Baer Facts, Social Media Case Studies, Social Listening

Social Listening: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

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In this edition of The Baer Facts, I talk with Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget about the double-edged sword of social media listening and response.

Should We Reconsider the Facts About Social Listening?

“Listen” is the dogma of social media. Every social media consultant since the dawn of Friendster has a slide (or 23) about listening in every presentation. It’s the axiom that power the entire social media value proposition for brands. Eavesdropping on customers conversations yields positive outcomes, period. Or does it?

A recent study by Netbase and JD Power & Associates found that the customers upon whom we’re deploying our listening mojo may not be all that keen about it. Here’s the key, head-scratching finding:

42% of consumers expect brands to respond to positive comments in social, but 43% say social listening invades privacy (Tweet This)

Slides about the study here, and good summary/coverage from Brian Solis here

So what’s a brand to do when many of the people whom you’re purporting to help in social media are wary and dubious?

Who Benefits From Social Listening?

With social media increasingly becoming a preferred (or at least accepted) method of customer support, I don’t believe brands can or should stop listening, even at risk of incurring the wrath of 43% of consumers. You’re probably going to listen, and I hope you do so aggressively. In fact, I find that most companies are listening too narrowly, and that the vast majority of social listening programs are still centered on brand names and other late funnel keywords.

But remember this:

The difference between helping and selling is just two letters. (Tweet This)

Consider: Are you listening to help your customers and prospects? Or are you listening to try to insert your brand into conversations where it’s not wanted, or it’s too early in the consideration funnel, or it’s just icky and inappropriate. How you measure and report on your social listening program internally may give you some clues about your motivations.

It’s a fine line between listening and annoying, and toeing that line effectively may require your company to staff your social listening function with more experienced people with greater judgement and nuance capabilities, rather than the entry-level troops that are often handed that assignment.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Yes I believe it’s key, when inserting yourself into a conversation, that you need to add value. If you don’t you will probably be considered rude, obnoxious, and lose credibility and the any potential opportunity. Listen 1st and speak relevant speak only. You can add your brand into future conversations with those same people. Safe travels!.

  2. nectafy says

    It comes down to the same principle over and over. Do you put the consumer first or your company? When you put the consumer first and not force a brand conversation you are showing respect. Respect = Value.

    Thanks for the timely reminder of priorities.

  3. says

    Is responding to this post considered “good creepy”?

    Much can be said about a brand that listens with the intention of genuinely helping. A caring brand is a valued brand. A valued brand is (hopefully) a profitable brand.

    Ergo, to use nectafy’s equation model:

    Success = Brand(Listening + Helping) * Value(Caring + Profit)

    Math isn’t my forte. So maybe just ignore that part.


  4. says

    Social listening requires restraint but not sloppiness. Treat online conversations the way you would offline ones that involve human beings, and not merely brands and consumers.

  5. Graciousstore says

    If brand is on social media, it has to actively silent to hear what customers have to say, and then respond appropritaely

  6. Andre Niemeyer says

    Excellent piece Jay! And you got some great nudgets in there that can serve as guidelines for protocols and also staffing.

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