Moving from social hearing to social listening

Everyone says it, and yet few social media marketers seem to take their own advice to heart.  “It all starts with listening,” they say.  And everyone nods their heads in agreement.  But how many follow through?

In a micro-second world where focus and attention is often marginally greater than a cursory study, it seems to make sense that professionals deep inside the world of social media would have even less time to really listen.  I think that we have made the mistake of confusing hearing with listening, and buying into the jargon that social media monitoring really is the same thing as social listening.

In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Listening is about taking the next step from simply hearing what people are saying to internalizing what they are trying to convey.  It is about finding context within content and matching feeling with thoughts.  Social media monitoring in itself is just data.  It is the content and the thoughts, but it does not convey intention.  For marketers to take full advantage of social data, they need to look at more than just what people are saying and how often.  Graphs that show volume fluctuations are great, but how does that help you figure out what you should do based on what your customers are telling you?

Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler, once said, “I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”

If you can’t show that you have listened (not just to your customers, but also to yourself and your company), then how can you improve to meet their needs?  Some people think that this type of listening is mainly about driving product innovation.  But it is much more.  Analytical rigor applied to social media data can help improve future marketing campaigns, fix customer service issues and pinpoint better ways to generate interest for products and services.

This cannot be done within the confines of a social media monitoring product.  It is, however, a necessary first step.  So, monitor.  Hear what people are saying.  Then, take the data out.  Put the data into visualization or business intelligence software.  Have a data analyst look for trends that match content with context.  I know that this is not easy, but at least you won’t be tricking yourself into thinking that hearing is the same thing as listening.

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