The uninitiated may believe “social-media listening” or “social listening” is a tool-based insight machine, delivering answers like coins from a winning slot machine. That’s far from accurate. When you begin social listening, monitoring with a tool or platform is only the first step. Listening is more proactive—and allows for a deeper understanding, leading the individual to gain insight.
Social listening is a discipline, a human-driven process aided in part by machine-based tools. Social listening is equal parts art and science.
Where the technology can be viewed purely as science, the strategy, approach and development of actionable insights are both an art and a science. Creativity and mental flexibility are used to identify the right information, conversations and context, and can be seen as the art of social listening.
The tool isn’t the solution
There are currently over 600 social-listening tools on the market, with new ones being developed and released almost daily. Each tool has its own proprietary algorithm to sort and analyze data, plus different configurations, dashboards and reporting features. The critical thing to consider, however, is that all have access to the same data and ultimately have the same limitations. There is only one Facebook, one Twitter—and each of the social-listening tools is itself a technology platform. They still require humans to not only program and develop them, but run them and develop insights from the data they help gather and refine.
People add context
It’s the human element that takes the data the tool has gathered and reads it, contextualizes it and categorizes it. This manual assessment also allows the listener to understand not just the broader context of the general conversation but the nuances of the customer experience. This listening and evaluation is an art. Two different people doing social listening using the same strategy could write a different query, take a different approach, but find equally relevant results from the data.
Having an experienced team matters when it comes to social-listening—experience not just with social-listening tools and methodologies, but with using and engaging in social-media channels themselves. The language used, phrasing and types of content shared can be very specific to certain social channels. In the process of social listening itself, experience also aids translating business questions into search queries for the tool to process. This firsthand knowledge leads to efficiencies in process and greater accuracy in gathering a targeted data set with which to work.
Subject matter experts (SMEs) make insights
The most important component of social listening is having the right people to do the work. While experienced social listeners have acumen to identify opportunities and insights, it also takes deep knowledge of the industry and business questions to make actionable insights and client-specific recommendations. That’s where it’s key you have social listeners engaged with your business team, or subject matter experts embedded with or meeting regularly with your social-listening team.Social listening is a human-guided and contextualized machine-based discipline, used to identify actionable insights to answer specific business questions. The approach people take and process can be scientifically structured—and a work of art.