Why do companies "listen" to social media? In short, they listen to learn and improve the business. Marketers use social listening to improve their campaigns and build customer relationships. Customer support teams listen so they can fix problems. PR teams listen to put out fires before they spread. Researchers listen to drive innovation. In this sense, listening isn't a social media strategy; listening is a data collection component of a business strategy. We "listen" as a means to drive action.
But that's not really the case, is it? Most companies I speak with know that listening is important – it seems that nearly all companies know the classic social mantra, "start by listening" – but years into their social strategies, they're still counting the number of Facebook fans or tracking for brand mentions. They're listening, not acting. It's 2012, and we're still passively – without purpose – collecting social media.
This rant comes as the result of two milestones: 1) the two year anniversary of our first research introducing social intelligence and 2) the week in which Google and Adobe double down on the social pieces of their analytics offerings. Although I'd love to spend an entire post talking about the past two years of social intelligence, it took Google and Adobe to inspire me to talk about today's market instead.
In both announcements, linked above, you'll notice a salient theme: action. You'll read about how social data informs marketing strategy. How tying social data to web analytics or marketing measurement helps informs campaign actions. Each link addresses the value of intelligence from social data. And the word "listen" doesn't appear in either.
Watching two industry giants increase their collective focus on social data – and the actions it informs – supports the idea that social intelligence is just on the horizon. And although these won't be the only players making social data actionable, I'm sure these announcements have a lot of listening platform vendors paying close attention. Especially given our recent stance that listening platforms must grow up. But it's not the vendors' fault that their customers haven't fully built social intelligence strategies. Having the right tools and having the time, resources, and knowledge to use those tools are two sets of issues.
It's been two years since our first public use of "social intelligence," yet I still see many companies monitoring social media, some listening to customer conversations, and few beginning to find intelligence in the data they collect. As a result, I'm currently working on a report addressing a social data maturity model. My goal with this research will be to help companies measure the maturity of their current practices and learn what steps they must take to evolve. It's coming together well so far and will hopefully publish in the next month.
If you have some ideas of what separates listening from intelligence, I'd love to hear it below in the comments or on Twitter. And hopefully, with the help of the right resources, 2012 will see many more companies guide themselves past listening – and into action.