Nicola Watts
Eight Reasons Why It Pays To Eavesdrop

We’re taught as children that eavesdropping is bad manners, although most will admit it can be fun to catch snippets of other people’s conversations out of context, then try to imagine what on earth they were talking about!

But don’t feel too guilty; eavesdropping is apparently a natural instinct that’s hardwired into all species. Birds do it, reptiles do it, and other mammals too! According to linguist Professor John L. Locke in his book “Eavesdropping: An Intimate History,” it’s one of our survival instincts. Those who were better at discovering and interpreting the signals of others, while hiding their discovery and protecting their own, had a much better chance of survival.

Our attention span is to drawn to gaps in information, known as the “information gap” theory of curiosity. We’re compelled to listen in on “halfalogues” as our attention is sucked in by the uncertainty of the words. We’re riveted, and want to understand what happens next.

Social listening is the new acceptable side of eavesdropping. It’s the monitoring and listening of real conversations that people are having online about your brand and your company. Listening in on your customers’ social media chatter lets you peek inside their lives in real time, with the added benefits of being cheap in comparison to market research, and unbiased, as there is no direct interaction unless you choose to have one.

Regardless of what we say about our brands, our customers are going to have their own view, and let’s face it; no-one likes to be talked about behind their back. Social media is where your customers either praise or disparage you. Listening and monitoring what is said should not really be missed.  In standard market research, when you ask your customers’ opinions, they don’t always tell you what they really think or even remember correctly how they behaved — and that’s if you’ve even asked the right questions to the right people in the first place. Here, you get the unvarnished truth.

What’s the difference between monitoring social media and listening to social media? The two are often confused as they are similar. Social media monitoring involves tracking questions or comments about your brand or other brand related keywords that appear on social media, and sometimes replying. Social media listening involves a more systematic approach to monitoring, and takes it a step further, looking for themes and patterns in the data that can provide applicable insights which can then be leveraged to provide new opportunities or create new content for those particular audiences. Put simply, monitoring looks at individual messages, while listening evaluates the meaning behind the aggregated data.

Most companies are into monitoring. But most brands are choosing not to respond to any questions or comments their customers raise. US-based Sprout Social’s quarterly social index measures the percentage of consumer messages needing a response that actually get one, how long brands take to actually respond to those needing a response (in hours) and how many messages brands receive on social that their customers are expecting a response. It’s not pretty. The best was Utilities, with only 18% getting a response after a hefty nine hours wait! Previous research suggested that customers’ expected to wait under half that time, which is quite generous given it’s expected that their query would at least be acknowledged if made over the phone or in store. Social media is no different.

What happens when you ignore these questions? They don’t go away. Only 20% will forget about it and presumably forgive you. 40% will contact you via another channel. But, far more worryingly, 35% will choose to boycott your brand and a similar amount will tell other people of their experience. So much for a word of mouth recommendation!

It’s becoming a big business. Markets forecast that global spending on combined social monitoring, social listening, social mapping and social management tools will rise from $2.2 billion to $17.92 billion by 2019.

An effective social listening strategy will require investment and for the most part is best executed by third party tools that have the ability to record, analyse, categorise, aggregate and visualise large volumes of data. It’s estimated that Facebook users share 2.5 billion pieces of content per day, and there are 500 million tweets sent per day and 814 Instagram photos uploaded every second.

But why does it to pay to listen? Firstly, you know what is being said about your brand, company and industry. It enables you to engage in conversations with your current and potential customers, offering valuable and meaningful advice or addressing any negativity about your brand or any poor customer experiences. You can learn what content best interests your customers and which social networks they hang out on, letting you know where to spend your time and resources. Understand what your competitors are doing well or what they are doing badly in order to provide potential opportunities.

What benefits does listening give you?

  1. Improved customer service through resolving customer complaints, capturing feedback and implementing research studies.
  2. Enhanced customer experience by providing marketing feedback on what actually matters to them in order to design and then evaluate engaging campaigns and content.
  3. Identification of potential key influencers that you can engage with.
  4. Drives innovation through producing new offerings or product upgrades based on suggestions or problems customers may have expressed on social platforms.
  5. Improves sales forecasting; recent research by Kellogg School of Management found that the addition of social media data to advanced prediction methodology improved sales forecasts.
  6. Manages brand reputation through tracking brand health in real time.
  7. Manages crises proactively by identifying a burgeoning crisis or an issue going viral and reactively enabling you to provide relevant updates to an issue.
  8. Talent management, both existing and future.

There’s a fine line between listening and being rather annoying. According to research by J.D. Power in 2013, 51% of customers don’t want companies to eavesdrop on their conversations and 43% believe monitoring invades their privacy. 64% insist that they want companies to respond to social comments only when spoken to.

Like real life, if you’re listening simply in order to hijack a private conversation and name drop or link back to your company, that’s quite irritating. Don’t be that person. It’s not all about you! Nor is treating all dialogue the same; sometimes people just like to vent, and you’re better staying out of that conversation. One size does not fit all.

In a world seeking instant gratification and recognition, taking too long to respond is another no-no, and forcing your customer to stalk you until you respond is not a positive experience for either of you.

Understand and define your goals and motivations for eavesdropping on your customers. Ask yourself whether you’re listening to genuinely help and understand your customers, or whether you’re listening to try to insert your brand into every conversation, whether it’s wanted or not.

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