Why do researchers find social listening so frustrating?

When I talk with Social Listening teams, they love it.

But when I talk to researchers, that’s not quite the phrase they use. Oh no. Over the last 10 years, almost without exception, all the researchers I talk to tell me how frustrated they are with it.

How can the experience of two groups, using the same tools, be so different?

I think it’s where they come from and where they want to go.

Most of the social intelligence professionals I know have grown up with the tools and the data.

They cut their teeth in the early days, before TikTok and Telegram were a twinkle in a developer’s eye.

The first use cases for social listening tended to be about brand reputation. Is anyone saying anything bad about us and are we at risk?

Then came customer service and campaign tracking.

These end goals suit the capabilities of the platforms. Relatively quick, always on, pulse checks.

The skill sets developed around analytics and reporting.

What these wonderful people tend not to be are traditional market researchers.

Market Researchers are a bit of a different breed.

They’ve cut their teeth on data collection (surveys and focus groups), detailed analysis and insight creation. They know it inside and out.

But the vendors’ promises sound so appealing. All this rich insight at the click of a button.

This is where the frustration starts to set in.

At face value, the data from Social Listening doesn’t look like anything they could use. The noise to signal ratio is way off.

Then the ‘insight’ tools that come with the dashboards are suitable for campaign tracking but are profoundly lacking for more in-depth research.

So, they’re left with dubious data and rudimentary analysis tools.

Their hope that social data would be useful has hit a brick wall.

Time and time again.


This is a problem and it’s holding us back.

The world of social intelligence needs researchers’ skills, ambition and vision to grow. To become something more than a purely analytical tool.

The overlap between social listening and market research is too thin and needs to change.

Both disciplines have their flaws, together they can overcome them.

Social data is truly worthwhile.

It’s a chance to hear the stories of people’s lives as they would tell them.

It can be a source of meaningful insight.

But it takes skill and experience to get there.

We created a getting started guide to help researchers get passed the initial frustration and start to make social data work for them.

We also provide training directly and through the MRS, ESOMAR and the Social Intelligence Lab – drop us a line to find out more.

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