The Quantum Mousetrap

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

Posts Tagged ‘Social Media Monitoring’

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