The Quantum Mousetrap

Mark Eduljee's blog about Social Media Insights Intelligence and his FlightSim Movies

The difference between Monitoring and Listening to Social Media

November 27th, 2010

True story: I received a rather irate email a couple of weeks ago from a fairly senior Marketing Manager who had been forwarded a copy of one of the Voice of Community Social Media Listening Intelligence reports that my team publishes inside Microsoft, asking me (or was it, demanding?) to explain why I was providing this social media listening, because my team is already monitoring and measuring social media.

While I was surprised that this person had incorrectly jumped to conclusions and made some incorrect assumptions about what I did, I was not surprised (mildly amused actually) by how loosely this person had scrambled “Listening” and “Monitoring” together into the same sentence, interchanged and interwoven the two concepts, and then served it up on burnt toast.

But it’s no wonder…even Bing and the other who-shall-not-be-named search both serve essentially the same slices of over-toasted results if you search for the terms Social Media Listening or Social Media Monitoring.

There is however a big difference between the two, especially when viewed through the lens of, and within the context of, customer insights, marketing research, tools, analysis, and tracking.

Here’s how the two differ:

I hope you will agree that while both functions use social media as a data source, their metrics, nature, framework and goals are both are very different.

Now I know what you are thinking… “Wait! Can’t I get actionable insights by Listening to my View, Sentiment and other metrics?!!?”


I’ll maintain that you are not listening. You are analyzing numbers for trends and patterns which will probably cause you to drive some sort of activity to improve a process or become more efficient from a production pov to move those numbers towards some set goals. And that’s not a bad thing. But it’s not listening.

Listening is about hearing the voice of your customer. Really good, unbiased Listening is about tuning into the conversation which is being organically DRIVEN BY THE CUSTOMER… not by you, on their own timeframe, at the locations of their choosing, using the words they wish to use to express their experience. That gives you listening intelligence. It can either confirm what you already may know, or, it will lead to new insights and discoveries (that’s the really exciting and VALUABLE part of Listening). That’s why if you bias your social media intelligence systems with specific keywords (things that I think are important to my business and that I’m interested in tracking), or locations (places where I know my key customers have told me they visit), or if you scope it to people or locations (I only want to hear from select, important customers), you are then monitoring social media. You have defined what you want. You are not listening to what you need to hear.  (See related post about Needs vs Wants: I want a Lollipop! …NOW! )

Is one “better” than the other? No. Each has its place. Each has its uses. Each has its benefits, and challenges.

But to confuse the two will cause team and business decisions that rely on their outcomes to shift and shuffle, incorrect assumptions to be made, and worse, will cause decisions to be made on the wrong insights and metrics.

As an example:

Let’s take a simple case: You may have heard or been witness to something like this… “Our social media listening tells us that our content views and our reach (followers, click through) is declining. To turn these measurements around, and to demonstrates that we are listening to our customers, we will launch a new ad campaign expanding it to 5 more languages, simultaneously updating our Online Help documentation, and adding 5 new sales incentives on our site”.  (Sounds like a great plan!)

Now let’s suppose that in a parallel universe (same people, same set of circumstances — this often happens in the Quantum Mousetrap), the Company has a distinct listening framework: It is not goaled with monitoring, but with the gathering and analysis of social conversations to discover voice of community insights. These insights then lead to the realization that Customers are blasting the Company (and spreading the word) in social media for an objectionable post it made to its Blog. This is hurting the company’s reputation, causing customers to desert the brand. (Less views, followers etc.) Knowing this, the decision is made to post an apology to the blog with steps being taken for corrective action, and to run an ad campaign focused on rebuilding company and brand trust.

Same metrics… but two different sets of decisions based on being clear about whether the discovery causes changes in production and campaign activity, or if it is insights based on listening to the customer voice to change strategy.

This difference was further highlighted at a conference I recently attended, The Market Research Event (TMRE) in San Diego. There I presented “Social Media Listening: How to drive big ROI”, (nice/kind review in SurveyAnalyticsBlog). At the event, I mentioned to the Marketing Research pro’s in the room that Social changes everything…everything about the way customers and businesses have traditionally interacted, exchanged, engaged, communicated, shared, recommended and opined. And since this is Market research’s (MR) traditional playground, I summarized that MR would need to stretch and evolve to account for this new reality too.

There were a few who seemed mildly threatened by this picture, but generally, the reaction I got was more along the lines of curiosity and excitement for what the change could mean. A few even privately admitted to me that the shakeup would be good for an industry that is top heavy with traditionalists who insist on maintaining fixed/established industry process. But in its defense, MR probably plays the traditionalist card I bit more than it would like to so as to keep the trust of those who rely on its data. (“They are solid and dependable!”)

Consider these amazing metrics about online social trending and participation globally:

  • Internet users up 13% Y/Y1
  • Twitter up 75% Y/Y2
  • FB up 51%Y/Y3
  • Search up 11% Y/Y4
  • Mobile international up 37% Y/Y but with only 14% penetration5

How will this trend towards social “change everything” for marketing research in the coming years?

  • The Social conversation is always on, and growing: Unlike traditional Marketing Research projects which are switched on and off, Social Media conversations never sleep. Someone somewhere is always creating content, expressing an opinion, or building relationships which will have a direct, collective effect on your product or service. There will no longer be a need
  • It’s always being updated: Social Media technology provides customers worldwide to provide updates to reflect their current experience.  No longer is the data out of date the moment the research project concluded.
  • It’s always relevant: This is because the conversations change with the experience relevant to the product lifecycle. If it’s a to-be released product, the conversations will reflect that reality. If the product has just launched, guess what the conversation will be about. And as it sunsets, conversations will trend towards the next version or evolution.
  • It has a historical “memory”: The conversation only evolves…its never deleted. It’s always there to be listened to by anyone who is willing to hear it.

All this means that Marketing Research will face a growing need to evolve away from its reliance  on traditional “offline” methods it uses to gather customer insights… surveys, panels, interviews, observations etc. True, surveys and other MR instrument can be shifted to run online, but that’s not the point.

The question that needs to be asked is this: Why not Monitor activity and Listen for insights in conversations that your customers are already having? Why spend the time and resources to build MR instruments and projects to create and collect customer insight data that already exists in Social?  Oh – you don’t agree that it already exists?? ..Then take this simple test…Think of something — Anything.  And Search for it. Chances are you are not going to draw a blank search result.  Admittedly, the result you see may not be exactly aligned to your topic, or what you expected, but that’s a function of the quick-and-dirty search method you just used, not that there is no data about your subject across the spectrum of Social. And that’s the point: The data is there. The challenge is to develop clearly differentiated Monitoring and/or Listening systems which can effectively, efficiently, reliably, and predictably tap into the always on, updated, relevant and historical social universe. (How to do that was the topic of my presentation at TMRE. I’ll post a link to it here in the near future… as soon as TMRE posts the recording)


  • Clearly differentiate what you are doing/trying to do – Social Media Monitoring, or Social Media Listening. One is not worse or less desirable than the other. Each has its place. Gaining this clarity will help to scope effort, focus goals, set assumptions and expectations so your business gets what it needs, at the time it is most useful.
  • Social changes everything. Evolve the Market Research discipline to meet this new reality. Companies who evolve their near-term, on again/off again project-based marketing research efforts away from easy measurement and Monitoring of social media campaign trends and engagement (reach, followers, sentiment, keyword tracking etc.), and, instead, invest in a longer term social media research, analysis, and Listening  strategy based with an investment in a framework of people, process, and technology goaled with listening for revenue and/or efficiency intelligence (the right information, at the right time of the lifecycle, from the right community source/authority) will have both a competitive and a customer perception-influencing advantage.


Closing thoughts… the function of Listening to the voice of Social for the purposes of identifying actionable business insights to improve the customer experience is an emerging discipline. It’s harder than simply subscribing to social media monitoring tools. Listening takes more time. It takes added investment. It needs a long-term commitment. The payoff however is timelier, more relevant, justifiable, actionable, customer insight intelligence.

Are you monitoring your Marketing or Support social media activity, or are you listening to the voice of your customer for actionable intelligence and insights?

Credits: Data from a Morgan Stanley presentation by Mary Meeker at the Web2.0 summit in SFrisco 2010

1) Internet user stats per International Telecommunications Union
2) Twitter user figure reflects global unique visitors to in 9/10, per, comScore
3, 4) comScore (global unique visitors for Facebook), PC World, comScore (global user data for Facebook, Google as of  9/10),
5) Informa WCIS

Esperanza. But have a plan

October 22nd, 2010

Camp Hope (Esperanza), the name given to the hastily constructed gathering of huts and humans that sprang up over the 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,300ft (a little less than 2 Empire State buildings end over end) underground. And while hope was kept alive, and it was nurtured by their families and the global media coverage, what were the men doing down below?

They had a plan: A plan that would help to keep them sane, as safe as possible, busy, and all towards a single end goal: getting to a point in time when they could rocket up to the surface and into the daylight.

But let’s back up a bit. It was 17 days before the world even knew that they had survived the shaft collapses. And by all accounts during that time, those men increased their chances of survival 10fold by organizing themselves and putting a survival plan into place – rationing food, water, assuming roles and responsibilities, working together. Imagine if they had instead let emotion and raw survival instinct dictate their courses of action. But instead they CHOSE to create a center of survival excellence and fellowship. Brilliant!!

Such acts of sheer tenacity, foresight, maturity, calm and integrity, inspire me.

Now I know the cynics among you will postulate that “they had no choice”, and that it was in their self-interests to work together. While it’s true that they were captives of their circumstance, to say that they had no choice diminishes the human spirit.

I choose to instead to believe that when you put people into extraordinary circumstances, most often, they will produce extraordinary, enduring, and righteous acts of creativity, courage and hope… just ask anyone who has been into combat, anyone who has taken the leap to start a business or human or political venture with just the seed of an idea, or, for that matter, raised children. (I wish they came with a help manual!)…Oh lighten up<s>

This post is therefore dedicated to all those who choose to act rationally, with forethought and intent, and whose realistic assessment of their situations gives them a higher probability of getting what they need. (See also one of my previous posts about Needs Vs. Wants)

That sounds like the definition of a plan to me!

At its very basic level, planning attempts to reduce chaos and unpredictability. We humans are hard-wired to prefer order and consistency. Social settings aside, surprises are generally a cause for angst. Successful individuals and teams understand this. We tend to be at our most productive, innovative and successful when our environment is stable.

Stability, in part, is driven by good planning. I think the miners figured that out early. If you think of it, what they were essentially trying to do was to create a stable, predictable environment which would increase their chances of being rescued. Of course it always helps if there are mature individuals who can naturally assume positions of leadership and calm.

Types of plans: There have been book written dedicated to the science and art of planning, so I’ll keep this brief and light. There are 2 kinds of plans: Proactive – the timely, intentional type, and Reactive – the “we-are-playing-catch-up” type.  And the attributes of each type seem to be:

Proactive Planning is… Reactive Planning is…
Intentional Forced
Uses foresight Generally playing “catch up” or “ ! ’ang on !”
Demonstrates maturity Demonstrates adaptability and resourcefulness
Built from the end Built to get over the end
Calm, but can be intense Often done with much animation, high volume, and with your hair on fire
A risk and path quantification exercise Pffft!…Details-smeetails… just let’s keep up!
Done with a longer horizon or timeframe “Lord, please help me get through this and I promise that I’ll <fill in the blank>
ADD your thoughts here ADD your thoughts here

Contingency planning is part of having a proactive planning strategy.

While it would seem that being proactive would be better for your blood pressure, I’m not ready or willing to suggest that one is “better” than another. Both have their time and place. Both have their uses.

Brief segue….It’s now time for one of those simplistic questions I often hear – “well…which one would you recommend or pick?” Which reminds me of what Marisa Tormei said during the trial scene in the movie My Cousin Vinny, when she blurts out during cross examination…“That’s a Bull$#!t question!”. Why do we demand simple answers to often complex issues? We always seem to want, “sound bites” or, “the top three”, or “just the facts”, “Pick one”.  Sheesh. Ever stop to think that maybe the best option you may have to plan for a certain event or circumstance is to plan to be proactively reactive? Take a seat grasshopper!

Anyway where were we?…oh yes, one’s not better than the other…Any way you slice it, the learning and the common thread is that it’s always better to HAVE a plan. Now, no one’s suggesting a life of regimentation and order, but strike a balance…there is always room and need for being spontaneous, but on the other end of the spectrum are the no-planning rudderless ships who get up each day and simply react to their circumstance. That’s not healthy or helpful in the long run.

I’ve noticed that good plans seem to have these common denominators: (in no priority order)

  • There is a desired and an agreed-on set of goals coupled with a clear understanding of the end or desired state.
  • There is an honest assessment of resources, paths, risks and dependencies. Without this, plans become unrealistic and won’t have a high rate of success.
  • There’s due diligence given to testing the plans assumptions
  • Time is spent researching options (what don’t we know that can either help or hurt us). One of the pitfalls here is to let research consume the process leading to a state of “perpetual planning”. It’s then a small step to paralysis and fear of moving forward.
  • Milestones/Trip wires, or in a non-business terminology – checkpoints, are built into the plan which allows one to track progress.
  • And finally, a contingency or backup set of actions to be taken in case everything starts to head south.

But it’s not good enough to just think up the plan. You need to test it too.

One of the methods I’ve used to test any plan I hatch is to throw a bunch of scenarios at it to see if it absorbs them, or cracks. As an example: Say you are planning something simple like a Christmas do for friends and neighbors (or enter your big traditional holiday here)…. Well, those are never ‘simple’. Anyway. You figure that ~30 will show up. Great. So you plan space, eats, and eggnog with Jahmaykin spice Ruuhm accordingly. Here’s a possible scenario… What if only 15 show up? Or maybe worse…what if your friends think that they can spread the cheer and, since you haven’t objected in the past when the total was lower, that 60% of them then decide and think its Ok to bring along Family who may be visiting “No probs, <yourname> wouldn’t mind”, because “<yourname> is really friendly and would love to meet my cousins from Timbuktu ”?  Suddenly you now have >50 people, half of them strangers, in your house! …Hmm… better make sure we have a point in the existing plan to be clearer in the invitation text “This is a small, just- friends affair.  We will meet family later”. There, that should do the trick.  Phew, glad we tested that aspect of our plan.

Throwing scenarios at the plan can be as simple as thinking of a bunch of “what if..”. better yet, have someone not familiar with the plan, but familiar with the end goal to ask the what if questions – this reduces the inherent bias you have as chief planner. Or, they can be as formalized as a SWOT exercise (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Either way, the need is to be sure to test.

But look who’s talking! I’m writing this post on a flight out to a conference at angels39 (pilot-speak for 39,000 feet above sea level) somewhere over the American countryside. And for all my talk of planning and testing, I let one slip by, proving that even the great ones are after all still human <s>. I forgot to pack my shaver! An essential item in the land of civilization!! The trip has been letter-perfect (so far) except for this stone in my shoe. Dang.

So the choice I have is to now go through the conference looking like an unshaven miner who has been stuck down a hole for 17 days, or, do I sheepishly let the hotel know I’ve been a forgetful bonehead and to please send a kit up to my room?

I have the luxury of picking up the phone and asking for help. The miners had to wait 17 days.

Sometimes no amount of planning can get you the help you need quickly.

They emerged clean shaven. That was for the cameras and national pride. I’d have preferred to have seen them wear their 69 day growth as a badge of honor for the battle they fought. And won.

But clean shaven or not, it doesn’t really doesn’t matter. In the face of extreme hardship and uncertainty, those remarkable individuals chose to not see themselves as victims, to come together, and to create the ultimate survival plan, to adapt, to collaborate, to overcome, and to triumph.

So the next time you see yourself staring down the black hole of chaos, uncertainty, and ambiguity don’t do 1 thing, and then do 2 things:

Don’t see a victim of circumstance. Fate and Destiny can be influenced by choosing to plan and act.

Do have Esperanza – be filled with hope for a brighter time.

Get up, dust off, and build a plan to see yourself through to a time when you can rocket up to the surface and into the daylight.

Image credits:
Camp Hope: BBC
First rescuer: Captured from live feed