Seven Steps to Building a Better Listening Program

Posted by: in Analytics on August 20, 2012

I do not think I have seen anyone run any kind of correlation between the explosion of social media and the subsequent explosion of social media listening tools, but I think it’s safe to assume that the two are related in some way. From 2007 (when I was first exposed to the tools) until the present day, the application of listening tools has also evolved. At first companies were using tools like Radian6 and Sysomos much like they were using Factiva and Cision — to read and respond during a time of crisis. That’s a perfectly fine application, but it is only about 1/10th of the power these tools posses.

It is only over the last two years that we have truly seen listening tools used to its full potential by brands, and even that adoption is limited to the usual suspects. What do I mean by using tools to the full potential? I mean gathering conversation data in real time to change content to meet the community’s needs. I mean gathering real-time feedback on your product(s) and feeding it to the product development team. I also mean using listening data for proactive customer service outreach. How many of those applications are you currently undertaking today? Granted, not everyone of them will make sense, but the bottom line is if you are using a listening tool for only corporate reputation you are not getting your money’s worth.

So how do you turn your existing listening program into something that offers much more value to your organization? At last week’s Explore Social Media in Minneapolis I outlined seven steps. Here they are:

  1. Think toolbox, not tool – There is not a data capture tool on the market today that will serve all of your needs. Listening tools are powerful, to be sure, but they do not capture everything. Think about what combination of tools — customer service, web analytics, search analytics, conversation analytics — you need to be successful.
  2. Develop a social intelligence supply chain – Using the toolbox above, how do you route and display information within the organization? This is a critical step that is most often overlooked.
  3. Institutionalize standard metrics and models – Presenting the same metrics and using the same approach to data gathering is essential to delivering actionable insights and ensuring overall credibility.
  4. Determine the right reporting cadence – There are different models for different audiences. For example, if you are presenting to an executive audience then it makes the most sense to roll up data every quarter. If you are using the data for real-time content, though, it may make more sense to present findings every week.
  5. Using analysts to hand code data – While the tools are becoming more sophisticated, nothing yet replaces the analyst who understands the business and the tools.
  6. Protocols for crises – If you are familiar with your issues, know what drives share of conversation, know who the influencers are, know who you would talk to in crisis, know the top search words people use then you are in good shape. Do you know all of those?
  7. Build a team who understands the business – This goes hand-in-hand with #5, but having analysts who understand the tools and the business is absolutely essential. It’s the only way you will develop actionable insights.

Those are the primary building blocks to building an effective social media listening program at your organization. If you would like to see more of my presentation to Explore Social Media the deck is below.



By: Chuck Hemann

Director, Analytics

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6 Responses

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  1. Chuck – Great piece. As companies place more focus on listening, they still lag behind not in tools/process, but in the empowerment of employees. It certainly goes beyond having protocol for how to deal with issues that arise – as frankly, companies either lack or don’t support the ability for employees to think on their feet. Until they achieve this, the vast majority of real-time advantage in listening is lost.

  2. Chris – Couldn’t agree more, sir, hence my callout of human resources here. The reality is that there aren’t a lot of people who I would deem to be good analytics pros.

  3. As always, enjoy the opportunity to stop and think after reading one of your posts. Seems to me that you struck pay dirt with #7:

    Build a team who understands the business – This goes
    hand-in-hand with #5, but having analysts who understand the tools and
    the business is absolutely essential. It’s the only way you will develop
    actionable insights.

    Part and parcel with the notion of a team that understands the business is the ability to discern noise from meaning in social listening. The only way for listening to produce actionable outcomes is if you can have some assurance that what you hear is worthy of action. Today’s listening techniques are just beginning to achieve the level of comprehension and discrimination to be able to recognize meaning in a background of noise. Until the technology becomes proficient in this art, we’re left to rely on human discernment… which means we can collect more data but it’s largely up to human intelligence to tell us whether we should be paying attention.

  4. Awesome advice, Chuck!
    In terms of your 5th tip, I think that having a great analyst is always a good call for any company. While I work for a company that makes social media monitoring and analytic software, I can honestly say that our tool is going to get you so far. It will help a lot, but having someone who can interpret all the data and gain real insights from is key and should go hand-in-hand with any tool.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos & Marketwire

Continuing the Discussion

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