Corporate Eye

I’m All Ears: The Importance of Online Listening

Online “talking” has long been synonymous with online presence. Since the rise of social media, it’s been blogs, tweets, and posts that have been the indices of choice when it comes to  Social Media analytics.

But what about online listening?

Online listening has taken a backseat to online voice. In fact, online listeners have even garnered the derogatory label of ‘lurkers’ and “freeloaders who leech the energy of online communities without offering anything in return”.[1]

This situation is in contrast to general social norms, which indicate that dialogue is composed of two elements: talking and listening. So, if listening and talking go hand in hand, then why should listening continue to be left out of the equation in cyberspace?

Recent academic discussions have finally turned to the emerging importance of online listening for those corporations that recognize social media value.[2]

Psychology of Listening: How Listening Forges Customer Bonds.

Regardless of whether it is through traditional conversation, or conversation through blogs, forums, mailing lists, RSS feeds, etc., the act of listening is the most effective way to bond with the customer. It builds trust, allowing corporations to prove their credibility to their target audience. Listening also shows respect, empathy, and support for the customer. It also allows for vital exchange of information.

So, Why Aren’t Corporations Listening Effectively?

Many corporations side step the extensive time commitment of social media engagement by hiring outside contractors to tweet, post, comment, etc. on behalf of the corporation. While outsourcing social media talking is quite simple, it is very difficult to do the same with social media listening.

Corporations often rely on contractors or unmotivated and non-compensated employees to engage in online listening. This method, however, is ineffectual as it reduces social media dialogue to mere unidirectional marketing communication. This impersonal approach squelches the benefits of intelligent listening, or listening conducted by someone who is deeply invested in the company.

By outsourcing social media communication, corporations are missing out on the value-driving benefits of online listening. Online listening has been likened to a giant focus group,[2] with benefits that include the following:

  • Corporations that listen are viewed as an approachable member of a community
  • Customer opinions, questions, and concerns are brought to the forefront
  • By communicating with customers in real-time, swift and accurate customer support becomes possible
  • Reduction in the high costs associated traditional customer support models (i.e. telephone)
  • Corporations gain a global view of how the brand is discussed
  • Patterns of customer use and satisfaction are easy to detect
  • Enhanced public personae

Take Dell for example. Dell has fully embraced social media, including the practice of online listening. They have appointed a Vice President of ‘Communities and Conversations’ who acts as a strong advocate of online listening. Bob Pearson, who currently fills this role states:

Quite frankly, one of the most important things we do with Twitter is listen’, Pearson goes on to argue, ‘I don’t think you can hire someone to listen for you.[3]

Thus it is important for corporation to choose their ‘listeners’ carefully. Individuals who are invested in the success of the corporation, and who support its values, goals, and mission should be the ones to fulfill the important task of social media communications. These types of individuals will be motivated to listen to the customers, and connect with them in a way that drives user engagement, which will subsequently drive profit.

Remember, the cardinal rule of listening is reciprocity – if you listen to your customers they are much more likely to listen to you and consider the benefits of your product.


NOTE: the general idea discussed in this article was adapted from the article Following You: Disciplines of Listening in Social Media. Published in 2009 by  Kate Crawford

[1]Kollock & Smith (1996): Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities
[2] Crawford (2009): Following You: Disciplines of Listening in Social Media (PDF)
[3] Soller (2009): Twitter Unmasked. Newsweek Online