Saturday, March 01, 2014

Why don't we actually listen to people instead of just aggregating streams?

The technology industry loves to take very meaningful words and terminology and reduce it's meaning and depth down to a shadow of it's former self for the purposes of first strike advantage or developing market share.

Having broken ground in social media, but now spreading across the digital landscape is another one of these bold misuses of the English language - the concept of Listening.  The first instances of Listening technology that I saw (a few years ago) were essentially streams of data from multiple sources, typically filtered by brands or account names.  When the volume of data was too much to read, these streams gave way to trending reports based on keyword analysis, geography, sentiment (we should probably talk about how this word has lost it's way also) and other aggregating factors that help us do amazing things, like derive averages.  Oh, we love our averages in marketing. I always say that if you want to do something average, base your strategy on the averages you get in your reporting.

Aggregating, reporting, analyzing, filtering, mining - any of these would have been a better term than listening. But Listening made it sound so active, so enticing, so concerned and empathetic to the needs of people.  Listening it was.  One small problem - it was very selective hearing.

To me this begs the question - why not actually listen?  Why don't we actively listen?  We have the capability.  Let's borrow from the psychology and personal improvement gurus and build out some inter personal skills based on real human capacity and concern.

How to Really Listen to Someone By Tina Su. “Everyone desires to be heard. When we listen to others, we validate their need to be acknowledged and understood. Deep down inside, we all want to know that we matter, that we are important.
Creativity and Listening by David Intrator. “There sure is a lot of talk about listening.But in our contemporary world there doesn’t seem to be much listening going on.Which is really no surprise, considering how noisy life’s become. Add to that the clamor that naturally goes on inside our heads as conscious human beings, and listening becomes a near impossibility.
How to listen in which Dave Gray shares his 10 commandments for listening. “If you want to be a better communicator learn to listen, and more importantly, listen to learn.

  1. "Validate their need to be acknowledged and understood."  From putting some basic acknowledgement in place to truly honouring and earning the digital opt-in, this particular facet of empathy is a great guideline for what we can with big data when we break it down into the conversations we want to have with people (marketers, people is another word for customers)
  2. "Listening becomes a near impossibility." So much noise. So much clamor. If we want to hear someone we are going to have to shut up for a minute. Stop broadcasting. Start having conversations. It will change your, I mean their, life.
  3. "Learn to listen, and more importantly, listen to learn." I do honestly care whether or not you had lunch today, but I don't need to see a picture of it. It's not about hearing every single thing that goes on, it's about the cues and clues to inform and propel the conversations we need to have. When we listen to learn, we can do something with the things we hear.
This might seem obvious, now that I've written it down, but trust me it's not. This particular area is prone to some of the buzzword-laden, inauthentic, myopic discussions I have ever had with product managers and marketers.  Trust me, I was listening.