Every good social media strategist will tell you about the importance of listening. Listen first. Know about your audience. Pay attention to what they are saying about your brand and services. Blog posts and tweets from experts are full of these messages. There are a number of companies which are known to do a good job of listening for issues or problems and correcting them. I came across this recent story about customer issue resolution on Twitter. But for every one of these companies there are plenty more which are either unaware or are simply not good at detecting these.

There are plenty of articles about the tools which allow you to keep track of the topics of your interest on social media. Given all this, why is it so hard to “Listen”? Here are some of my thoughts – would love to get your input and feedback.

  • Listening proactively requires dedicated effort and time – something which many busy business executives don’t have.
  • Its a shift in the way we think – most of the time we are trained to talk, not listen. Its true for individuals and its true for organizations.
  • Companies are still getting adjusted to the disruptive nature of social media. After the initial denial phase, there is the recognition that social media can’t be ignored. But many of the companies are struggling with social media.
  • Companies are not used to hearing directly from customers – definitely not from so many of them. Social media has given ordinary users and citizens a new voice and sometime they may even exploit this.
  • Too many channels, too much data – it is difficult to handle the ever growing avalanche of information.
  • There’s lot of noise and spam. Good information is not that easy to get. You might go through 100 tweets before you find that one piece of feedback which is really valuable for your product team or brand manager.
  • The measurement of influence from user generated content is not well defined. Its hard to tell users apart, other than the most obvious big names. The fact that metrics such as number of tweets or number of followers are used as the proxy for influence show how  difficult it is.
  • The standards around social media data, privacy and sharing and privacy are in flux.

In summary good, relevant information is sparse, fragmented and distributed over many channels and networks. And in many cases it is out of reach because of closed networks or lack of sharing. Even though its a struggle, companies must do their best to keep their eyes and ears open and learn the new ways of listening.

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