Sit Back and Listen to the Chatter

Good communication means always listening. Communication is a two-way interaction. Ask open-ended questions. These are tips that we constantly use in standard business settings and training, but when we look at the new era of business interaction – Social Media – how do we use them to our advantage?

Let’s look at a few common listening strategies; market research, surveys and focus groups. These are the typical go-to approaches for a company looking to find out more about their customers; current or potential. These are known for their effectiveness at pin pointing the answers the company was searching for, but what about the questions they never thought to ask? Syndicated, or market research is a one-way communication that will map trends but won’t tell you what people are thinking (groundswell, 2011). Surveys, typically carried out by phone, mail or internet, are simpler to complete, but can cost upwards of $10,000, may have issues reaching niche markets and again, fail to find the “it” questions that were never asked. Focus groups are on the right track, getting the people who fit the profile to interact and react spontaneously to the questions asked. But are these really the right people? And are they really giving you their all? There is a commonality here in that the real consumer insights – the deep down, emotional gripes and grievances that these people are feeling – are lacking.

We can do better!

To dig deeper into the minds of your target markets, there are two monitoring methods that can help. The first type of groundswell monitoring is a private community. It’s like a huge focus group, of hand picked thoughtful people, that interacts. Some vendor examples are Communispace and MarketTools. They form a community that functions just like a social network with profiles, discussions, chats and photos so it’s a familiar and comfortable setting for consumers. What do you do while this interaction is going on? You LISTEN.

Ellen Sonet, the VP of Marketing for the New York Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, learned through such a community that a cancer patient does not make business decisions like a business executive  (groundswell, 2011). She was basing her marketing strategy on the reputation and expertise of their facility, all the while the patients were clearly overwhelmed and trusting their family doctors with the decision of a treatment center. One patient in particular provided in-depth, constructive details on his needs and preferred resources and was a crucial partner in Ellen’s revised marketing strategy.

What if companies are missing these key partners?

Let’s look at the MS Society of Canada. They have implemented a program called Listening to People Affected by MS. It’s an extensive research program that used focus groups, online surveys and one-on-one interviews. The information they gathered is impressive and provides understanding of current quality of life needs, priorities, gaps and barriers experienced by Canadians affected by MS (MS Society of Canada, 2012). I wonder if with a private online community, they would have found that extra insight or key consumer partner? Maybe. But the MS Society seems to have targeted the emotional side to quite an extent, especially based on the focus group findings, showing gaps in support such as the lack of specially-trained physiotherapists across the country, lack of age-appropriate long-term care facilities and the need for more effective and available employment counselling (MS Society of Canada, 2012). If anything, a more community-based listening strategy may have extended their insight by more candid and influential interactions that typically occur in online communities. A community offers a more lasting value with the missing “what” and “how” getting answered (groundswell, 2011).

Brand Monitoring is another type of listening strategy worth noting. You can hire a team of experts to listen on your behalf. I mean REALLY listen. They understand the Social Technographics of your target market and monitor their online chatter; blogs, discussion forums, positive and negative comments, down to the emotional expression detail. Everything that is said about your brand is heard. Companies like MotiveQuest can charge about $70,000 for this level of detail, but it could be worth the lump sum investment, as determined by MINI head of Marketing, Trudy Hardy.

What better way to promote your brand than target existing owners? Some might disagree. But what Trudy found was that by creating a promotional program targeted towards these unique, proud and exclusive owners, she created the online buzz needed to sustain sales to reach the yearly targets. Have your customers promote your brand for you…what a thought! By creating this online chatter she generated a strong consumer collaboration which has the potential for far greater commercial impact with the least amount of risk (MechanicaMade, 2013).

Are these new listening strategies the way to go? Think of your brand. According to Ricardo Guimarães, founder of Thyme Branding in Brazil, your brand is what your customers say it is and its value belongs to the market (groundswell, 2011). Simple as that. Other potential benefits include:

  • Hearing when the buzz is shifting
  • Saving money in the long term
  • Finding sources of influence within the market
  • Managing a PR crisis early
  • Generating new ideas!!

What’s the first step?

Whether you choose to hire a vendor to listen for you or you start the process yourself, the first step is to make a plan. Check the Social Technographics Profile of your consumers looking for Creators and Critics and know that increasing awareness in your listening strategy will change how you see other strategies. Marketing, Product Management, Engineering, Sales and most importantly, senior level decision making will all be affected. These listening strategies can start at the internal level as well. An example of utilizing the employee skill set to benefit the community at large is the Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation (Hirshberg, 2009). What was initially an employee community tool was quickly seen an asset for product and service innovation and subsequently customer feedback and support. Regardless of your chosen listening strategy, you need to act on what you’ve learned, with a clear plan to action for future implementation.

Remember, when it comes to consumers, feelings are facts (MechanicaMade, 2013) and it’s these feelings that will gain you the insight you need to grow your business!




Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.

Hirshberg, P. (2009). Retrieved from Vimeo:

MechanicaMade. (2013, 07 18). YouTube. Retrieved from

MS Society of Canada. (2012). Retrieved from

Verbatimblog. (2010, 10 25). Retrieved from YouTube:

Photo by: William White






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