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Executing a listening plan

iStock_000000564491XSmall.jpgLast week I wrote a post on the lack of listening that is taking place among top marketing executives. In my opinion, most of the problem with listening stems a lack of the right tools and a lack of an action plan for what to do with the information.

Two of my top key takeaways from that post got me thinking.


  1. You have to have humans involved
  2. You have to have an escalation plan

I'm a visual person, so I wanted to come up with a construct that could frame this challenge in the enterprise for further discussion. Here is what I cam up with, let me know what you think:

layersoflistening.png
[Click to enlarge image.]

The data layer

The data layer has been getting a lot of attention lately. Many companies are very active in this space and provide great solutions. However, data without human filtering is useless. The key to the data layer is that you're listening to the spaces that matter and that it spans media types.

Data alone without human filtering is useless.

Aggregating news, TV, radio, blogs, micromedia, message boards, etc into a single location is becoming a necessity. People are doing this now, but the information is rarely synchronized and shared in a coordinated manner. Good filtering in the data layer can help to eliminate work in the human layer, but it's a fine line to make sure that emerging trends aren't excluded. The solutions that exist in this space at the current time are not adequate for major global brands.

The human layer

This, in my mind, is the key to success. No matter how good the data layer, you still need a human looking at it who knows the business, challenges and processes. You need to spot trends across media, uncover new innovations, and listen to what is happening with internal department responsibilities in mind.

The humans in this layer should span media formats, look for trends and spot emerging issues to flag for appropriate follow up. Within a company, these flags will need to be communicated to the right department at the right level. That's where the action level takes over.

The action layer

Listening without action is a waste of money and is one of the reasons I think more companies are not engaging. Companies are huge, siloed beasts that eat disorganization for lunch. Rolling out a listening plan is a challenge, but not one that can't be overcome.

The humans who review data need to know the structure of the organization and the people involved. In other words, these people need to be 100% integrated in the company's culture/process. They need to know the legalities of the business, HR issues, communications opportunities, brand/product feedback, how employees are engaging and representing the company and what is being said about the companies media properties.

In a company that is fully engaged in social media, this structure is VERY flat and responsive to even the smallest issues/opportunities.

Within each layer there needs to be an escalation plan. I didn't show that in this diagram, because each department will be different. You need to think about how the business operates and look at the possible issues that could arise. For each possible issue, determine who needs to know what and how fast they need to know it.

Here is an example for a consumer product company:


  1. Issue is detected. What is the issue?
  2. It's a product safety problem. How serious is it?
  3. Lives could potentially be threatened.
  4. Alert all heads of departments by SMS/email as well as key contacts within each department
  5. Schedule call as soon as possible

A cross-functional team needs to sit across all related departments to bind this process together and ensure success. They determine alerting protocol and responses. In a company that is fully engaged in social media, this structure is VERY flat and responsive to even the smallest issues/opportunities.

Listening as step one

If you remember my post from late September "Should your company blog?" (it applies to your company/CEO/VP/or yourself), the first step in the process is listening. The more companies that take this first step and listen are on their way to a solid foundation in customer engagement. You can't start truly engaging with a strategic insight until you listen. What's stopping you?

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How would you improve this? What am I missing? I'd love to have your feedback.

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