Passive vs. Active Social Media “listening”

Post by: Kim Stephens
While preparing for a joint presentation, James Hamilton, aka distater_guy, and I had a conversation that led us to the conclusion that there are essentially two types of listening to social media: active versus passive. The distinction, I think is interesting because it involves potentially using some different strategies and tools.
But first, what does listening mean in this context. I think it could be defined as observing content generated by all users of social media to include private citizens, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and all levels of governmental–local, state and federal. Active listening includes all of the above with the added element of interaction.

The available data are related to the sources mentioned above: eye witness accounts from citizens including pictures and video; actions the government, at all levels, is taking; real-time data from government agencies (e.g. NOAA); and actions of the NGOs and the private sector. Information of some kind or another is available during all phases of the disaster continuum, but of course the response phase is what gets the most attention.

Active Listening:

Active listening, when there is not a crisis, could include answering questions about preparedness and mitigation through the various platforms your agency uses, talking to people that reside in your community via twitter, and placing yourself in conversations that mention your agency or your organization. Social media campaigns designed only to get people to listen to you don’t really count as listening: essentially that is just broadcasting and is really no different than putting out a press release.

Listening during a crisis can be both active and passive:
If a crisis is unfolding in your community there are many things you can do to listen. But why should you listen? Even if you don’t have a social media presence here are four things you should be on the lookout for:

1. Does anyone have information we don’t? No matter what the source.
2. Is anyone unwittingly spreading false or incorrect information?
3. Is anyone wittingly spreading false or incorrect information?
4. Is the message that we want to convey getting across?

There are several ways to do this and I’ll just mention a few. If you know where the crisis has occurred you can look to trendsmap.com to see the key words in people’s tweets and to see how much chatter there is around the event. During the shooting on the UT campus in Texas last year I zoomed in on Austin to see what people were saying. The great thing about this application is that you don’t even have to have a twitter account to use it. It will also point out the most popular hashtags that people are using, which can help you if you want to start tagging your tweets with those tags in order to join in the conversation–which will give your message a better chance of being seen.
To see how this works, look for a trends map of the flooding that is occurring. The map shown is from the winter snow event.

Another good tool is google real-time search, which I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions. For ease of use and amount of information, it’s really hard to beat. The great thing about that tool is that it will give you real time info from many platforms: YouTube, twitter, Facebook, and even blogs. You do need to know the event is unfolding, however, in order to type in a search for the info–James and I wondered if the US Government was monitoring this type of site while the Bin Laden mission was unfolding in Pakistan.

One way to actively listen during a crisis is to ask questions. Administrator Fugate told the story in his congressional testimony last week about asking someone in American Samoa, via twitter, to tell him about the situation on the ground during an unfolding event. Asking people to tell you what they know is also a great way to have confidence in the information–I also think the person/people you engage with would feel a sense of obligation to be accurate. I am not saying this should be the only source of information–just one  source. This is another reason to be on these platforms before a crisis– you will get to know people you can trust.

Passive listening:
Although the term sounds a little negative it actually isn’t. Passive listening is a little like having CNN on in the office all day, you might not be paying attention, but when they put up an alert it catches your eye.
For twitter, I think tweetdeck, especially for the desktop, is one of the best ways to passively listen. Tweetdeck is a twitter application (there are rumors twitter is buying the company) that allows you to see hashtags sorted by column: e.g you could have a column for only government agencies that you follow, a column for each time your agency is mentioned, and a column for whatever event is unfolding across the country–I have a column for #memfloods right now, for example. I also have a column for #smem, of course.
Every time someone sends out a tweet in one of your highlighted columns, it is placed on top of whatever computer program you are using, and chirps–find the mute button on your keyboard! Hootesuite is similar but I prefer tweetdeck–I think hootesuite does some sort if owl call, but I’m not sure. (A little SM humor).
Whatever platform use choose isn’t the point , the point is that by keeping an eye on what’s being said gives you an opportunity to be alerted to unfolding events often 15-20 minutes, depending on the story, before major media. And, probably more importantly, the event might not ever make it on the national news, even though it might be a big deal for your community.

For those of you who say you will never use social media platforms I dare you just to listen. My guess is you will be tempted to respond.

2 responses to “Passive vs. Active Social Media “listening”

  1. An important distinction in the two monitoring approaches. We should highlight the need to be able to “flip the switch” and go into crisis communications mode when needed. Changes in the way people and produce information have made monitoring social media an imperative. Not only in the EOC/EICs during activation but during routine situations as crisis communications techniques now apply to pretty much all aspects of reputation management because there are no longer news cycles in our connected world/

    Great post again !

  2. kim26stephens

    Thanks so much Patrice. Yes, flipping a switch is a great analogy. Even if organizations don’t want to participate actively in social media they still could monitor to see what is going on. My guess is that after seeing what’s being said the urge to respond will be overwhelming.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s