Expanding Our Idea of Listening in Social Media


Everyone says that listening is central to social media success, but over time, we've fallen into a too-narrow interpretation of the metaphor. Think about it: if listening means monitoring, then we have too many words. Fortunately, they don't need to mean the same thing. We just need to expand the way we think about listening.

Here's the definition of listening implied by many posts and presentations:

Defensive keyword monitoring of social media for customer problems and complaints that need a communications or customer service response.
In the social media buzzword compendium, that's a great example of listening. But as a working definition, it leaves a lot out. Almost every word imposes a limitation on finding all of the value in a listening strategy. We can do more.

How can we expand the definition of listening?

  • From a defensive posture to developing valuable market intelligence.

  • From keyword monitoring to applying all of the technologies available to discover and analyze relevant online content and activity.

  • From monitoring to metrics, mining, and interpretation. It's a metaphor, so there's no reason to be stuck with the word's literal meaning.

  • From social media to all media and customer communications.

  • From a focus on problems and complaints to an interest in all relevant conversations.

  • From PR, marketing, and customer service to anywhere the information has value to the business.

  • By collaborating across measurement silos to find the right methodology for the task.
More formally, I think of listening as the application of intelligence and analytics to social media (and other sources), but that's so many syllables. If you don't mind, I'm going to continue to say "listening," and when I do, you'll know that I'm talking about a lot more than monitoring Twitter for your brand name. 'k?


Ok, so you and I are clear on the extended definition, and I won't bug you about :).

But how about clients and the rest of the market outside the SMA bubble? I think this is where we have to really make the distinction clear, and where having distinct terms is necessary to draw attention.

We already have more specific terms, all of which show up in various conversations. I'm looking at a model that includes 5 modes of listening. One step at a time. :-)

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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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