The Future of (Social) Listening: If we knew..

@katenieder from Dachis Group wrote a post titled “The Future of Listening: If we know what we know“.. I have to admit I was positively surprised by the fact that she is clearly stating her caveat with the current state and the potential of Social Media Monitoring and Analytics. This is quite a thing for a Social Business Consultancy I think, specifically one that’s advocating Committing to Social Media Monitoring.

One can read the disappointment when she writes:

The future of listening was the promise of evolving to unknown unknowns– things we didn’t even know could be out there. For example, the prospect of happening upon unexpected audiences (i.e. Dads?) talking about your product being used in unintended ways (i.e. eye cream for cellulite!).

Sometimes we try to identify “influence,” although there is no agreed upon algorithm to capture “influencers.” There is also no clear winner/best of breed technology with 100% accurate sentiment mining or topics analysis. I think it’s time for us to agree that isn’t the future of listening.

A little naive?

I have to admit also that the disappointment strikes me as slightly naive for several reasons. The most dominant reason to me is that it is so very obvious that the entire promise of Social Media Monitoring, as stated by Niederhoffer, stems from an opportunity seeking approach for technology, not a solution seeking approach for Customer problems. On top of that here seems to be a lack of understanding how Customers solve these problems today. More so even, to me it looks like many Social Media (snake-oil) guru’s even invent problems, because fear creates sense of urgency which creates a willingness to buy or invest.

Before I proceed I like to emphasize here that I think highly of Kate Niederhoffer and have no reason to doubt her good intentions, nor those from her employer, Dachis Group, for that matter.

The future of Listening is not Social Media Monitoring

Having said the above I do agree with Kate Niederhoffer when she says:

The future of listening– the near future– is making it work in an organization. Operationalizing listening as a standard business process. The future is a flow chart that integrates people (e.g. customer service, product), process (e.g. escalation, resolution), and technology (e.g. from listening to CRM) and disseminates results to a wider group of stakeholders.

But that should come as no surprise of regular readers of this blog. The good thing of course is that, with this post, and likely more to see in the near future, we are close to sliding the slope following the peak of inflated expectations. After that we can expect better times. In my humble opinion this cannot happen fast enough.

6 directions for Social Media Monitoring and Analytics

If you’re in the business of Social Media Monitoring, regardless if on the vendor side or in a business trying to make sense of the “social” chatter, there are a few things I would like you to consider, so that we can avoid the trough of disillusionment and go straight through to the plateau of productivity ..

  1. Stop trying to show what your technology can do. Focus on your (internal) Customer, listen (say what??), and seek solutions to solve their problems within your own core capabilities.
  2. Try not to waste too much energy on optimizing “sentiment” analytics. There are great and reliable solutions in place to capture the Voice of the Customer (you do a great job btw on getting attention for the Customer’s voice). Also here: go talk to the VOC guys and see if they have problems you are able to solve and maybe we are all surprised.
  3. Seek contact with people responsible for Customer (& community) management in your company and start sharing (say what??) knowledge and data to be analyzed together.. And maybe you can bring along the guys from point 2 too ;)
  4. Focus more on understanding the person (=Customer) who’s talking and the one(s) he’s talking with (=relationships) than on the talking itself.. After all, it’s the Customer’s relationships that should be center of a Social CRM Strategy..
  5. Seek not to understand who is the influencer, seek to understand who is influenced, to what extent, and then work your way up..
  6. Measure not in terms of conversation volume, sentiment and influence, measure in terms of Customer Engagement Value..

In short: get out there and listen, share, collaborate and solve some real Customer problems..  (if only we knew… ;)

What do you think of the future of Social Media Monitoring?

19 thoughts on “The Future of (Social) Listening: If we knew..

  1. Pingback: Top 5 reads on this blog over the past 6 months.. « Wim Rampen's Blog

  2. As always Wim, I think you are right. There are fantastic tools for Analytic reports. But as always we seem to seek the solutions in the tools and their possibility. The comfort zone of our branche is rationalisation by standard processing, KPI’s and analytics. But what we forget, the basic of our business is customer relationship which means a personal, emotional experience on the one hand and on the other hand learning our organisation to listen to the voice of the customer.
    Learning and upgrading our business.

    Being able to do that you have to have a balance between sensitivity and listening on a individual base (the unique customer) and translating that for the organisation on a bigger scale by analising and using crmtools.

    This balance will allways be fragile, because as we translate the learnings of individual customers in standard improvements or rules, the unique customer can get lost. Simply because a unique customers evolves and can be different in each situation. So in the end, in spite of all the tools we have, a good customer relationship lies in the hands or should I sea ears of the organisation Her sensitivity, her eagerness to serve the customer, her guts to stand out for her customer and the mentality to do so within the whole company is key for the real individual customer experience.

    So don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in analytic tools and I’m always looking for the next generation, but I believe in the end customer experience of the social customer is based on treating the customer as an individual.
    Even today, while the customer uses social media, we seek for rules to answer on their remarks. We seek for ways to measure our succes of our reactions we gave on the customers tweets or remarks on facebook, by measuring the number of retweets or number of fans. Immediately trying to translate it in effiency and effort. Still… the real importance is you helped a customer, you listened and acted… and maybe it’s just one customer you influencend maybe a thousand…
    you can’t always measure that… But what we do know is that if we don’t act on it, we don’t improve the customer experience, is we don’t work on that individual customer relationship, the customer will not hesitate to go to our competitor if the situation occurs…
    So not listening, not acting (and for me that is more than reacting on complaints on social media, it is also acting proactive ) will always mean a risk of losing your customer….
    Just like in real life: You have to invest in a friendship!


  3. Interesting points made. I just wanted to clarify a point from my earlier comment.

    When I said firms should not overtly focus on technology, my intention was to say that one should not be jumping on the latest “trends” & bandwagon without due thinking about their own context. The focus of most firms should be customers and using technology around that focus — not focus on the latest technologies and then force customers and employees around it.

    I do agree however with the points made above that technological advances should constantly be made irrespective of whether they serve a specific purpose today or not. At what point these technologies should be adapted is a firm-specific decision depending on the context.



  4. Good job Wim (and happy birthday). I’d like to add something to the discussion. I keep on seeing around an overload of attention on technology and modelling but I feel uncomfortable not reading – quite anymore – about the fact that the people are behaving as usual on their main relationship aspects: the big deal is on the new “medium” that empowers them but at the end is responsibility of the firms to understand how to “pull” them thanks to different management approaches that include new organizational frameworks (internal collaboration, business process re-design, adaptive case management, enterprise touchpoint blending, etc.) and application support (monitoring tools, content analytics, feedback management tools,etc.). At the end the rules are changed but the customers’ objective is always the same: great customer experience regardless of being an individualist or a fan community member. IMHO.


  5. Let’s not pass the baton (social listening) to the technology.

    Observation has always been human enabled.

    The problem with smm tools compared to other research capabilities is that we are not trying to figure out facts,

    The fact that someone is saying this or that is… compared to
    Why is someone saying this or that….

    The former is technology, the latter is human observation.

    Give ten people the same tool, with the same input, the technological outputs will be the same, the difference will be in the frame of mind and keen observation skills of the person who can identify “what’s really going on”

    #just saying


  6. Wim,

    Sorry to say, but I disagree on both points. What you hear first (and close) might be an isolated incident. That doesn’t mean you should ignore it, but you should seek more perspective and never be swayed too much by any one data point (or data source for that matter)

    As for your second point, I would agree as far as it applies to products, but not technology. Many technologies (especially if the term is used in the broader sense) that were developed without a purpose became indispensable later.

    This would hold for Einsteins relativity, quantum mechanics (where would we be without lasers?), Wittgenstein’s logic, and G.H. Hardy’s number theory just to name a few.

    In any case, I think we are in agreement that information, once ignored, has a way of coming back and biting you in the ass:-)

    – Greg


    • Greg,

      I think I should better explain the context of my arguments, specifically the 1st one.

      When I say “close” I do not mean the things you hear first on the internet. I mean listening into the channels that are already well established and known to all your Customers. Most of the times this will be the Customer Services (Call) Center, but also other means of the “old school” VOC programs work pretty well from that perspective..

      With regard to your second argument: that holds certainly true for some innovations, but I think there are many examples of innovations (also technological) that were discovered through a job-based approach. And for sure many innovations saw life, because of “accidental” stumble-upons, whilst focusing on solving real (other) problems.. Something like: when you’re looking for it you can’t find it, and when you stop, it shows up right in front of you..

      In any case we are in agreement with your last point :)



  7. Wim,

    I agree with your points, but disagree with your argument. The same argument, of course, could be made against any research that aggregates data. Much more established research methodologies have similar problems.

    So, while I think you are right to point out that one should take social listening (or any research for that matter) with a grain of salt and that it is certainly not sufficient (or maybe even necessary) to understand consumer experience, social listening can be very useful.

    Moreover, as the technology improves, we’ll be using it more.

    – Greg


    • Hi Greg,

      Great to have you here. And I think we are in full agreement. I’m not saying to get rid of sentiment analysis, I’m merely advocating to start acting upon what we hear first (and close) and furthermore to start listening to other important elements, than the conversation itself, too..

      Most importantly, to really focus technology improvement we should not look at what we think could be, but first and utmost at what problems we need to solve.. Then we will not only be using it more, but more effectively ;)

      Thx again for stopping by. Let me know what you think!



  8. Wim,
    I agree with your points about not focusing on technology or measuring abstract concepts like sentiment value. Even with all the advances in technology and semantic analysis, it is still very easy to make an erroneous classification on the sentiment and the true meaning. This is mainly because the “listening posts” cannot translate the non-verbal signals like body language, sound inflections, touch etc. As you said, a firm can benefit more by focusing on the customer and the relationship.

    I also agree with Kate’s comment above that firms should do some serious thinking on what they will do with the information they collect through these listening posts (if they have those set up). In that regard, it is true that the value is not in the information itself but on how it is used and disseminated.



  9. @Kate I missed your comment sorry. I think you are agreeing with me. I call it Clienteering – those processes and skills needed to turn the listening (to both customers & employees) into actionable insights that change the customer experience for the better.


  10. Hi Wim We have still to speak directly but a happy 2011 to you and your family. I think the issue often in this discussion is the context of the listening rather than the content or the how of the listening. For me there is a blurring between customer and employee and the key “currency” (the context) has become “actionable insight”. We need to recognise that new roles (with appropriate skills, personality & authority) may be required and new cross functional structures implemented. Social media is part of a big shift from top-down, inside-out business to bottom-up, outside-in. We should all be watching and learning. These changes in business have a long way to go.


    • Thx Ray,

      No need to have spoken in real life to wish me the best and/or be part of the dialog ;)

      So many thanks for doing so. I have no argument to differ your opinion (or for the avoidance of doubt: I agree!).

      Hope to see you back here at another occasion.

      All the best to you and your family for 2011 too.



  11. Hi Wim, I’m confused by what I think is a beef with my post, in the form of a validation.

    I’m not really disappointed in Listening platforms. I think there are some great pieces of technology who harvest data wisely and retrieve related intelligence in very clever ways. NM Incite with their MyBuzzMetrics platform is an obvious example, having pioneered the “space.” ScoutLabs, BrandWatch, Sysomos, Radian6 each have their own exceptional merits.

    What I’m disappointed in is ‘our’ (the royal collective of people interested in and/or involved in social media) focus on how accurate automated sentiment is or which platform has the best anecdotes of capturing hidden gems (unknown unknowns). There are awesome advances in semantic analysis and information retrieval that are seeping into listening platforms across the board.

    In my opinion, what’s more important than that right now is to build a business process that affords the notion, not the features.

    People get caught up in the ‘cart’ of identifying the perfect listening platform before the horse of building a process that connects the right people with the right information with the right frequency. I think you agree with most of this.

    You reference having had similar thoughts before, so I’ll try to come back and visit in the future. Thanks for extending/referencing my post.


    • Hi Kate,

      Thx for stopping by. I had every intention btw of notifying you today and to ask for your response. Good thing you were listening :)

      For the avoidance of doubt let me start by saying I fully agree with the conclusions you stated in your post, and more so with the conclusion in the comment here.

      The main reason for my post is threefold:
      1. We should have been concentrating on improving the actionable part of listening from the start. I feel we have lost valuable time trying to improve the reach of our hearing whilst there’s a lot to listen to close by.

      2. Because of the same reason we have also lost valuable time in understanding better how influence spreads (if at all) through our listening posts. These have been focused so much on WHAT has been said, that WHO said it to WHOM is underdeveloped. Now, it i important to understand what is being said, but if you can’t tie it to Customers and their value (to the Customers) it will never evolve beyond finding and responding to comments, or measure of mention-volumes after an attempt to launch a viral campaign.

      3. Very few, if any, have been trying to understand the true impact of all (new) chatter on the Customer’s Experience. That’s why we get all aroused when some bad service example goes viral, but no deep impact analysis (on the Customer level and from HER perspective) has been done.

      I think it’s about time, and that’s what I read as the main message in your post too, that we acknowledge the shortcomings of technology (your caveat, I thought) to date, and, instead of investing more and more time in improving the one capability, start investing in elements that drive real business and Customer value. To that extent I’ve listed 6 suggestions..

      Let me know what you think of those?


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