social media intelligence occurs when you gather data, analyze it, and use it to understand the behaviors, motivations, and other factors behind the data. It’s commonly confused with related concepts such as social media monitoring and social listening. Check out the table below to understand how these concepts differ.

Social media monitoring Social media listening Social media intelligence
Gathers data about activity on social media Yes Yes Yes
Uses AI and other data analytics tools Yes Yes Yes
The typical level of action taken in response to the data Individual Campaign Strategy
Main goal To identify customer and audience feedback for proactive response To gain a better understanding of the overall sentiment of an audience To explore the why behind audience feedback, sentiment, or behavior

Best practices and guidelines for social media management always point to the importance of understanding your audience. All of these processes help you do that, though social media intelligence typically digs deepest.

Not that type of intelligence

You might also hear the term social media intelligence referred to in a government or law enforcement context. In this context, it’s an umbrella term to cover the monitoring and analysis activities various public agencies may use as part of surveillance endeavors (Privacy International). While some related tasks may be similar to gathering social media data for marketing purposes, the intent is not the same. Government intelligence is not the type of social media intelligence discussed in this article.

Why is social media intelligence important for business?

Whether you’re selling social media packages and want to wow your clients or you’re working on social media strategies for your own agency, intelligence and detailed data insights are critical to success.

The details help you understand where to spend time and money on social media for optimal ROI. When you use the right social media intelligence tools, you have an effective crystal ball that lets you make predictions about social media marketing performance and tweak client campaigns for continuous improvement.

Audience insights

Common social media analytics consider data such as target audience demographics, interests, and behaviors. These data points help you understand the audience, including their needs and wants. That can make your social media efforts more effective because you can address audience concerns directly.

Example: social media intelligence for an HVAC business

Imagine an HVAC business in the deep south. Obviously, its customers are concerned with climate control during the summer. Social media listening might help the HVAC business know that its target audience is also concerned with cleaning air conditioning units. That knowledge alone can be powerful for marketing — the HVAC company knows it should share cleaning and maintenance tips and information about related services.

Social media intelligence goes even further, though. Armed with the right analytic tools, the HVAC business may discover that the root concern for many customers is mold and mildew in and around the HVAC unit. By addressing these detailed concerns, the HVAC business differentiates itself from the competition and builds trust with consumers.

Competitor analysis

With the right tools, you also get insights into competitors on social media, helping you understand their strategies and how audiences are engaging with them. This knowledge is critical to using social media in reputation management, as you can identify subtle or outright attacks on your clients’ brands or products.

But competitor analysis has benefits for your social media strategy too.

  • It helps you identify gaps where client needs aren’t being served. You can step into those gaps, enhancing brand reputation and authority by providing content no one else is providing.
  • It informs competitive content. When you know what the competition is doing, you can do it better or more appropriately for your target audience.
  • It lets you join the conversation. If a topic is trending in your industry with competitors, it may be important. Competitor analysis helps you know when to step into these conversations.

Example: competitor analysis for coffee shops

Consider a hypothetical local chain of coffee shacks that offers drive-through service for customer caffeine cravings. The chain uses social media to connect with customers, drive traffic to its coffee shacks, and keep its audience informed on special deals and seasonal flavors.

What if a local coffee shop launches a campaign to pull traffic from the drive-through shacks and into its location? Perhaps it insinuates that high-quality coffee can’t be made in a small roadside shed. Social media analytics ensures the coffee shack business knows what’s being said and can address quality concerns with its own social media content.

ROI tracking

The right data lets you track the actual value of your social media efforts. When you can show stakeholders evidence of improved engagement, increased conversions, and higher revenues, you inspire confidence in your social media strategy. It’s a must for any marketing team and is critically important for agencies that sell social media services. If you can’t demonstrate return on investment (ROI), your clients have no reason to stick with you.

Example: Demonstrating ROI for subject-matter experts

Imagine an agency working with a client business that has previously run its own social media campaigns. The client subject-matter experts might be set in their ways, but the reason the business partnered with an agency is to increase ROI. The agency proposes radical changes to social media strategies that the client isn’t sure about. The ability to draw on intelligent data analysis to demonstrate the ROI differences between old and new strategies can help ensure the client warms up to the agency’s suggestions.

Trend analysis

Reading about social media ideas for businesses and brainstorming with your team are both great ways to come up with new content for client social media pages. But you should also follow the data. Social media intelligence tools help you keep tabs on the latest trends and topics across industries relevant to your clients. That leads you to create content that:

  • Resonates with the target audiences. Posts that integrate important trends and current topics are often more likely to interest the audience.
  • Positions the client as an authority. When clients appear up-to-date on important news and industry trends, the audience is more likely to see them as experts.
  • Aligns with current best practices. Some trend data may indicate new best practices for social media marketing and engagement.

Example: Bath and body product trends

Think about an organic soap and body wash brand. As a business that caters to customers concerned about ingredients, the brand likely posts about organics, holistic wellness, and sustainability. Strong social media intelligence might indicate a trend of comments and interest from the target audience in essential oil and aromatherapy for stress relief. The brand could capitalize on this opportunity by boosting its essential oil-related products and providing tips about using essential oils for this purpose.

Influencer marketing

Influencers who are organically interested in a brand, who have a mission or promote values that align with the brand, or who have a follower base that matches a brand’s target audience are positioned to help a brand grow. You find these influencers with good social media analytics.

Example: Influencer marketing for home education tools

Imagine a company that publishes home education tools designed to make learning math easier and less frustrating. The brand’s unique value proposition is that its products help parents strengthen math skills in young children without tears on either side.

If this brand engages in social media analytics, it may discover a homeschool mom blogger on Instagram who talks a lot about gentle education tools. The mission and values of this influencer align with those of the brand, making her a potentially ideal partner for social media marketing.

How to set up social media intelligence for your agency

Now that you know the benefits of social media business intelligence, it’s time to set it up for your agency. One option is to choose white-label social media management services with Vendasta and let us do the work for you.

If you choose to keep social media and marketing data intelligence in-house, the steps to setting it up are:

  • Establish goals and KPIs. There’s no point in measuring something if you don’t know what success looks like. Define the purpose of your social media strategy and what metrics and measurements indicate success.
  • Identify the target audience. You can’t monitor the entire internet. Define the target audience so you can narrow your approach for more accurate social media analytics results.
  • Identify competition. Do the same with the competition — target what really matters. You may not care what brands unrelated to the target niche have to say, for example, and muddying your data with those details can make analytics more difficult.
  • Select social media platforms to monitor. Capture data and analyze results of social media efforts on the most important platforms for brand messaging and the target audience.
  • Choose the right tools. Select tools that support all the details above and are user-friendly and easy for your team to use.


As a social media marketing agency, you must work through all the steps above to set up social media monitoring and intelligence for every client you work with.

Best practices for social media intelligence (200)

Consider hiring a social media intelligence analyst who understands marketing concepts such as target audience and messaging but also has experience managing and analyzing data.

Ensure you leverage data insights to inform marketing and PR strategies by:

  • Creating workflows to route seedling crises to PR.
  • Providing insights on campaign performance to marketing teams.
  • Supporting optimization of ad campaigns with data.

Tips for effective social media listening

Optimize the efficacy of social media listening and monitoring with best practices such as:

  • Listening for relevant words. Include the brand name and social handles, product names, brand slogans and taglines, public-facing brand employee names (such as the CEO or spokesperson), branded hashtags, and topical keywords related to the industry or your campaigns.
  • Targeting listening. You can’t monitor everything, so target your approach to the appropriate audience segments and the platforms that most matter for the brand.
  • Listening to the competition. Include competitor brand names, social handles, product names, taglines and hashtags in social listening parameters.
  • Allowing for some false positives. If you set parameters too broadly, you’ll end up with a lot of data that isn’t relevant. However, you can also set such narrow parameters that you don’t get a full picture. Instead, aim for no more than 5 percent “false positives” — data that doesn’t really fit what you’re looking for. You can filter it out in the analysis stages.
  • Sharing insights with the right people. Pass on pertinent information to the client or others within the company. Teams that might benefit from this data include marketing, sales, public relations, customer service, compliance and risk management, human resources, and executive leadership.

How to use social media intelligence to inform business decisions

Just as millions of likes on social media don’t necessarily translate to an increase in sales, social media data analysis doesn’t automatically translate to better business decisions. You must act based on the data by:

  • Analyzing customer behavior. Use social media intelligence tools to tell a story about customer behaviors. The narrative that comes through the data can help you understand a brand’s relationship with its customers and target audience.
  • Learning about customer preference. Data analytics can help you understand what the target audiences or various customer segments want and need. When you understand common challenges among your audience, you can offer proactive advice or solutions via social media.
  • Identifying industry trends. Industry trends can inform your current strategy or future campaigns. You can even capitalize on trends by using the information you uncover — or encouraging your clients to use it — in research and development phases when brainstorming or creating new products or services.
  • Improving customer service. Real-time insights into social media data can help you improve customer service by answering questions and resolving issues quickly. With the right tools, you can leverage AI to help keep up with responses and ensure customers get the information they need when they want it.
  • Mitigating brand reputation risks. A deer frozen in the headlights doesn’t help its own survival, and a brand paralyzed by negative feedback or other trouble brewing on social media is in the same position. Be prepared to act quickly based on social media data insights to protect a brand’s reputation by turning negatives into an opportunity for growth or good customer service.

Of course, you can only take action on data if you have the right information to begin with. Vendasta’s Social Marketing tool helps you capture social media data to inform marketing strategies and other business decisions.

Frequently asked questions about social media intelligence

What are some common challenges in gathering social media intelligence?

Collecting the right data and converting it into formats that provide actionable insight can be challenging. Analyzing data to understand its story can be difficult for organizations, especially when the data isn't comprehensive, the right tools aren't used, or people lack training in social media data intelligence.

What types of data can be collected through social media intelligence?

The raw data that can inform this type of intelligence includes engagement metrics, such as likes, shares, comments, saves, and follows, as well as impressions, clicks, and conversion rates. With the right tools, social media intelligence goes beyond these metrics to capture data about brand sentiment, social share, mentions and trends, and a wide range of demographics.

About the Author

Lawrence Dy is the SEO Strategy Manager at Vendasta. His career spans from starting as a Jr. Copywriter in the automotive industry to becoming a Senior Editorial Content Manager in various digital marketing niches. Outside of work, Lawrence moonlights as a music producer/beatmaker and spends time with friends and family.

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