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4 September 2018

Active listening and listening at scale: how to apply scientific insights to noisy data

Written by: Dan Kent-Smith, Senior Vice President at Edelman

Consumer Trends & Insight, Digital Trends

You often know when someone isn’t really listening to you. They don’t look like they’re paying attention, their eyes wander; they’re quick to jump in with their own anecdotes and they expect you to hang off their every word. We all know those people.

We also know people that do listen. They do pay attention and seem to have a genuine interest in you and what you are saying. Some people do this naturally. For others, it’s a skill that takes time, patience and practice. They listen and understand over just hearing. And you trust them more because of it. This is active listening.

How to improve your active listening skills:

When actively listening, you must remain neutral and not form an opinion too quickly. You need to hold back. And you need to give the other person time to present their thoughts and feelings. Done correctly, active listening can help you improve your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. And even help you become better at resolving conflict and misunderstandings.

As an active listener, there are typically five key steps you go through:

  1. You pay attention
  2. You physically show that you are listening
  3. You provide timely feedback
  4. You defer judgment
  5. And you respond appropriately.

The key benefit to this technique means you become better at communicating. You can improve your workplace productivity and even develop better relationships. This skill, while difficult to master, is a skill that is valued, taught and encouraged by companies the world over.

And if the same companies place such importance on this internally, shouldn’t they also adopt similar practices externally? And if so, how do they do this at scale? How do they listen with empathy at scale?

This is where social listening comes in…

It’s part art, part science and involves the process of tracking online conversations around the topics, keywords and phrases that are important to you. In doing so, you can build relationships with your customers, resolve conflict, discover new opportunities and create tailored content.

If you’re only paying attention to notifications, you’re missing the point and you’re missing most of the conversation. Why? Because content can move across and between channels in unpredictable ways, and you never can tell where the content will be consumed.

This requires marketers to develop and embrace new skills and rethink how they tell their stories.

Building Trust…

The value of understanding the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of customers breeds trust, and we know from the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, that trust is in decline globally – particularly so when it come media, which is now the least-trusted global institution for the first time. As @Richard Edelman (CEO of Edelman) said, “The loss of confidence in information channels and sources is the fourth wave of the trust tsunami”. Trust is built in drips; lost in buckets.

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case and there are a number of approaches you can use to help listen to the voice of your customer. There are a multitude of tools at your disposal too, but tools are not the answer. You still need a human element to decipher, understand and act. Ensuring you act on the results is vital here. If you don’t act, your findings become nothing more than a interesting observation.

Is social listening the same as monitoring?

In short, no. Monitoring collects every social mention and conversation, enabling brands to react. It’s a tactical approach – reactive and micro focused.

Here are some areas where you can use this approach:

  1. Customer care
  2. Community management
  3. Crisis monitoring

Social listening, on the other hand, will help you learn, explore and glean insights from conversations.

Social listening can inform:

  1. Industry landscaping
  2. White space identification
  3. Emerging trends & potential issues
  4. Influencer identification and mapping
  5. Content ideation & creation
  6. Strategic product and innovation decisions
  7. Crisis preparedness, risk analysis and planning

What to consider when embarking on a social listening programme:

  1. Where to listen:

Identify where people talk about you, not just what they say and cast a wide net. Chances are, the way people talk about you will differ by channel. Understanding this enables you to create an appropriate strategy to join the conversation.

  1. Learn from others:

Look to your competitors to understand what they are doing, the conversations they are having, the approaches they take and even the mistakes they make.

  1. Think big and involve your entire company:

Your findings will typically touch many different internal departments. Social listening efforts will provide a wide range of information that can inform decisions across departments.

  1. Set benchmarks:

As you start to collect social data, you’ll develop a sense of what’s normal for your brand in terms of the amount of conversation and the overall sentiment. Once you establish your benchmark, you can actively work to improve those numbers.

Benchmark not just against your own data but that of the competition too. This gives you a sense of your overall place within the industry.

  1. Rank your performance measures:

Organise your results by the highest performing content. This should be based on your objectives and will help to quickly surface the most impactful stories, people and platforms.

  1. Investigate the peaks:

Identify the stories/events that were instrumental in increasing the level of brand attention over time, and contrast this with the content that drives the most engagement.

  1. Take action:

As previously mentioned, if you do not act on the information you receive, then you simply have an interesting observation – and you’re engaged in social monitoring, not social listening. Social listening is not just about tracking metrics, but about gleaning real insights into what your customers and potential customers want from you, and how you can better address those needs.

Finally, it’s only through listening that you learn. This is equally important at the corporate level as it is at the personal level. Businesses fail because they do not take the time to understand their audience. Listening is the only way to understand the needs, wants and desires of your target audience. This is why listening before acting will yield better results for your business.

Feel free to contact SocialListening@edelmanintelligence.com for more on social listening and how this can help you understand the needs and wants of your customers.

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