The Need for a New Listening Movement: From monitoring to learning

The market for listening services is rapidly maturing with vendors such as Radian6, Spiral16, Crimson Hexagon,, Lithium, Sysomos, and many others improving how businesses monitor consumer conversations and experiences. The wide array of options and capabilities are nothing less than baffling, requiring expert analysis prior to committing any significant investment of finances or organizational resources now and over time. For those seeking top line advice on the differences between many of the top listening vendors, please read this helpful post at

I’m not going to take this time to preach about the importance of listening nor am I going to focus on which platform will best meet your needs. I would like to explore a very real issue around the enterprise-wide adoption of monitoring systems, or perhaps better said, the lack thereof, and also what businesses should think about as social media becomes increasingly consequential to the organization.

Social media is praised by experts for its promise to open up dialogue between customers and businesses. Perhaps most notably, social media is celebrated for giving a voice to the consumer and eyes and ears to companies for which to see and listen. The reality is that customers always had a voice. Social media amplifies and organizes that voice and packages it as a tremendous gift for businesses ready to earn relevance in a new genre of consumerism. Nothing matters however, if businesses are not ready to learn, engage, or take action based on what they hear.

According to a recent study by Capgemini, 57% of businesses currently monitor online conversations about the brand, products or services. But 20% do not listen at all and another 23% of respondents weren’t sure whether or not the company is listening to online conversations.

Yes, businesses are learning to listen. But what does that actually mean? To what extent are businesses capturing insights, solving problems, learning from recurring themes, and engaging customers and prospects? According to the Capgemini report, the conversions of conversation to action are impressive, but nowhere near their potential.

The majority of businesses polled, 41%, only respond to customers when a direct question is asked. This behavior must shift to full engagement to realize the opportunity that lies before them. Engagement is the currency of relationship building. Those that listen and engage across a greater set of conversations, 36%, are well on their way to building a social businesses. However, there are 20% today that listen and never respond. This is a number that I actually would like to see diminish over the years.

Monitoring vs. Listening

Everything indeed starts with listening. But, notice that the word “listen” is absent in the Capgemini graphs above. Instead, the industry is standardizing around “monitoring” as it more accurately reflects the behavior of businesses today in social media. Monitoring is the process of tracking keywords and reporting on the various attributes surrounding the activity of each. For example, tracking mentions of the brand, products, key personnel and also competitors are analyzed and reported out to key stakeholders to portray the state of conversations and sentiment, capture the share of voice, and set the foundation for benchmarking and metrics. Monitoring also encompasses potential crises and serves as an early warning system for businesses. Listening however, builds a layer on top of monitoring that examines conversations for enterprise-wide learning and cross-functional engagement. The difference between monitoring and listening is initiative, the ability to take what’s observed and take action internally or externally to solve, improve, or validate experiences.

The enabler for listening is monitoring, but a case must be made for action as defined by responding, connecting, and adapting. This case must emphasize how corresponding actions improve customer experiences, relationships, and in turn, influence their capacity to act and guide their peers. To listen takes a culture focused on customer-centricity and a philosophy that is intended to steer customer experiences.

Revisiting the Capgemini report, we can clearly see that 32% of businesses surveyed are on their way to designing what many would refer to as a social business or a social enterprise. These companies see listening as an integral part of marketing, selling, and servicing customers. As customers continue to come into focus, 32% see listening as a means for better understanding customer sentiment and needs and another 25% view social media as an additional customer service channels.

Asking the Unthinkable

In a time when progressive companies such as Dell and Gatorade are celebrated for their newly erected social media command centers, it is their ability to truly listen and their openness to allow conversations to reverberate throughout the entire organization that serves as a next-generation model for customer-centricity. But how many businesses can build a command center where technology opens doors to bona fide organizational transformation? Sure, many large organizations house sophisticated business intelligence divisions and certainly big data is well on its way to dramatically impacting how a business captures, analyzes, and translates data into actionable insights, but in the mean time, social media lives outside of B.I. and thus is limited in its ability to transcend silos.

To listen to conversations and build an infrastructure that can 1) Learn, 2) Engage, and 3) Adapt across the organization, the construction of a listening framework becomes far more complex than merely monitoring keywords and reporting out to key stakeholders. And for those of you who have had to program dashboards in some of the most popular social media monitoring systems, you can attest to the complexity of development. Factor in the complications of programming, the typical user experience of most monitoring platforms, and the day-to-day needs and responsibilities of stakeholders, and you’re faced with a series of hurdles that impede adoption. These challenges face any organization looking to scale the act of monitoring, let alone the development of an infrastructure for supporting engagement and adaptation.

Programming dashboards around keywords, filters, exclusions, associated alerts is arduous. Deploying these systems across the organization and expecting lines of business and other business functions to adopt complex systems is an incredible ask. Many monitoring vendors offer dedicated or part-time resources to support programming and also monitoring, which businesses are keen to employ based on resource limitations and lack of expertise. But those services come at a notable cost. And, the cost of adding seats and keywords to these systems is also not inexpensive. More important, these costs are not commensurate with the perceived value of “social media monitoring” among executives.

An opportunity exists for outsourced command centers to assist social businesses with monitoring, listening, and engagement support while the overall value for social media and customer-centricity matures. Whether this model exists within a vendor infrastructure or that of an agency that maintains multiple vendor relationships, organizations need cost-effective, efficient, and proficient solutions at the ready.

Existing vendor support models are expensive and limited in scope as tied to the product.

Current agency models are dedicated to the function they are typically designed to serve, for example, marketing, advertising, service, etc.

A new model built on the technologies, systems, and processes powering some of the most renown command centers in play today, can help expedite the customer-centric evolution of a business and how it listens, learns, engages, and adapts over time. Additionally, this model can free-up resources within the organization to build the necessary architecture to capitalize on social opportunities to demonstrate business critical value and the overall promise of social media to executives and stakeholders.

I’ve had an opportunity to work with some of these hybrid models where the best of each system is employed against the needs of each business. Expertise is part of the value proposition and that know-how is translated into actionable insights and opportunities for the companies they help. As businesses mature, the listening framework migrates internally, preserving the investment and setting the stage for scale and adoption.

Businesses testing outsourced command center models will report both challenges and successes. But nothing about the evolution of business is designed to be easy. We’re dealing with culture and a significant investment in legacy systems and supporting processes. The reality is that the future of business is based on listening and the actions that manifest as a result. Businesses are forced to invent frameworks as they go, but stepping back to address the bigger issues of what monitoring and listening solves and accordingly, how that translates into tying business priorities and opportunities is where businesses must initially focus. Building an infrastructure around those answers is the opportunity for stakeholders, vendors and service providers to solve today.

Are you a vendor with ideas or experiences that can help businesses?

Are you a representing a brand that is solving this problem?

Are you a service provider that has built an outsourced command center?

Please share your insights in the comments section for the benefit of all.

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. More so, he humanizes technology’s causal effect to help people see people differently and understand what to do about it. He is an award-winning author and avid keynote speaker who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation and innovation.

Brian has authored several best-selling books including What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business as Usual. His blog,, is ranked as a leading resource for insights into the future of business, new technology and marketing.

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