Jun 25, 2009

7 Listening Tools: Getting from Asking to Listening

T-shirt that says, WARNING I am not listening P&G and Nielsen are trying to understand how learning gleaned from “listening” to online consumer conversations compares to survey-based findings (”asking”).
What we learned was surprising and important. Findings from “listening” and “asking” were largely consistent. Most importantly, in every case, “listening” added to our understanding in important ways, meaningfully enhancing insights, and sometimes suggesting a different course of action. For example, a survey on cloth diapering identified cost savings and sustainability as key reasons for using cloth diapers. Listening took this further, revealing the passion cloth-diapering moms have for “CD’ing,” and connecting it to core values around parenting. This led to a fundamentally different, more holistic understanding of cloth diapering than was available from survey results alone.

Listening consistently provided valuable depth and context … adding listening to the picture was a little like going from an X-ray to a CAT scan. Furthermore, listening revealed the level of consumer passion or intensity associated with a specific topic. Understanding “intensity” can be just as important to winning in the marketplace as understanding size or “magnitude,” suggesting the need to pursue survey-based and listening-based approaches (or hybrid methods) going forward.--More on the Nielsen Online Analyst Blog
It's clear that asking is important. But, information from listening added to information from surveys (asking) gives a more nuanced and more complete picture of what's going on.

For government, it means looking for ways to listen. Here are 7 easy--and available--listening tools.
  1. If you survey, be sure to leave space for free response. Yes, it's harder to quantify, but it's the best way to get to what your users/visitors really mean.
  2. Regularly review the emails sent to the generic webmaster address. You will learn what people are looking for, what makes them unhappy, and potential gaps in content or services.
  3. Review weblogs for search terms. These are the words and phrases that people are using to get to your site. Take the most popular terms and run the search yourself. What are the results? Is it what a user might expect?
  4. Review your internal search logs to find out what people are looking for once they're on your site. Quarterly, look at all the search terms and group them by "like." When you group them you might see a different trend. Also, your users will tell you what they call your content (you say "lawful permanent residence" and they say "green card").
  5. Check out what people are looking for on Google. There is a suite of free query tools that can give you insights into the people who may or may not visit your site. Start at What is the Google zeitgeist? and work your way through the search and comparison tools.
  6. Take the terms people relate to you (in 3 and 4) and use twitter search. You will get folks' raw opinion. Some good, some bad. Save the search as an RSS feed for regular access. Look for other twitter monitoring tools.
  7. Sign up for Google Alerts. Enter the terms to track and find out what bloggers, news sources and others are saying.
Got a good tool that you use? Put it in the comments and help a guy out.

BTW, Nielsen and P+G are doing a webinar to discuss their findings on Friday at 2 pm. You can register here.


  1. Terrific list! I guess we're doing better than I thought, since we're using several of these already, at least sporadically.

    But we're now researching a more comprehensive listening program.

    I completely agree with the comments on listening vs. asking.

  2. Item 3 (weblogs). If your site has Frequently Asked Questions, search patterns and number of unique visitors to FAQ pages are indicators of visitors' interests.


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