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Social Listening Vs Social Monitoring: What's the Difference?

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There are a lot of articles written about the difference between media monitoring and social listening, but did you know that almost all of them are written by people who have never worked in the industry? Thanks to the commodification of content marketing, there is so much repetition and superficially researched content. SEO didn't help.

What's the difference between social monitoring and social listening?

Let's start from the beginning. The first known media monitoring company was founded by a Polish immigrant in London in 1852. Its creation was a result of his stumble onto celebrities' vanity and desire to see their clippings from his collection. The trend continued with such services being primarily for celebrities who want to see their names in the press.

Media monitoring was born to cater to the ego of celebrities. Of course this continued to evolve until we have today's plethora of companies, to the point of having to write an article explaining the difference between social listening and media monitoring.

Digital monitoring was gradually introduced into the media monitoring mix, which was dominated by print and broadcast. I remember PR clients demanding print outs of all their online articles. Seriously. I always thought that it was crazy, but I kept reminding myself of the origin of media monitoring. It wasn't until around 2013 onward that brands started getting serious about social media monitoring. The problem is, this was done by PR agencies and marketing agencies. What was once purely in the domain of PR and Communication is now becoming integral in Marketing. The overlap created confusion.

You can trust the marketing folks to come up with a new name, in comes social listening. You will see some describe the difference as being about action vs metrics, or data vs insights. The definitions are evolving as we continue to adapt and find new ways to use the data at our disposal. And let me tell you, it's a lot of data! It's a ridiculous amount of rich data. But at the heart of it all, the technology and schemas are the same. The only difference is the depth and breadth of the data.

But how do I know who's selling what, when I'm shopping for social listening? Or was it media monitoring? Here's an easy way to look at it, if the company makes no mention of media monitoring and focus purely on social listening, they probably have limited data. This is not a rule, but a reasonable assumption. If they do mention media monitoring and are international, you've got about the right size.

Media monitoring is more institutional and requires high accuracy, whereas providing a social listening service focuses on the insights you can glean from high volumes of data. For example, a telecom regulator would want media monitoring to ensure compliance by local operators in their communication. They are looking at official communication and they want every single one of them. No exceptions. With social listening, we are more forgiving when it comes to missing a post, because the focus is an approximation. If we can capture 98% of the stream, we are able to accurately assess sentiment. We don't need that extra 2%, but it would be nice.

But media monitoring companies are also on the way out and we will start seeing the term used less, with social listening being the default reference. Local traditional media monitoring companies are being reduced to providing support to their younger more agile social listening counterparts. It's a mini-disruption.

Which is considered more proactive social monitoring or social listening?

Media monitoring is about gathering information; capturing what people are saying or posting about a brand or topic. It is used to measure what is already achieved, and create a record of what is happening in the social space.

We like to think of the social listening part is more active and strategic. Using data for actionable insights such as engaging a happy customer to shifting brand positioning strategy. Social listening uses the data gathered to improve your social media strategy.

Some marketers consider social listening to be more proactive and monitoring to be reactive. Once again, this is a nascent industry and we will re-define things as we go along. Social listening in itself did not exist in our lexicon until recently, let alone designating it as the only place where we find proactive tools.

It doesn't matter what you define to fit under social listening and media monitoring, as long as you are consistent about it.