Evolution: The Eight Stages Of Listening

As Social Customers Become More Empowered, Organizations Must Have A Listening Strategy
As we approach 2010 planning companies need a strategy around listening. Sadly, most companies, and their agency partners don’t know why to listen or how. As a result, they must identify which stage of listening they are at, and then set a goal on which stage they see to aspire in 2010. I originally published this matrix for client workshops and a keynote presentation on developing listening and advocacy programs, and I’m going to continue to share more and blow-out each of my slides.

Web Strategy Matrix: The Eight Stages Of Listening

Stage Description Resources Needed Impacts
1) No objective at all Organization has a listening program but has no goals, nor uses the information for anything resourceful Simple alerting tools, like Google Alerts and feedreaders will suffice. At the basic level, simple self-awareness.  Yet without any action from the data, this is useless.
2) Tracking of brand mentions Like traditional “clip reports” of media relations, companies now track mentions in the social space.  Despite tracking there is no guidance on what to do next. Listening platform with report capability based on brand or product keywords.  Radian 6, Visible Technologies, Techrigy/Alterian, Buzzmetrics and Cymfony, Dow Jones are providers. Improved self-awareness to track volume of information, yet unable to track depth, and tonality of conversations.  As a result, not a full understanding of opportunities.
3) Identifying market risks and opportunities This proactive process involves seeking out discussions online that may result in identifying flare-ups, or possible prospect opportunities. In addition to a listening platform staff must actively seek out discussions and signal to internal teams.  Alerting tools, and listening platforms are required. Organization can reduce risk of flare ups before they become mainstream, identify prospects and poach unhappy competitors customers.
4) Improving campaign efficiency Rather than just measure a marketing effort after it’s occurred, using tools to gauge during in-flight behavior yields real-time marketing efficiency. Dedicated resource to manage reactions, activity, and sentiment to a marketing effort, and the resources to make course corrections nearly real-time.  Traditional web analytics tools like Omniture, Webtrends and Google Analytics are common. Campaigns can be more effective, as hot spots are bolstered, and dead spots are diminished.
5) Measuring customer satisfaction In addition to customer satisfaction scores,organizations can measure real-time sentiment as customers interact. Sysomos and Backtype have focus areas into this space. Customer experience professionals will have to extend their scope to the social web, using a listening platform and sentiment analysis.  Insight platforms like Communispace and Passenger offer online focus groups solutions. Brands can now measure impacts of real time satisfaction or frustration during the actual phases of customer interaction.  Then identify areas of improvement during customer lifecycle
6) Responding to customer inquiry This proactive response finds customers where they are (fish where fish are) in order to answer questions.  Example: Comcastcares account on Twitter asks customers if they need help –then may respond. An active customer advocacy team that’s empowered, training, and ready to make real-time responses nearly around the clock. Customers will fill a greater sense of satisfaction, yet this teaches customers to ‘yell in public’ to get a response.
7) Better understand customers Evolving the classic market research function, brands can improve their customer profiles and personas by adding social information to them. Social CRM systems are quickly emerging that tie together a customer record and their online behavior, locations, and preferences. Salesforce, SAP, both have partnerships with Twitter to synch data The opportunity to not only serve customers in their natural mediums, but to offer them a richer experience regardless of their customer touchpoints.
8. Being proactive and anticipating customers Minority Report: This most sophisticated form actually anticipates what customers will say or do before they’ve done it.  By looking at previous patterns of historical data, companies can put in place the right resources to guide prospects and customers. An advanced customer database, with a predictive application put in place, as well as a proactive team to reach out to customers before an incident has happened.  Haven’t seen any such application yet. Identifying prospects and engaging them before competitors can yield a larger marketing funnel, or reducing customer frustration as problems are fixed before they happen.


Exercise: Self-Assess Culture, Roles, Process, Data, and Tools

Use this matrix to initiate a discussion within your company on which stage you’re at, then put a plan in place to grow to the next level. Do note, depending on size and complexity of the organization, different groups may be in more than one phase. First, identify the characteristics your company currently has, then define which phase you’re in:

  1. Does the organization have the right culture setup that’s ready to listen?
  2. Is the organization prepared to react to customer opinions? how about in real time?
  3. Are the processes in place to triage information to the right teams? How about during a real-time crises on a Saturday morning?
  4. Are the right roles in place to listen? Are proactive marketing and support teams trained, empowered, and ready to respond?
  5. Is there a single repository of customer information or is it currently fragmented around the enterprise
  6. Lastly, what technology platforms are in place to facilitate this strategy? ? Hint: choose this last –not first.

For Dialog: Which Stage Are Companies At?
Curious to hear your professional opinions, what stage do most companies think they’re at?  In reality, what stage are they truly acting at?

Translations
Please translate into other languages, I’ll be happy to link back to you

Thanks to the team at Foreplay, a digital agency, making the slides available in English.

131 Replies to “Evolution: The Eight Stages Of Listening”

  1. Jeremiah, I would add here the impact on new products launch strategy (via the analysis of what said about the competitive environment)and the impact on developing new ad campaign starting from customers’ insights.
    Thanks for sharing the concept of a matrix.

  2. Gianandrea,

    Good point. I think, (Although I didn’t explicitly say it) it could fall under number 3. Identifying Opportunities. Tip: Companies should evaluate how product pages on their own website and competitors are tagged on Delicious to find out how customers think –and label said products.

  3. Prem

    In many cases, the stages are listed in an evolutionary order from most simple (Stage 1) to the most sophisticated (Stage 8). What defines sophistication? The resources and mindset needed to complete, as well as the improved impact to the overall company and customers.

    It’s quite possible companies may jump from stage to stage, or skip some altogether but I put it in the most logical flow I could find.

  4. Ok, makes more sense to me now. Thanks 🙂 I assumed this was based on some natural progression of maturity, more like the social technographics ladder. My bad. 🙁

    Once again, a great & sound list! 🙂

  5. Great post – love the level of detail with which you’ve articulated this matrix. Minor, completely unnecessary cribs – spellings in point 5… ‘orginizizations’ and ‘Sysmos’.

  6. Hi Jeremiah
    Thanks for setting this out in an accessible format. I would say that a decent social media insight service should be able to cover stages 1-6 and a few elements of 7 & 8 by going beyond mere monitoring and brand level sentiment analysis into providing insight for action based on the following:
    What are people saying about you – volume and sentiment on a concept level (e.g inflight service) and sub-concept level (e.g. choice of meals). Also the impact of this mobilizing opinion in terms of the traffic, the links and interactivity of the media in which they appear. You also need to have these opinions channelled for action: statements, questions, suggestions, complaints, recommendations.
    Who is talking about you – mobilizing opinion also needs to be linked to actual, former, potential, competitor customers and other groups (this links to stages in the purchase decision process)
    Where they are talking about you – the volume and impact (see above)of the spaces where the opinion mobilizes).

  7. Good post and a natural progression towards customer centricity from stage 1 to stage 7. (Hate to admit which stage we are in). Confused by stage 8 – seems a bit like nirvana entails a bit of a return to company in control (all but the lessening of customer frustration). I can understand it if I think of it in terms of systems (that don’t exist yet to fulfill this stage), but not in terms of human action and interaction. Am I reading this wrong?

  8. Jeremiah,
    Great stuff. Seems like a very sensible progression. Maybe this is nitpicking, but I wonder if you’re talking about two different things here: 1. Listening and 2. Engaging. It seems companies are fairly comfortable (in theory if not yet always in practice) up to Stage 3 but beyond that they are terrified. They see the resource commitment ramping up and the potential for mistakes (risk) amplified because now they have to actively engage with people in social rather than just track and listen. I’m not seeing many companies progressing beyond Stage 3. So I sense that there is a chasm to cross between 1-3 and 4-8 that might warrant highlighting and separate treatment? Are you seeing that?

    Chris

  9. Great post Jeremiah! I agree with the above points about the logical progression of these stages. It is rather unfortunate, but few strategies go past the third stage – even fewer really harness the benefits of proceeding to the sixth stage, let alone all eight. Nonetheless it starts with a plan and this format is easy to digest and build the appropriate vision around.

    The only point I would add or even expand on is to the need to identify/anticipate any and all potential barriers. Something like corporate culture could interfere with the best hatched strategies, and understanding the importance of assigning risk thresholds (3) or even the need to participate (6) in a timely manner can be difficult for some organizations to wrap their heads around. Access control still comes up quite often, and getting IT on side with the need to have access to sites blocked by corporate mandate is an equally important part of dealing with incidents with timeliness.

    Joseph
    @RepuTrack

  10. Jeremiah, Good post.

    Relating to this to the Groundswell stages of social media activity stages 6, 7, & 8 also fall into Talking, Energising and Supporting. How many ‘stages’ do you think all of those have and how much to they converge on eachother?

    Interesting stuff, thanks!

  11. Jeremiah,

    Unfortunately, I think this post misses the mark, or the title is misleading. Listening, at any level without a strategy to learn, understand and then engage is simply hearing. It might be as simple as altering this to the 8 stages of engagement, and adding the people and processes required to do it correctly.

    My rallying cry is that “this is not a one size fits all problem”. As any company climbs the ladder, they need to be guided on how to focus their resources (people) who cost money. How should a medium size company scale their one on one relationships. As a company moves into a channel, the customer expectations are now altered.

    Just a few examples.

    Mitch
    @mjayliebs

  12. Karthik, fixed, but Sysmos is the company’s name.

    Scott, I’m not sure if it returns the control back to the company, as in reality it should help both customers –and companies.

    Joseph the biggest challenges for companies isn’t the tools or budget, it’s the culture change that will allow employees to actively seek and help customers.

    Mitch, you’re right. The title could have ‘engagement’ or ‘interaction’ in it. We can both agree however that in order to do this ‘listening’ is baseline. The biggest challenge with social support as it’s hard to scale on a 1:1 basis. Savvy companies know that they can get their customers to self-support each other. Tech companies who have developer communities have been doing this for years.

  13. Jeremiah, I think this is a great list.

    I’d be interested to see your thoughts on the same topic, but focused more on B2B. It seems like there would be similarities, but far less emphasis on customers – or at least a different emphasis.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  14. Jeremiah,

    I think what you’ve put together is very valuable and I wanted to say thanks for sharing.

    I’ve often heard the phrase, ‘Customer service is the new marketing.’ I agree completely with this statement, and listening is at the core of effective customer service. The other thing I think of in regards to stage 7 is a philosophy from Steven Covey, ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ I try to apply to my life (not always successfully), but I believe they fall right in line with what you are suggesting.

    Great post as always!

  15. Karthik, thanks, fixed. again.

    Todd, this applies both to B2C and B2B.

    Mike, thanks. Some are arguing that customer support should report to marketing. I say dotted lines –but in both directions.

  16. You really like charts…

    There are no stages, per se, rather pancake flat, and with most organizations, decentralized as they are, going in 8 differing directions at once, as it takes corporate mandates to get everyone marching in a single line, and even then most still chart own route.

    Anticipating customers needs can happen even if no tracking done, or much understanding of said customer, common sense can grasp a good deal. And oft times, tracking edge-case social-media petty complaints, can provide LESS insight for what customers need.

    You can’t do this stuff behind a laptop, complete with mystical charts, actually visiting customer sites and talking with people in person is only way to truly know. But the market has gone commodity ad-hawks doing internetish hoola-hoop tricks, thinking they are making an impact, end result, companies jump on the latest fads, and Twitter for pure-fluff PR sake, sending the majority to call-centers overseas.

  17. Great post, Jeremiah.

    Completely agree with you on the stages, as far as the entire organization goes. But our clients and prospects find it nearly impossible to set up an inter-departmental task force to accelerate a holistic approach to social media. Just yesterday, we had a meeting with a top 3 telco, and they seemed to have different SoMe needs and goals for the product dev, customer service and marketing teams.

    It appears to me that you’d need a version of your matrix for each department. While that is less than ideal, that seems to be the unfortunate reality. Thoughts?

    Ragy.

  18. Chris, you’re right. There is a big gap between listening and engaging. There’s a lot of fear there, and it takes a leader with some brass to decide that the company should take that direction. It’s scary and new, and a lot of old guard are struggling with it, but engagement will eventually win.

    *off to write about this myself*

  19. You nailed it. I also agree with your clarification that companies can operate at multiple stages, or skip ahead to a particular stage. We’re pretty much laser focused on stage 7 at Buzzient, and the integration of social media with CRM apps. Great summary!

  20. Great post Jeremiah!

    The framework makes perfect sense.

    Do you authorize the translation of this table to Portuguese with all the due credits for the creation given to you? I’m the CEO of a digital engagement agency in São Paulo – Brazil called Foreplay, and would love to post it on our blog.

    Cheers! Congrats and thank you for so much inspiring information!

  21. Bruno, I authorize ALL translations as long as they credit me, and link back to this original post, and don’t use the content to generate direct revenue (like copy paste into a book and sell it).

    I’ll even link back to your translation.

  22. I see 2 listening activities and 6 engagement activities.

    That’s part of the problem.

    Too many companies get to level 2 and don’t proceed to engage what they’ve heard.

  23. I can’t quite fit this model into how listening has evolved at our company. For instance, I think we’re doing 6,7,8 but we’ve found no business value yet in purchasing a formal listening platform or tracking anything but the most basic metrics. I’m not sure if we’re advanced or stuck on stage #1. 😉

  24. John, Sure you can do some of these things manually, but at a larger company, how will you scale?

    Yup, 6 can be done using Google alerts/Twitter search/RSS feedreaders and Yahoo Pipes.

    You’re doing number 7? Do you have a consolidated data base of customer profiles? If so, then you’re using some platform. To do this manual would be difficult, unless of course, you only have a few clients.

    Doing number 8 will likely require a sophisticated listening system that can anticipate customer needs, I’ve yet to see any artificial intelligence that can do this. Sure you can do this manually, but how will you scale?

  25. This is the perfect campaign. Number 7 and 8 are on a wish list for every social media campaigner. I have always maintained that listening more and reacting less is a better approach instead of just ‘talk, talk, talk. It becomes the traditional method of communication and negates any concept of a two way communication.

    It’s an excellent post and I am really going to implement these inthe future social media campaigns.

  26. I wonder if we can draw a between level 2 and level 3. It seems that levels 1 and 2 are more tactical monitoring. While levels 3 through 8 are more strategic Listening. I think the vast majority of companies probably fall into the “tactical monitoring” space without a clear idea of how to set and achieve more strategic goals in the Social Media space. As practitioners, I think we share a mission to facilitate more strategic engagement, helping companies derive true value from the social space.

  27. Excellent post! I have already printed both the matrix and the exercise questions and plan on circulating them around the office for feedback. To quote another commenter “listening more and reacting less is a better approach instead of just ‘talk, talk, talk.” is the corner stone of social media, unfortunately most hear that idea instead of really listening to it. Thank you again for the terrific information.

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  29. As usual a great and insightful post. I would be really interested to know how many Organizations have actually managed to reach even Stage 6. My understanding as far as B2B players are concerned would tag them maximum at stage 5 with most hovering around Stage 2 and 3. The reasons would be the usual ones of resources, clarity in goals etc. etc. It will be great if you can actually give examples of company names for every stage 🙂

  30. Great post Jeremiah.

    I’m in Australia and companies are so unbelievably slow here on the uptake of social media and how to measure its effects. A presentation I did for a group of top CEO’s back in February this year proved to me that it will take a significant event for them to understand the importance of real tracking at a deeper level and not to just smooth things over with a savvy pr plan. I look forward to reading your other work.

    Cheers

    Ben

  31. Jeremiah – You’re absolutely right. I’m actually speaking mostly in the context of monitoring just our core enthusiast and influencer community. Those guys love us and we return the love.

    As for #8, I can usually predict what this community will react to news items, what their issues will be. I don’t believe in AI and I tend to roll my eyes at sentiment analysis, but I’ll admit I haven’t done my research in that area.

    In a specialized field, that goes a long way. The majority of Tweets with “VMware” in them get looked at by at least two sets of eyes, even now.

    Now I feel like a caveman whittling my stick and laughing at your newfangled flint knives. 😉

  32. John Mark,

    That’s excellent you’re so close to your community to be able to sense and guide the discussion, I’d guess most companies aren’t as close to them as you are.

  33. Jeremiah,
    Great post and matrix. The idea of a formal Listening Platform reminds me of what people are experiencing with Drupal. An Open source Social Publishing platform – a combination of content (CRM) and community (social) for building sites and engaging customers. Open Source by nature is in “listening mode” and fosters a community that is self thriving. In stage 7 where you talk about CRMs getting social such as Salesforce.com, this is where Social Publishing really comes into play. If that customer “understanding” comes right at the point of interaction (such as at your website) , just think about how much more nimble a business can be. Love the idea of #8 – can you give me shout out when you figure that one out!

  34. Jeremiah,

    Thank you for this insightful matrix. One of the first lessons learned in marketing is that relationships build companies. Relationships with employees as well as consumers are the most cost effective strategies any company can have.
    To build and harbor these relationships companies must learn what drives consumers. The only way to achieve this goal is to listen to what they are saying, watch what they are doing and respond in an appropriate manner.
    As you mentioned, companies can be at different levels at a particular time and recognizing those levels and reacting to those levels will only bring gain.
    So, let’s open our ears and build the cornerstone relationships with our consumers. It’s what they want, even if they don’t know it.

    Jessica Edwards
    http://www.InteractivityMarketing.com“>Myrtle Beach Marketing

  35. Hi Jeremiah, how are you?

    I have posted about your framework for the 8 stages of listening on our agency's blog and I have created a slideshare for the content, both in Portuguese. Let me know what you think and feel free to link back! If you want this same slideshare in a version in English let us know ok?

    Cheers and congrats once again for the fantastic work!
    post:
    http://www.foreplay.com.br/blog/2009/11/24/evol

    slideshare
    http://www.slideshare.net/brunoanconalopes/8-es

  36. Hi Jeremiah, how are you?

    I have posted about your framework for the 8 stages of listening on our agency's blog and I have created a slideshare for the content, both in Portuguese. Let me know what you think and feel free to link back! If you want this same slideshare in a version in English let us know ok?

    Cheers and congrats once again for the fantastic work!
    post:
    http://www.foreplay.com.br/blog/2009/11/24/evol

    slideshare
    http://www.slideshare.net/brunoanconalopes/8-es

  37. Hi Jeremiah, how are you?

    I have posted about your framework for the 8 stages of listening on our agency's blog and I have created a slideshare for the content, both in Portuguese. Let me know what you think and feel free to link back! If you want this same slideshare in a version in English let us know ok?

    Cheers and congrats once again for the fantastic work!
    post:
    http://www.foreplay.com.br/blog/2009/11/24/evol

    slideshare
    http://www.slideshare.net/brunoanconalopes/8-es

  38. Hi Jeremiah, how are you?

    I have posted about your framework for the 8 stages of listening on our agency's blog and I have created a slideshare for the content, both in Portuguese. Let me know what you think and feel free to link back! If you want this same slideshare in a version in English let us know ok?

    Cheers and congrats once again for the fantastic work!
    post:
    http://www.foreplay.com.br/blog/2009/11/24/evol

    slideshare
    http://www.slideshare.net/brunoanconalopes/8-es

  39. Hi Jeremiah, how are you?

    I have posted about your framework for the 8 stages of listening on our agency's blog and I have created a slideshare for the content, both in Portuguese. Let me know what you think and feel free to link back! If you want this same slideshare in a version in English let us know ok?

    Cheers and congrats once again for the fantastic work!
    post:
    http://www.foreplay.com.br/blog/2009/11/24/evol

    slideshare
    http://www.slideshare.net/brunoanconalopes/8-es

  40. Hi Jeremiah, how are you?

    I have posted about your framework for the 8 stages of listening on our agency's blog and I have created a slideshare for the content, both in Portuguese. Let me know what you think and feel free to link back! If you want this same slideshare in a version in English let us know ok?

    Cheers and congrats once again for the fantastic work!
    post:
    http://www.foreplay.com.br/blog/2009/11/24/evol

    slideshare
    http://www.slideshare.net/brunoanconalopes/8-es

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  42. This is great Jeremiah! I'm curious how many organizations have reached level 8. I can only name a handful of companies such as Zappos, MGM Grand & Dell, that really embody what you've just laid out in terms of a great social media listening strategy.

    Good stuff!

  43. This is great Jeremiah! I'm curious how many organizations have reached level 8. I can only name a handful of companies such as Zappos, MGM Grand & Dell, that really embody what you've just laid out in terms of a great social media listening strategy.

    Good stuff!

  44. This is great Jeremiah! I'm curious how many organizations have reached level 8. I can only name a handful of companies such as Zappos, MGM Grand & Dell, that really embody what you've just laid out in terms of a great social media listening strategy.

    Good stuff!

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  46. Hi Jeremiah i be pleased to annunce the spanish version of this great post. By now it is published on my personal blog (http://bit.ly/8SofListening) while our coporative blog aren´t being ready.

    Sincerely thanks to share this article. I hope made a good job with the translation.

  47. Hi Jeremiah,
    Just read this off of Jim Sterne’s Social Media Metrics book. Very cool. Loved the simple steps and applies to so many of my clients already. Glad the post its still here and alive.
    Regards,
    Gordon

  48. Hi Jeremiah,

    Sad–startling even–to consider that at this stage of social media development–never mind the extensive supporting body of marketing literature, thought and success studies on the value of listening–that marketers/agencies continue to shy from fully embracing this most important function in the new marketing dynamic. Your great post here, from Nov 2009, looked forward into 2010; now that we are underway with 2011, can you share a bit on how your view has changed regarding the year ahead and beyond? Many thanks, Jeff

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  51. this article continues the observation that many groups charge off in the fray without ever knowing what they want to do and how they will  do it. it sounds like the old management saw” having lost sight of our goals, we will redouble our efforts.”

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