Listening Is Not (Only) Defensive


defense.jpgAll together, now: "Companies should listen to social media." We all know the advice, but do you have the impression that listening is a purely defensive strategy? It's not. You just have to move beyond the common, but limited, interpretation of listening.

How often does your defense score?
In a recent survey of management, marketing and HR executives in the US, Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law found a strong defensive leaning in respondents' current use of social media. The top reasons they use social media?

  1. Read what customers may be saying about our company (52%)
  2. Monitor a competitor's use of social media (47%)
  3. See what current employees may be sharing (36%)
  4. Check the background of a prospective employee (25%)
  5. None/personal use only (16%)
Not exactly the way I would put it, but this isn't entirely a bad start at listening. At least they've gotten some of the message. It's a little heavy on the fear motivation, but it's a start. The trouble is, it's only a start.

Put your listening on offense
Think about my earlier list of conversations you should care about, and let's come up with some things you can do with the information you find. Defensive ideas are easy (and rampant). Let's focus on putting some points on the board. I'll start:

  • Spot sales leads where prospects ask questions or contact you through public channels.

  • Figure out a competitor's plans from their public statements and personnel changes.

  • Figure out a customer's plans (and needs) from their public statements.

  • Identify a competitor's weakness in online complaints; launch a product or program to exploit it.

  • Identify a product or service opportunity in online discussions; fill the gap before competitors notice it.
That's a short list; what does putting listening on the offense make you think of?

Listening can be defensive—and if you're not monitoring for customer complaints and other problems, start. But don't stop with defense; think about how to apply it to advantage, too. Although it sounds passive, listening doesn't have to be either passive or defensive. Don't be satisfied until you find the path to profit for your business.

Thanks to Deni Kasrel and Bill Ives for pointing out the report and the defensive tone of responses to the question.



I completely agree with everything you said, and always have felt that the "corporate surveillance" or "fear motivation" skeptics unfairly pegged this industry in a defensive for far too long. I've witnessed the evolve of audience reactions to listening/monitoring services from the beginning and I have to say its one of the positive aspects of this spaces maturity that is warmly welcomed.


Hello Nathan,

I think it is tempting for managers who are unfamiliar with social media to fear what it can do to their company’s reputation before realizing the potential opportunities, as it is still new territory for many. “Listening on the offense”, for example, can be an opportunity to fix a genuine problem. Customers are extra sets of eyes that can to spot problems with a company’s product, customer service, delivery services, etc. that may have been overlooked.

Also, social media forces companies to be ethical, which is always a plus for the consumer. There have been numerous cases of companies trying to buy consumer trust via fake reviews, fake blogs, etc. They have learned the hard way that social media has revealed companies’ reputations for all to see, whether they are ready or not.

You make a good point that listening does not necessarily have to be negative or positive. It can be both, sometimes even at the same time.
Thank you, as always, for your insightful post.


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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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