It’s Not About Listening, It’s About the Green

Woman Plugging Her EarsI hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to be blunt. Social media isn’t about listening. No one cares about listening. I wrote a post earlier where I said customers don’t care if brands are listening. It’s true, we don’t. You know who else doesn’t care about listening? The person who signs your paycheck. The head honcho, the big wig, the (wo)man upstairs. However you want to phrase it, the decision makers don’t care about listening. So why are you still using “listening” as a reason to invest in social media?

I’ve spent the past 5 years of my professional career on the corporate side of things. To make things worse, it’s been in the financial space (I know, we’re greedy bankers, we caused the crisis. I’ve been called a lot of bad names, don’t worry). So maybe it’s the “business” in me, but let’s face it, the only thing that matters…it’s green and hopefully in large denominations.

Look, you can preach the benefits of being able to monitor conversation – yes, it’s important and critical to ensure you maintain your brand’s reputation. Yes, it’s important to understand what your customers are thinking, what’s bothering them and how you can help. Yes, it’s important to build trust, continually seek to better your brand, etc. I completely understand the importance of basic business principles. And I have no problem using social to do such, but in the end, what’s going to keep you employed is sales and profits.

Let’s get some of the objections that I’m sure I’m going to get out of the way. What about content? You need content, right? Yes, but your content is only one part. You need proper frequency, you need an effective call to action, you need substance. What good is inventory if you can’t drive customers inside your storefront?

You’re probably asking about forming relationships, right? After all, public relations is all about forming that mutually beneficially relationship. Without relationships, there aren’t any sales. Walmart would beg to differ (I know, Walmart is making great strides to improve its image). Often times, price and convenience can outweigh that relationship. Is the product a need or a want?

Again, I understand all the stuff that comes with the ultimate goal – sales. The potion for success is a complicated mixture. It consists of many things. But when pitching or discussing social with the “powers that be” please stop mentioning the importance of listening. Listening is passive, it’s not going to get you anywhere. Tell me how it’s going to increase sales – that may very well be by listening.

Behind the scenes, feel free to stress the importance of listening. Your colleagues probably want to hear that kind of stuff. But when it comes to guts, when it comes to the purpose – show me the money.

Nothing in this world ever got accomplished by listening. When Pearl Harbor was bombed (yes, I’m comparing the two), did we really have any interest in sitting down and listening? No, that wouldn’t have accomplished anything. It’s about taking action, being aggressive. It’s about being smart and strategic, and it’s about making sure you’re profitable. Something tells me that your boss isn’t going to “listen” when sales are down and layoffs are imminent.

Kasey Skala is the owner of Interactive Revolution – a communications and new media consulting firm in Minneapolis. His experience includes work in beauty & healthcare, education, finance, nonprofit and sports & entertainment. Additionally, he spent time as a sports journalist at a small daily. He currently blogs at The Electric Waffle and iFinance. You can find him on Twitter at @kmskala.

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  • Hey Kasey –

    Welcome to the blog. Interesting post and I definitely agree with you…mostly :).

    For me, except in the rarest of circumstances, listening to your customers/audience is always going to result in more green (either earned or prevented from being lost) in some capacity. Even if it's merely tracking minor issues over time that don't even rise to the level of complaints there will always be an added benefit to knowing what your customer thinks about your product/service.

    Focus groups aren't anything new, Social Media just makes it a truly unscientific (whereas most focus groups rise to the level of pseudo-science) and continuous process. The department stuck with keeping an eye on the water will almost certainly run in the red, but with proper strategy will actually be a loss-leader for the company as a whole hopefully assisting the company in improving its [whatever] to bring in the dough.

  • PRFlipside

    Pretty radical post. I agree that the bottom line is sales, but reaching sales goals requires a lot of listening. It's about turning listening into action. That action, if rolled out strategically, will likely yield sales.

  • I love that you're willing to be so blunt and straightforward about this issue. And I agree that sales are at the end of the day the goal. But I think that listening in social media still has it's place.

    Like Joe said, it's all about turning that listening into action. If all you do is listen and monitor social media, then you are absolutely right, no good will come from that. But if you're willing to put that listening into action (reach out to consumers, use their ideas in your production, etc.), that is when you will end up seeing your bottom line truly affected by social media.

  • Hullo Kasey! I think you bring up some really interesting points. Of course listening is passive; and of course people tend to associate passive work with unprofitable business; but I think the people who espouse listening as part of a social media plan should (and, I hope, do) consider that a mere step 1 in a 12 or 15 or 24 step plan.

    I know this simile isn't going to be as awesome as your Pearl Harbor one, but I tend to think of this first step as the first step on a first date. If you don't listen to your lady person, for example, chances are you're not going to say the right thing when she finally lets you get a word in edgewise.

    I'm not saying we should all put on our hemp suits and sing kumbaya and listen, listen, listen. Of course profits are the endgame. Of course money is why we're in business. But it's not a sign of weakness to monitor (to listen, in other words) the people you want to target. To follow your metaphor, it's the first step of the battle plan, so why would one be so eager to skip it?

  • jeffespo

    Kasey – interesting post and I agree with you on most of the your points. However being on the corporate side, I can tell you that it does work both ways. In terms of the banks, you may not be able to do much with the listening due to regulations, but here are a few ways that listening – and just that can help your bottom line:

    Site issues – If you are an eCommerce site, your Web site is your lifeline. Wouldn't you want to know that something is broken. Yes you can have a number of high-priced techs or computers trolling for issues, but customers will often bitch when they have a recurring issue. The small issues might not surface right away on your end, so the trouble shooting could be real time and avoid a future headache down the road.

    CRM – What do you do when a customer complains? Most would send them to a CRM center or agent to get their issue fixed. However with the current state of the Internet, complaints from unsatisfied customers can spiral out of control, look at for some examples, but just think about Dell Hell or the video of the zonked out Comcast rep. Unhappy customers can tarnish your reputation and in turn hurt said bottom line.

    New product ideas – Dust off your Mickey Mouse ears from the 80's and take a look at what is being said around your industry from customers. What are they looking for. There could be a quick need that you can fill and thus rocketing your bottom line.

    Those are just some in terms of listening alone. I'd note that a soft-sell while communicating can go a long way as well.

  • kmskala

    Agree. And that's the large issue here. My main concern is that we're preaching how we need to approach social media with both our ears perked. Yes, listening is important. But it's only one part of SM. We also need to provide good service, provide relevant content, etc. Those who go at SM with listening being the most important aspect are only doing an injustice to themselves in the business world. Is social media going to be relevant is you're listening, and like you said, not providing action? United listens, Southwest provides action.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • kmskala

    Rebecca, you're a smart gal. Again, listening is important and I think it's something you could promote externally. Being a measurement gal, you could document quite easily how you're listening. But how are you converting those listening analytics into something truly valuable to business?

    Ultimately you need to listen, but shouldn't we go at SM with the large picture in mind? UNC may be great at shooting free throws, but wouldn't a well-balanced attack be more beneficial?

  • kmskala

    Absolutely listening needs to be part of your routine.

    Let's take your date example. Say you listened, you were polite and opened doors and pulled out chairs. You smiled, had great conversation. But after the first date you realized that you really didn't have much in common and there was no spark. Would you still continue to see that person? Isn't having a common bond the ultimate goal? Yes, the other parts are key to a happy relationship, but the common bond and spark is the $$$ portion of the formula.

    Be polite, show interest, open doors and pull chairs and in the end, hope it leads to some spark.

  • kmskala

    But how do you sell someone on the fact that a 2 year project that will result in some minor improvements is worth the investment? Especially in today's economic climate where businesses need to focus on simply staying in business next week, trying to sell executives on something that's not necessarily tangible and immediate is quite difficult.

    We all understand the value of customer service, that's nothing new. But the concept of actively listening and going beyond basic customer service isn't a priority. Instead, we're simply trying to provide a product today that will allow us to stay in business tomorrow. We can address those concerns tomorrow, if we're still around.

  • worob

    I agree with some, not all, of your comments, and I definitely feel that 'listening' is an important part of trying to reach your goal$. Without it, your ceiling can only g so high.

    PR at Sunrise blog –

  • I agree that there's an overly-focused-on-listening social media echo chamber out there, but I think it's for a reason: most people (normal business owners, not the hyper-social and hyper-digital like us) still don't realize the listening tools that are available to them, must less know that they should be listening.

    But I agree with you that we have to be clear that the reason for listening is to then engage. Listening for listening's sake is meaningless. Engaging gets you the loyalty, and the green.

  • kmskala

    You made a great point: the majority still don't understand.

    That's why I think it's so important that in the end, how is social media making your organization money? In the grand scheme of things, money and profit are what's going to create and maintain jobs and organizations.

    Use listening, use action, use common sense. But it all ties back to being profitable.

  • kmskala

    Thanks for your comment. Listening is important and should be a part of any business – social or not.

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