Are We Listening Up The Wrong Tree?


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I love social media, and I love making sense of things. It was only natural that I was trying to monitor and make sense of the social web even before I got hired by the company formerly known as Biz360. Needless to say, now I can monitor a lot more sources and find a lot more things, and even prioritize them, using the Attensity360 platform, which makes both parts of me happy: the social media part and the dorky analytical part. Because it’s such a huge part of my life, I take monitoring for granted, as do a lot of folks in social media, technology, marketing and other related areas. Whether or not we use or even make monitoring platforms (and here’s an awesome wiki of monitoring platforms created by Ken Burbary, by the way), we expect that monitoring is simply a way of life. Every once in a while, I come across a contrarian viewpoint (while monitoring social media of course), which fascinates me and reminds me that the way of life in our social media ecosystem is not necessarily the way of life all over the world. After all, it’s the contrarian viewpoints that challenge the status quo and make us grow (wow, that almost rhymed :) , while helping us refine and strengthen our own thinking.

The post that sparked the idea for this blogpost was written by Karl Harvard of EConsultancy a couple of days ago. Harvard takes a view that as social media becomes more and more mainstream, the everyday consumer who doesn’t want to be eavesdropped on, will get turned off more and more by the fact that brands are listening, analyzing, and sometimes engaging with her directly. He posits that as a consequence, “brand consumer trust will diminish”. Moreover, he states that organizations won’t want to track social media anymore because the time, effort and resources associated with listening and responding online buzz. Both are valid points, and I’d love to share my views on them.

Before diving in, it’s important to delineate three different processes at play here: listening, analysis, and action. First off, the notion of people getting turned off by brands listening has some gravitas, but it’s not as black and white as that. The most important thing at play here is the intent and the business goal — how the business uses information gathered through listening. Secondly, deep analysis on a very large scale is going to be necessary to address the issue of scale that Harvard refers to. As volume increases, you need to be able to process and analyze social media mentions en masse, and need a solution to do that (this is where unstructured text analytics like ours come in handy). This is the science of social media; action is the art.

The end goal of listening and social media analysis is always action. Some actions are explicit, like reaching out to people and participating in conversations, and responding to queries and complaints. Some actions are more implicit, like analyzing information in aggregate to help drive better product decisions. It’s not the act of listening, but rather what you do with the information, that can potentially backfire.

  • For example, if you are in fact collecting feedback to improve the customer experience, that’s a worthwhile undertaking, and I see nothing wrong with it. By the way, this feedback *is* given by customers in the open public forum, so I believe it’s fair game, but that really opens up a whole different conversation, which is appropriate for its own blogpost. A social customer myself, I often provide my unprompted advice (sometimes a rant, and sometimes a compliment), and I do hope that brands are listening and making my feedback part of their product. This is where analysis comes in handy, which helps you identify top drivers of the brand conversation (ex: product is hard to use, too expensive, etc.).
  • Engagement is also a type of action you take, but unlike learning and building upon the knowledge, you are actually responding back to the person that said that trigger word you are monitoring. Now THIS is where things have the potential to get creepy. Just like in person, you shouldn’t join every conversation, and the same applies online. Here’s one of my favorite quotes on the subject (and I apologize that I can’t attribute, as I can not remember who said it and where): “Every social media conversation is a potential conversation you could be in, but it doesn’t mean that you need to be in every conversation.” Brilliant, and nothing more to add to this.
  • To make matters more complicated, there are different types of engagement. This is where intent and business goal matter, as we discussed above. If you are responding to a question, query, compliment or some kind of confusion around the product, then you are given a bit more leeway, as the customer is talking about you (or to you) directly. If you are helping at the point of need, there’s nothing wrong with that. Service is one of the key tenets in brand involvement in social media, and the social customer is probably expecting or at least hoping that someone is will help. On the opposite end of the spectrum is engaging so you can promote your brand. This by itself merits its own post, because this is where we are getting into the art of social media. SPAMming someone with your message just because he / she uttered a keyword you are tracking is never OK. However, establishing contact and becoming a helpful resource to someone checking out your category of product is more acceptable. There’s a thin line between the two, and these nuances need to be navigated carefully. When in doubt, just ask yourself if you would do the equivalent offline. Just like you wouldn’t walk into a social gathering and start selling your product right away, you wouldn’t start tweeting the same off the bat. Above all, listen and think before you speak. You need permission to share your message (note the difference between sharing and shoving down someone’s throat), and you have to earn that permission first.

In some ways, we are still in the uncharted territory here. What do you think of social media monitoring in regards to citizens’ response to it? Is it creepy? Or does it help us work better together? What do you think as a business? Now, put your customer hat on and tell us what you think. Is your feeling different or the same? The comments are yours!

Photo credit Florian Seroussi

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maria Ogneva
I'm the Head of Community for Yammer, the enterprise social network used by 100,000 organizations, including more than 80% of the Fortune 500. At Yammer, she is in charge of social media and community programs, fostering internal and external education and engagement. You can follow her on Twitter at @themaria or on her blog, and Yammer at @yammer and company blog.


  1. Hi Maria What’s important is the context of the listening as opposed to the content. If you are simply eavesdropping with a context of “what can I learn to benefit me/us” then you will get limited value. If your context is “learning” that would be good, if it was “prepare for engagement”that would also be good. Like every other business activity, context first then appropriate content. To me listening is one of the unsung skills of business, in the past and even more so now. See Mitch Lieberman’s post today entitled “Social Hearing Versus Social Listening, There is a Difference” at


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