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Social-Media Listening vs. Social-Media Monitoring: Truly Connecting, or Merely Collecting?

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Most companies know they need to pay attention to social media, because it provides the richest data sets of consumer information that have ever existed. So brands know there's an opportunity, and they fear being left out if they aren't tapped in.

But what's the difference between monitoring social media and listening to social media?

Many times those terms are confused or used interchangeably. Scores of solution providers and technologies have sprung up, all promising to help companies understand what people are saying about their brands online.

What do you really need to know? We'll explore the differences between monitoring and listening analytics, with emphasis on the value of true listening.

In short: Monitoring sees trees; listening sees the forest.


To borrow an analogy from public health, imagine that a mysterious illness has struck your city. The equivalent of a monitoring solution is to find as many sick people as you can and treat them. You could "monitor," going door to door, checking each person for signs of sickness and then treating each one. You would have an effect, but it would take many doctors and nurses—and a lot of time. And if you don't get at the root cause, another outbreak could occur across town.

The listening analytics approach looks for themes and patterns in the data. A listening approach would discover what caused the illness—"Aha! They all were exposed to the leak!"—how it spreads, which treatments are working, and (perhaps) how to prevent it in the future.

Effective epidemiology requires finding patterns that lead to an overall response—even a cure—not finding one more sick person.

So, put another way: Monitoring finds symptoms; listening finds causes.

Let's bring the discussion back to marketing. The monitoring solution attempts to find individual posts. Most companies in the space are monitoring only. They gather comments that include a few brand-related keywords. Generally, such solutions don't provide analysis; rather, they simply "scrape and dump."

For marketers, consumer feedback—from the Web, call centers, or letters—has always been a challenge to use effectively, because it's nearly impossible to go through piles of raw data verbatim in a useful and timely manner.

Few agencies, marketers, or brand teams have the time to examine thousands of comments to look for patterns and insights. Yet many of the social-media monitoring services now available do little more than collect comments.

Such tools are not what you need as a strategic marketer. If you want to tap social media for insights that drive strategy, it is critical that you use an analytics solution that does the following:

  • Analyzes data and aggregates points of commonality to help you understand overall trends and ideas without your having to read every comment. In fact, the best listening platforms offer great value by discovering themes and patterns.
  • Finds themes without being prompted by keywords, so you can listen without bias. It's also a time-saver to simply turn on the analytics and let them run. Keywords are a feature of just about every monitoring and listening application, but a powerful listening platform will discover themes without them.
  • Automates the highly labor-intensive aspects of recording, analyzing, categorizing, and visualizing data and insights. A genuine analysis platform uses technology to process all the comments into a cohesive and informative report.
  • Enables marketing leaders to evaluate the analysis without the need to hire or consult with data experts.
  • Offers a genuine price value so the brand has the resources to make analytics usable.

One of the easiest ways to differentiate among offerings is to examine the reports they produce. If a report consists of periodic, uncurated lists of hundreds or thousands of comments, it will be challenging to make effective use of it.

Similarly, if the selected solution has a long delay between reading the market and providing expert-driven reports, there won't be time to act in a timely manner.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to those extremes. Look for a highly automated solution that will discern key observations and trends. A real-time stream of random comments isn't as useful as a daily analysis of critical insights. Insights drawn from social media have limitless applications for driving marketing strategy and tactics.

Below are four marketing applications that best leverage the power of the social Web and demonstrate what a listening platform can help you achieve:

  1. Design campaigns. Discover themes, ideas, and verbiage for campaigns that will resonate with target audiences. For example, if you are marketing to women, you may find that your customers call themselves SAHMs and WAHMs—stay-at-home moms and work-at-home moms, respectively. That insight can help you craft effective advertising and communications for the target audience.
  2. Evaluate campaigns. Track the ideas, conversations, and words most important to campaigns by identifying which attributes your brand owns and which attributes your competitors own. In turn, you can then benchmark shifts in awareness, attitudes, and behavior.
  3. Advise digital-advertising spend. Determine the most efficient and effective distribution of a digital-advertising budget. It provides a contextual approach—finding the conversations that matter—to placing digital ads on social-media sites.
  4. Drive innovation. Tap into the ingenuity of smart, loyal customers. Find groundswell support for new products in the white space or subtle improvements to a current product's features.

To collect mentions of your brand around predetermined keywords, a monitoring solution may be appropriate. But if you want to fuel insights that will drive marketing strategy—if you value themes and patterns to make sense of the whole—you need the power of an analytical listening platform.


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Dan Neely is the CEO of Networked Insights (www.networkedinsights.com) and has been instrumental in the creation of the Networked Insights social-media listening platform SocialSense.

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  • by Drew Spencer Tue May 25, 2010 via web

    Hi Dan. Great article. There are so many people rushing into the "Analysis" space who fail to get this point. I talk often to my clients about "data" vs "intelligence" and how one will tell you what happened and the other tells you what to do about it. I will reference this article to further illustrate that point.

  • by Mark Evans Tue May 25, 2010 via web

    Dan,

    You make some excellent points. Right now, monitoring is all the rage because it's new and easy for companies to grasp and understand. As the market evolves, there will be more attention on listening because it will give companies a better and more informed idea about what specifically is happening and, as important, what they should be doing as a result.

    cheers, Mark

    Mark Evans
    Director of Communications
    Sysomos Inc.

  • by Kevin McIntosh Tue May 25, 2010 via web

    Great point about leveraging the power of social media tools to detect trends. I have a short online demonstration I did using Radian 6 to show how to look for conversation trends using the conversation cloud widget to develop content strategies widget at my blog.

    http://socialmediaroadtrip.com/social-media-workshop/content-strategy

  • by Maya Grinberg Tue May 25, 2010 via web

    This is a great article about the importance of actually incorporating the information you learn by monitoring your social media channels. One way to incorporate things like this into promotions you create (which was mentioned in the article) is to use a tool like a platform to quickly create dynamic, engaging promotions of all types (like sweeps, video/photo/essay contests, etc). One great tool is Wildfire-- one of Facebooks 12 verified consultants, using Wildfire to create your promotion, which could then run in Facebook, or Twitter, and microsites, ensures that your campaign is working within the (sometimes strcict) guidelines of Facebook...whats cool too is that you don't need to be technically savvy at all to create one, there's just a 6 step wizard you go through to create your promo. Check it out at http://www.wildfireapp.com

  • by Michelle C Fri Jun 4, 2010 via web

    Great article, Dan. I'm writing an article write now about sentiment analysis, actually, that I think ties in nicely with what you wrote here. It's not about "thumbs up", "thumbs down", but the insights that a monitoring service can really offer to the client. We rarely furnish "just" dashboards to our clients because it is the studies and reports that really add value to the data that we find, and allow us to withdraw usable insights that reflect their images online and what it was they were trying to monitor.
    Nice finding you here

    Best,
    Michelle @Synthesio
    Web monitoring and research

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