Informing Social Media Campaigns Through Social Listening and Monitoring Summary


Innovative monitoring and evaluation tools that researchers and program implementers can use for social media campaigns.

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Martha Silva
Data Strategist and Innovation Team Lead


Breakthrough ACTION + RESEARCH




Breakthrough ACTION - JHUCCP (campaign implementation)
Breakthrough RESEARCH - Population Council / Tulane (campaign monitoring and evaluation)
M&C Saatchi (social listening analytics)




Burkina Faso Togo, Niger, Cote d'Ivoire

Target Users

Data Services Provider

Enabling Environment Building Blocks

Services and Applications

Family Planning Program Classification

Demand Generation


Social media presents a largely untapped source of unfiltered, freely volunteered thoughts and opinions from key public health audiences. Data collected on social media and other online platforms can be likened to an unstructured, qualitative dataset but often provide a larger sample size than would be possible with traditional data collection. Leveraging strategies from the field of marketing, social listening is a research, monitoring, and evaluation tool that can tap into these data to help reveal underlying attitudes and social norms about health behaviors, providing valuable insight to inform social and behavior change (SBC) programs.


Social media monitoring and social listening are innovative monitoring and evaluation tools that researchers and program implementers can use for social media campaigns. Social media monitoring refers to quantitatively tracking mentions and comments on social media regarding a specific topic. Social listening allows researchers to better understand the context of those mentions and comments by qualitatively tracking and analyzing content and how users mention interests, complaints, and recommendations.[1]

Unlike traditional focus groups, social listening analysis extracts insight from unsolicited conversations without the added bias of direct contact between researchers and participants. On the other hand, these analyses may be limited by a lack of demographic data about participants compared to more traditional data collection strategies. The USAID-funded Breakthrough RESEARCH project (BR), in collaboration with M&C Saatchi, applied social listening and social media monitoring for adaptive management and impact evaluation of the Merci Mon Héros (MMH), or Thank You, My Hero, for a campaign in four West African countries: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Togo. MMH is a multi-media campaign co-created and implemented by youth activists in Ouagadougou Partnership countries and USAID through the West Africa Breakthrough ACTION (WABA) project.

The campaign is designed to reach the growing number of youth and adults active on social media and promote an environment conducive to young people’s informed, voluntary family planning/sexual and reproductive health (SRH) service access. Campaign videos and content are disseminated via social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and more traditional channels, such as television, radio, and community activities.


Social listening techniques enable users to synthesize the universe of online chatter around selected topics. Data from social media can be quantified and tracked over time, offering the possibility of both retrospective and prospective data analysis. A limitation is that demographic data for individual posts are not accessible, making interpretation more challenging. Techniques for identifying sex, age, and socio-economic status are evolving by analyzing keywords and account activity associated with individual profiles.

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, social listening platforms will more reliably detect user demographics from publicly available social media content. Any interventions looking to leverage social media for SBC must first carefully consider the audience they aim to reach. Although populations accessing the internet and social media are growing throughout Africa, there are still significant socio-economic and gender disparities. These must be carefully considered at the project design phase and when interpreting social media monitoring and listening findings.

Applying social listening to the MMH campaign yielded valuable lessons to strengthen and shape SBC programs and social media campaigns. For example, to leverage social media effectively for SBC, future public health social media campaigns should:

  • Carefully consider who uses social media in the country or population of interest and how the campaign will align with active audiences on social media.
  • Assess which social media platforms are most active and relevant for the country or population of interest and the privacy limitations for those platforms. For example, if Facebook or Instagram are chosen platforms, is it crucial for social listening analysts to have administrative access to campaign pages.
  • Pilot multiple engagement strategies adapted to each social media channel to test which are associated with higher engagement.
  • Craft and implement a strategic content plan, including a timeline, and consider external events and factors that may facilitate or impede conversation.


Social listening and social media monitoring can be valuable monitoring and evaluation tools to aid SBC campaign design and adaptive management and help evaluate a campaign in combination with other data sources. With the rise in internet connectivity, global social media penetration, and accelerated development of artificial intelligence to enhance rapid data extraction and analysis tools, these methodologies will become increasingly relevant for public health programs and research. This is particularly as researchers look for tools that minimize or eliminate the need for in-person data collection or person-to-person contact, to avoid disruptions to data collection like those experienced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inherent biases around the internet and social media access are among many important challenges that these methodologies confront, yet for SBC campaigns seeking to engage active populations, such as urban youth, social listening and social media monitoring are useful monitoring and evaluation tools.


  1. Pomputius, A. (2019). ‘Can You Hear Me Now? Social Listening as a Strategy for Understanding User Needs,’ Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 38(2), 181–186.