Thought Leadership

Have brands underestimated the role of listening when it comes to building and supporting online communities?

Assumption has long been the death of creative ambition, but in the midst of a crisis, listening and understanding consumers’ lived experience has never been more important.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE

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Social listening has long been one of the most powerful, yet all too often, neglected tools in brand building. While marketers have been quick to adopt the language of communities, the investment of time and resources into truly understanding and meeting the needs of those consumers has not always kept pace. In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, market research investment has been hard hit. At a time when brands cannot afford to be out of touch with their consumers, this is a shift marketers should be wary of.

While online reviews have often been criticised for only representing the ‘extremes' of any given audience, social listening picks up the shades of grey within experience that are so vital to brand building. As consumers are facing new challenges and seeking reassurance, as well as offering recommendations to help their peers navigate the challenges ahead, keeping your pulse on consumers’ fluctuating thoughts, feelings, attitudes has never been more important. 

Increasingly building online communities is about more than simply reflecting culture as it is. The tragic death of George Floyd has shone a light on the need not only to improve representation and actively listen to communities but also make tangible actions and investments well beyond any single marketing campaign or Instagram square. 

At a time when active listening is so vital for both business and society at large we asked a selection of industry experts, have brands underestimated the role of listening when it comes to building and supporting online communities?

If we take labels off, tear down silos and listen to one another, true change becomes not only possible, but a way to define your brand in a noisy world.

Chomoi Picho-Owiny

Chomoi Picho-Owiny

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Creative Director

Manifest

It's human nature to put labels on things and put those things in boxes. We do it with cultures, movements and people. It's the same with social listening: it stays within the community management team and fails to make it into wider creative briefs. What (we) creatives need is a unified approach where listening impacts overall strategy upfront, and the loop gets closed.

Happily this stuff isn't difficult to grasp. Nor is it new. Obama's '08 campaign wrote the playbook on "micro-listening". They used what they heard in a responsible way to craft multiple brand messages to encourage people to act for a cause they cared about.

Brands changing the world today are in listening mode all the time. Since the tragic death of George Floyd, the online conversation has changed. In response, our own client Brewgooder posted an open letter titled 'Work in Progress' to act on anti-racism.

Read it and you'll see a brand displaying their values in a unified way, touching all areas of their business. If we take labels off, tear down silos and listen to one another, true change becomes not only possible, but a way to define your brand in a noisy world. 

If there is anything that recent months have taught brands, it’s to listen harder and offer something of value.

Lydia Hoye

Lydia Hoye

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Managing Partner

Kazoo Communications

We listen to what is of value. Brands who have built online communities successfully have placed strategic importance in how they benefit their customers rather than just the benefit they gain.

If there is anything that recent months have taught brands, it’s to listen harder and offer something of value. If industry research is to be believed, the foreseeable will see people basing brand preferences on ‘trust’ and a community that is valued and listened to can help exalt this.

A recent example of a brand who usually gets listening to their community right is from Microsoft’s Xbox. With the highly anticipated livestream for the Xbox Series X many in the community felt cheated about how the expected and billed ‘gameplay’ was shown, as it should have been more explicitly called ‘game teasers’.

Really listening to the community before the livestream would have indicated that their expectations were out of sync with the content and Xbox could have managed this. Over a month on and there is still backlash as the YouTube video of the stream still has more dislikes than likes. With 2020 being a competitive year for launching next-gen consoles could Xbox have afforded this community distrust and were they listening hard enough?

Being proactive, listening and acting before you are pushed is key.

Harriet Kingaby

Harriet Kingaby

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Co-Chair

Conscious Advertising Network

I don’t think that listening is the answer. Brands need to listen, act, and be proactive when it comes to world events.

It shouldn’t take the death of a black man in custody to make brands think about board diversity. It shouldn’t take being called out on social media for appearing next to terrorist content for brands to take control of their ad spend, and yet that is the world we are in. 

When I first started working in communications in 2009, we talked about how social media would ‘flip the funnel’ from broadcast techniques, to dialogue between people and brands. Today, everyone has a platform and an opinion, but how much are brands really listening?

2020 has been marked by huge social events and upheaval. And the time imperative on
tackling issues such as climate change, structural racism, plus COVID recovery mean that things aren’t going back to ‘normal’ any time soon.

We don’t build brands like we used to; influencing what people are saying about you means staying ahead of the news agenda as well as just your consumers’ needs. Everyone has a voice and brands are increasingly being held to account while trying to navigate a tough global agenda. Being proactive, listening and acting before you are pushed is key.

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