Brands and social listening: overwhelmed by the noise?

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Recently, a well-known Indian news personality was in the news after she put out a statement on Twitter that she had been tricked into leaving the company in June after she became the “victim of a very serious phishing attack” that led her to believe she’d been hired as a journalism professor at Harvard. The news was widely discussed on social media with various theories and speculation on how someone seemingly so aware could be duped in case which obviously seems highly sophisticated. What struck me about this high-profile episode was the aspect ‘social listening‘ (or the lack of it).

Image source: RT

It is a much touted practice which brands have seemingly paying big bucks for years. I would like to clarify that I have neither seen a social listening campaign in action nor implemented one for a client. I have only been told by social media & digital agency folks that big companies utilise their services to ‘listen in’ – another term for scanning social media for mentions about the brand or the category (if the task demands it).

Customer service and sentiment tracking

Such practices are largely useful for brands which offer services where the scope for customer usage and complaint is high. Hence brands with large investments in customer service teams – such as banks, financial services, airlines may find these useful. It could be especially useful for categories where there could be multiple brand interactions in a day or during a season (travel brands during summer holidays).

Consumers may use a payment service brand quite often in a day and a glitch may lead to a generic grumpy tweet or a specific complaint. The consumer is likely to be happy if the issue is resolved quickly as it would be seen as a direct result of the action to post something negative on social media. Many see this, and the habit of tagging the top person of that company or a celebrity as the only means to get the attention from the company. While it speaks volumes about the lack of trust people have on regular customer care, in some cases I have noticed that the dedicated social media team *does* look at critical tweets and responds accordingly to resolve an issue.

Social media agencies may also position social listening as a tracker of sentiments towards a brand. Consistent negative feedback on social media channels can point towards remedial action such as addressing concerns on that platform with speed & empathy. And more importantly resolving such issues. I guess enterprises also see topical social media posts – such as a post or campaign on Mothers Day, as a route to gain brand affinity.

Celebrities and non-customer service brands

Apparently it is pretty common for celebrities to appoint PR managers or a social media team who create social media posts on behalf of the client or share ideas for Instagram posts and such like. If they have a Twitter handle (even if dormant) or are active on Twitter or Instagram, their notification tab is likely to be super busy. The general public assume they are talking directly to the celebrity by tagging them on tweet replies and Instagram comments. I am guessing that the PR or social team of popular accounts merely scan the notifications to spot major issues as it would be impossible to go through every mention.

A few brands which have a strong equity and familiarity may not need the ‘customer service’ aspect of social listening, at least not in the scale and context of service brands. I would imagine Harvard University (currently 1.1M followers on Twitter) is in that category. Students may have issues with aspects of the university which are perhaps being resolved through other means. A glance at the timeline suggests that they use Twitter a a platform to share news pertaining to goings on at the university and profiles of students and alumni.

So while hundreds of thousand of people maybe tagging the official Twitter handle of Harvard, I am not aware if the intent of the social media team was to use the platform to find ‘issues’ and red flag them. Obviously I have not done any in-depth research on the issue but the fact that Nidhi Razdan, the person at the centre of the storm tagged the official handle regularly to announce the new job and that many users raised concerns about the official nature of the job by doing the same, went under the radar. Nidhi or others may have also tagged the handle when announcing events where she was describes as a teaching at Harvard (when she was not).

It maybe a case of being overwhelmed the regular tagging of the official handle even if visits the campus as a tourist. But it is intriguing that the social media team did not spot anything untoward with the claim of a job at the university when it was not official.

Are any social media agency experts listening? Maybe they can weigh in on the issue. I am all ears.

Do share your views.

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