Review of Listen First!: Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage by Stephen D. Rappaport

Recently I read a copy of Listen First!: Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage by Stephen D. Rappaport on my Kindle iPad reader and really enjoyed it – though it was not an easy book to read – being more of a playbook.  The first few chapters contained most of the concepts the book delved into around listening, and the rest of the book drew upon the information and expanded upon it.   I liked the in depth case studies from the Audience Research Foundation which Stephen Rappaport freely drew upon, or more correctly, seemed to be par,  and woven into – the book.  On the other hand, after about chapter 10, I had readers fatigue – it’s almost as if any case study he put forward would have fit his arguments – meaning it was overkill to read this book as if it were a book, to read sequentially, and was more a place to go when you need to justify a particular tactic, approach, or find out what others have done in this space.

Having my notes on the Kindle has an unsold advantage, not only can I record notes on passages of the book as I read them, for later reference, but I can now share them online, and have been – all of this along with the benefits of getting books immediately and for less money than if I bought the physical copy.  I actually had a physical copy of Listen First!, but gave it away to a co-worker – as I did not need it (I had the online version).

Rappaport starts out by defining what Listening is – as it pertains to online listening systems such as Radian6, Sysomos, Brandwatch, at el, and makes a good Good point,  lots of things people think of as listening are really something else than listening – and many people  don’t know how to listen using these systems (no best practices put in place).

But is this listening? Is this consistent with the historic opportunity to hear your customers talk honestly about your brand? Or recognizing, as one pundit said recently, that “Twitter is free mind-reading!” I think not.

… if you’re doing social research, it is essential to fish where the fish are. Defining the footprint is the fish finder.

… People’s thoughts, feelings and conversations, previously hard to get to, are now shared, visible, directly accessible, collectible, and analyzable.

He makes another  point –  that decisions about where and how to listen should be determined by the project, brand, customers, and expertise of those involved; often the wrong people are making these decisions, or no one is. In fact, according to the author, listening  range of research applications often surprises people—“I didn’t know it could be used for that!”  He defines Social Research as the ability to analyze naturally occurring online conversation categories so as to better understand why people do what they do; the role of brands in their lives; and the product, branding, and communications implications for brand owners. Online research via  listening allows for the possibilities of finding answers to questions researchers did not think to ask in the first place.

Supporting the material in chapter 3 of my book, Rappaport points out that interest in multicultural listening is growing, as many realize how it can help marketers become more inclusive and expand their customer base (use cases are covered in Chapters 5 and 14).

As far as the self-serve platforms which I deal with extensively in Social Media Analytics, Steve Rappaport has this to say, and I could not have said the second point better myself:

… As we mentioned in Chapter 1, the primary goals of monitoring are public relations, including reputation management; company and brand protection; and customer service, outreach, and engagement.

…Since these are essentially self-serve solutions, it’s important to ensure that they are configured for each company’s listening needs, and that companies understand the strengths and limitations of their solution.

…Although they perform the brand monitoring functions just described in the social media monitoring section, their strength resides in their advanced analytic capabilities, which include uncovering and evaluating the importance of topics and themes.

But I’m happy to say Steve Rappaport and I are on the same exact page with this statement about online research and social listening – and I don’t think you see it much, esp in the communications space, which is one of the reasons I wrote my book:

Planning, running, and evaluating social media listening programs require the same discipline as managing a research project or continuous research program.

That’s right out of the horse’s mouth of the Audience Research Foundation – it can’t be said any clearer than that – many who try to use online listening for quick, one off analysis’s will find themselves unable to provide much of value from online listening if they don’t have the right disciplines and methodologies behind them.

Plus the needs of those people who want something quick and cheap – are going to be frustrated when they try to use the same platforms to do all their work – and  suggests most companies who pay for listenin,g but are dissatisfied with the results may have more than the listening system, unrealistic expectations or dissimilar lexicons to blame – it may ultimately be their questions that are most at fault.

.. . Social media listening divides into two categories: social media monitoring and social research.

… Those primarily monitoring conversations and alerting when something important comes up have different needs from those conducting research using heavy text analytics, working with full-service vendors, or running communities.

… Take the time to phrase your questions properly, and if possible, collaborate with colleagues to bring in different perspectives.  …. participants are often surprised by how challenging it can be to make a question re-searchable.  ….Companies that are not able to answer those questions will never know or appreciate listening’s effect on the business.

Steve also points out that listening begins when there’s a problem to solve…which helps to provide both the context and business process it needs to inform.

The crux of the matter is that listening insights in and of themselves are not revealed in standalone measures. Rather, they are often inputs to some other business process like customer service, R&D, marketing, sales, or public relations. For that reason, KPIs need to take the contribution listening makes to another process or function: their impact. 

The author also makes a point that quality research depends on your ability to discover and listen to voices that are especially relevant to your company, product, or service.  In other words, as I read it, you need to select all the sources your going to listen to, first – at least, if your going to do this a market research project. Getting this right is essential to a quality result..

… Nowadays, one of the most important goals is to ensure that the research reflects the people on a site or in a community who are interested in a topic, company, or product by “sharply defining the population you are going to study, and to get as much of that population as humanly possible…then researchers have more to gain by listening to the “right” group of people than they do by trying to generalize findings to a generic population.

…Failing to ascertain the characteristics that are part of almost every traditional survey makes some researchers uncomfortable because the people conversing cannot be classified with certainty, which runs counter to historical market research practice.

…Many listening initiatives that use it do so through vendor and consultant services that offer the right mix of people, process, and technology.

I could go on but I think there’s enough said here – Listen First!: Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage by Stephen D. Rappaport is a book everyone in this space should have on their book shelves – and if you have the patience to read all the way though it – then go for it


One thought on “Review of Listen First!: Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage by Stephen D. Rappaport”

  1. Marshall – thanks for the review of Listen First! I really liked how you stressed the methodological issues and fitness of listening solutions. If you’re in the city, or coming to it, let’s slate time for breakfast or some other time. You can reach me above, at ARF, or phone 646-465-5783. I cited your book on my blog and will get a copy to read.

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