The Quantum Mousetrap

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

Posts Tagged ‘Needs and wants’

The difference between Monitoring and Listening to Social Media

Saturday, 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

Listening: social media’s 4th dimension

Monday, May 24th, 2010

There is this wonderful story in the world of physics used to describe dimensions. It goes like this: An Ant is walking along a very long, looped, thick, cylindrical wire.

Wait! What the heck has this got to do with Social Media!!?

Patience grasshopper! And shuddap and listen for a change!

Let’s call the ant… Adam. Adam Ant. It has a nice ring to it yes?

Anyway, Adam is happy. He is wired to his universe. In his 3 dimensional universe he can interact with others, follow them, exchange information, and help out. With a vibrant and active community Adam does not lack the opportunity to engage in conversation, exchange information, interact with others, help out, meet others, or participate in activities.

Are you seeing a parallel? Does this world sound familiar to something you are in, right now? …Community on line (get it?), with roles, followers, activity, interaction, help, and conversations, all within a self-defined, self-perpetuating system? Sounds like the current Social Media universe?

Viewed from Adam’s vantage point and broadly speaking, Social Media’s 3 current dimensions are:

  1. Social Media Marketing (buzz, followers, sentiment, demand generation, and awareness)
  2. Social Media Communication (do I need to say more)
  3. Social Media Engagement (interaction, relationships driving perception)

These 3 (MCE) have been well studied, documented, with many a wise word written and oodles and oodles of content created about these activities to understand and help us use become more aware of these 3 dimensions. There are many careers that have been built on their platforms and its foundation. This is good. It should be encouraged. It advances the collective body of knowledge to drive SM participation reach, excellence, collaboration and contributions.

Back to the Adam Ant… As a member of the online community he’s not focused on, nor is he even in a position to be able to broadly Listen to the community. Sure, he can talk 1:1, or 1:100 if he shouts really loudly, or 1:1million if his megaphone and following is big enough, but he can’t listen to, or easily make sense of, the vast number of conversations in the online space. His measures of success and passions are limited and well understood too. His focus is participation and engagement.

But like the Dark Energy and Matter that scientists say pervades and influences how the real universe behaves, Adam feels the effect of a 4th social media dimension, but because of the level of activity around him, it’s very difficult for him to see it. Unlike his activity-driven universe which he can reach out and touch, this 4th dimension is much harder to understand, harder to measure, and much harder to “do” well, consistently, and predictably.

What is that 4th Social Media dimension?  … Social media listening

To put this 4th social media universe dimension into perspective, imagine now that Adam’s community is contained in a great big glass Ant Farm, one that contains a larger number of communities, all living their lives quite blissfully unaware of the world beyond the glass wall.

Certainly Adam is impacted by those outside who observe his community, and as a result, make environmental or other changes. After all, the community’s health is at stake. He participates, but the Listening dimension interprets his participation as “feedback”, and if it is doing its job, it has the option to take that feedback and make changes to the ecosystem as needed to keep Adam engaged and happy.

Exploring, understanding, and getting “really good” at 4th dimensional Social Media Listening is the next frontier.

What is Social Media Listening: It’s defined in terms of having the …

  • Commitment (executive sponsorship, the will or the awareness to invest in social media Listening and data science)
  • Capacity (Funding. Moolah. Dough. Some grease to keep the Listening effort functioning over time)
  • Capability (Providing the right tools and people to enable Listening)
  • Competencies (Alignment of roles, responsibilities and accountability. Organizational excellence)

…to create a framework that pulls in the voice of the community on one end, has people, process and tools to generates actionable insights while assigning them to competent individual subject matter experts in the middle, who then make changes to the customer experience on the other side.

Why is it in your interest to have a SM listening strategy?

Why is listening to 2 billion online conversations a year a good thing? And why is it important EVERYONE make an effort to get good at it?

  • Why not? If you are a business or person intent on gaining traction and awareness, what better (and more efficient) way to know what actions you need to take next than to first listen to what your customers want!
  • If you don’t, you are getting ½ the story: Most businesses and enterprises focus on Social Media Marketing (creating, gathering, or generating Followers and fans, Newsletter subscriptions, site visitors, click-rates, Communicating messages etc). That’s all great, and necessary. But SM Marketing is not SM Listening. Surveys, focus groups and other data collection methods traditionally used in marketing science disciplines are aimed at guiding decisions based on customer sampling, and they have their place and time. It’s a narrow, focused, time-bound method of getting a pulse. I’m not against surveys and focus groups. (Part of my previous job was to own the Survey strategy and governance for our line of business, so I get it) But that’s not broad Social Media Listening. Marketing’s purpose is to build and raise awareness. Listening is about gaining insights from EXISTING conversations.
  • SM listening provides unmatched, real-time early warning signals: If you want near-real time feedback, there’s no better way that I know of to hear what your customers are saying about you. BTW, putting up a survey on your site, or in a presentation is not SM Listening. Surveys are a fantastic tool in under certain conditions, but have been overused and abused. Surveys have inherent design problems that few understand…overcoming bias, sampling, stats and other math. I’ve seen many scorecards which have used averaged averages and other weird (convenient) math. It takes special skills, from trained professionals, to produce high confidence results, AND, to competently interpret the numbers without bias. You’ve probably got Monkey results if you’ve ever used surveyMonkey to run your surveys. Show me a result you “want” and I’ll design a survey that gives you that result. Survey results are easy to manipulate, and politicians and special interests use surveys to get the results they want to suit their agenda all the time.
  • Listening gives you what you “need” to hear… the good, the bad and the ugly. Marketing analysis gives you what you want to hear (focused, keyword driven data). To listen to SM conversations is to cast a broad net with very few keywords to cut the bias out of your Listening. The result is that you become a consumer of conversations, as opposed to, in Marketing, a conversation influencer.
  • Listening inspires innovation: There is no person or team on Earth who can compete with the collective power of all the brains, and ideas, and passions of all social media participants. They will invent new ways to use and abuse your products than you ever thought possible, and think of more new “if only it did…” features than you ever will. Which team wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of those Listening insights?
  • Listening completes the ROI story: Much has been written about Social Media metrics like reach, followers, sentiment, awareness, visitors, sales, conversion, net promoter scores, subscribers etc) But most, if not all of these measure SM Marketing success and effect. SM Listening takes your ROI story to the next dimension. Imagine your scorecard that also includes the following:
    • Product and Service quality improvements (Customers will see a difference)
    • New feature/service innovation (Competitors will struggle to keep up)
    • Business, process, cost efficiencies (doing more of what’s needed, and less of what isn’t. CEO’s Love this)
    • Influencer identification (long term deeper customer engagement and retention)
    • Key themes for SEO and content generation (making it easier to find, solve and engage)

In the spirit of listening, I’m going to now shut up and Listen – to you. I’m sure that you can think of a number of reasons and advantages to having a social media listening strategy. Comments welcome.

Over time I intend to write about social media Listening challenges, how to overcome them, and go deeper into the skill requirements and processes needed to set up and run a great social media listening system. I hope you will stay tuned. (See subscription links in the right column)

Reach out to me on LinkedIn if you wish. If you do, mention the Quantum Mousetrap. Mention Listening in the 4th dimension.