1 topic 5 blogs: Embracing the evolution of listening

[tweetmeme source=”lovestats” only_single=false]The question posed to the group of 5 Bloggers this month was: “Qualitative Research: How has the art of listening changed, and what can we do to leverage new listening tools in a Social Media landscape.”

Links to my fellow bloggers  Joel Rubinson, Josh Mendelsohn, Brandon Bertelsen and Bernie Malinoff are below.


Barely one hundred years ago, the art of listening entered the scientific age. Though you may question the scientific validity, surveys became a part of our culture and researchers embraced the idea that you can learn just by asking.

Fast forward one hundred years and the direction has changed. Researchers have discovered that you can learn just by listening.

We’ve had the technology to listen for more than ten years now but it has only been the last few wherein the average person could actively participate. Smart phones abound and are believed to be a major, perhaps even THE major contributing factor to the listening revolution. Facebook and twitter have created the places that make contributing fun and easy and if I may say so, quite addictive.

As I think about the plight of survey research with scary response rates and data quality issues, I must think forward to the potential but avoidable plight of listening research. Listening will only succed in the long term if we take care of business now.

What business do we need to take care of?

#1 Privacy for contributors: Many social media monitoring companies offer clients the ability to respond directly to the “complainer” or the “champion.” As a researcher, I predict this will only lead to the closing of the listening opportunity as people begin to protest these breaches of personal space. Researchers must be active advocates of protecting personal space. If we do this, people will continue to feel comfortable sharing their opinions in the internet space and researchers will be given permission to listen where others are denied.

#2 Overpromising to clients: I link this item with trust and quality. It’s easy to promise that you can listen to conversations for any brand and gather tons of data. This just isn’t true. Not every brand has lots of data. Not every brand has lots of quality data. Just like survey researchers can’t promise 80% response rates, listening researchers can’t promise unlimited data to every client. Overpromising will simple cause clients to be distrustful of the method and erroneously believe that listening isn’t a good method. For the long-term good of the industry, we must be honest with our clients now, not after the contract has been signed.

#3 Evolution is inevitable: We know how to listen now but how will we listen 5 years or even 2 years from now. Will twitter be around? Facebook? Blogger? WordPress? I don’t know but I do know that I expect things to change and I will be ready and waiting for it to change. Just as surveys moved from paper to web forms to web 1.0 and web 2.0, the same will happen with listening. Right now we’re listening to words, but very soon everyone will be able to easily listen to songs and movies and pictures and artwork. Researchers aren’t well known for taking on technology with gusto but we can do it.

Let’s embrace change!

Bernie Malinoff
Joel Rubinson
Josh Mendelsohn
Brandon Bertelsen


2 responses

  1. I understand your point about privacy, but if people are publishing things online, they need to realize that those items are not private. As Ray Poynter has discussed in several presentations, as researchers we can respect their privacy, but all the end user has to do is copy and paste the verbatim quote we cite into their search engine of choice: voila! they have identified the consumer who made the comment. Providing verbatim responses therefore can itself be used to pierce that veil of privacy. What should we do?

    1. True. It is now easy as pie to find out exactly who said what. I don’t think that gives researchers permission to contact people on an individual level. I think if they want to talk to us, they need to make the first move and specifically request the interaction.

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