Thumbnail Social Listening is Not Big Brother

In this blog, I want to talk about social listening. 

Social listening is the act of actually listening to public conversations that are happening across social media and forums and blogs. 


In the past six months I've read two media articles criticising government and public sector agencies for engaging in social listening. 

I have to say that I disagree with the fundamental concept and argument being put across in those media articles suggesting that social listening is some form of big brother where people are listening into private conversations and that particular individuals are being listened to. 


From my point of view, any government or public sector agency worth their salt (that's a good Irish phrase) so doing their work in terms of best practice, would be fully au fait and fully aware of the narrative and the conversations that are happening on social media. Click To Tweet



Social media is mainstream communications. 


You may agree or disagree with it, but actually we have journalists, we have media outlets who are breaking news first on social media. 

They're developing stories, they're sharing their interviews and updates right across the social web, they're getting clicks and they're getting advertising revenue on the back of social media. 


When you engage in social listening, you are using artificial intelligence, you're using machine learning software in order to create and to aggregate data related to keywords. 


Let's say that I wanted to do social listening for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, I might set up alerts for any time that the NHS related to Covid-19 is is mentioned on social media. 


Why do I do it? 

Because I want to be informed, I want to take the temperature of the public around coronavirus, I want to understand how they feel about policies that we're introducing, I want to understand where their gripes, their concerns, their complaints are, because we know a lot of people go to social media and share their dissatisfaction with public services. 


I also want to know who has maximum share of social voice around coronavirus in different parts of the UK. 


We know that the coronavirus has peaks and troughs and obviously you're interested in the geographic conversations as well as the conversations around particular topics.

So it's really really important that if you are serious about social media, if you're serious about listening to the public, hearing what they're saying and understanding where they're coming from. 

This can make you a better communicator. 


This is not big brother in my view. 

This is social media best practice. 

This is actually government and public sector caring about what's being said and using that information to fill any gaps and any voids in any vacuum in their communication plan and also correcting the record, because we know that there's a rise in digital disinformation in 2021. 


In fact that was my prediction in the 2021 State of Social Media Report produced by TalkWalker in conjunction with HubSpot and that appeared at number two in the top 10 social media trends of 2021. 


So correcting the record and trying to overtake people who like to spread disinformation for their own benefit or maybe they're genuinely misinformed. 


In my view, social listening is a fundamental part of any government social media strategy. 

It is also listening to publicly available information that citizens are putting out on social media and it also will identify particular trends or concerns and gaps in communication that they might have in their strategy. 


As always I'd love to know your thoughts on this. 

Social listening is one of the topics that we cover in the Diploma in Social Media for Government and Public Sector, so if you'd like to know more about social listening, why not consider taking that course, you can find out more information at the link below;


Joanne Sweeney 

Public Sector Marketing Institute

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