The Rise And Stall Of Social Media Listening

These 5 research-oriented steps help you select the right social listening measures and design analyses that link data to desired outcomes.

Seth Grimes, Contributor

March 18, 2013

2 Min Read

Listen first.

It's sound advice -- the social media (and enterprise feedback) version of "Look before you leap."

However, it doesn't address what happens next. Say you've implemented a social media listening program. How do you advance your use of social/customer insights distilled from the voice of the customer and other sources?

Unfortunately, companies really don't know what to do, according to Stephen Rappaport, author of Listen First!: Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage (Wiley, 2011).

Rappaport wrote the book in 2011, when, he says, listening was at its peak. Since then? We have experienced the rise and stall of social media listening.

Listening builds on social media monitoring and on traditional methods such as surveys. Unlike surveys, which we carefully design and target, social media conversations and participation are unbounded. So monitoring starts with mentions. To be useful, you must disambiguate and discern the interesting elements in social chatter. (You can get a taste for the disambiguation challenge in the title of a talk -- "Smoking... Cigarettes, Weed, Hot Girls & BBQ" -- that Stuart Shulman from Vision Critical is slated to deliver at the May 8 Sentiment Analysis Symposium. Whether beef brisket is best smoked with hickory or oak isn't germane if you're studying lung cancer.)

[ Want more on social business decision-making? Read Twitter Helps Build Social Data Ecosystem. ]

Monitoring has delivered clear benefits in areas such as customer service (a.k.a. engagement), reputation management and crisis early warning. Add in analysis that aggregates disparate voices, discovers patterns and maps trends, and you have the building blocks of a listening solution, typically delivered via a dashboard interface. (Even better: apply text analytics to uncover root causes of identified issues.)

Listening is a research technique, but programs to date -- based on the seemingly obvious notion that marketing, product management and customer support programs should respond to actual customer and market voices -- have delivered limited benefit. We monitor and survey, then we analyze and report. Typical activity, influence and engagement measures have proven to be inadequate predictors of business-relevant outcomes; so much of the "social intelligence" available is a poor guide to effective action. Those ubiquitous dashboards don't help. They describe but don't guide. We are left with a decision gap.

Listening Next Steps

Listening is a given; support for sensible action the goal. From a series of conversations over the last month I gleaned five intertwined, research-oriented steps to help you advance your listening efforts:

About the Author(s)

Seth Grimes


Seth Grimes is an analytics strategy consultant with Alta Plana and organizes the Sentiment Analysis Symposium. Follow him on Twitter at @sethgrimes

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