In a society where social media (especially Twitter) is bursting with our every thought and (literal) status, it’s no surprise that social media start-up Sickweather was able to leverage social conversation into predicting something like flu season. In fact, Sickweather proclaimed that flu season began in October, over a month prior to the Centers for Disease Control. How were they able to do this? By social listening. By monitoring conversation about flu symptoms, the company was able to see a 30% increase of flu chatter in October, which lead them to predict flu season earlier.

Besides this specific start-up, how might social listening help a business? Well, if you’re in healthcare marketing and are able to predict emerging trends with something like the flu, then you can begin offering flu shots earlier (and be the first in your industry to do so). Listening to social conversation can actually help you enact meaningful changes that impact your business–and your bottom line–positively. Perhaps flu season is not your business’s bread and butter. Instead, you’d like to monitor social conversation about exercise to predict when people are most likely to join a gym. Doing this can help you predict what times of the year promotions will be most effective and learn about new, popular forms of exercise (for example, something like yogalates). Another example: let’s say you own a health food store. Foods also go through cycles of popularity. For example, monitoring conversation about recipes might reveal an increase in popularity of kale, sweet potatoes and quinoa. Matching social conversation with your previous sales data can allow you to make data-driven decisions about your store’s inventory. Make sense?

Think of it this way: you ask for solicited feedback from your customers all the time, whether formal or informal. Social listening is a way to monitor unsolicited (e.g. completely honest) feedback about your brand, product and industry. The expansive data that can be obtained can inform virtually every business decision when applied correctly. If you are able to predict when people will need your product most, you can stay ahead of your competition with inventory, pricing and additional promotion. Whether it’s a flu shot, running shoes, or sweet potatoes, social listening can help you predict sales fluctuations and optimize your business accordingly.