Meet the Chief Listening Officer

convprism One of the things I hear a great deal of when in conversation with businesses about communication is how important it is to listen to what people are saying.

I couldn’t agree more – you need to listen before you can engage in a conversation.  ‘Engage’ is the operative word here because if you’re really interested in connecting with your customers, your employees, anyone else with whom you wish to, well, engage, you do need to have a good idea of what’s important to them, what’s on their minds. Only by listening to what they have to say can you gain enough information in order to start a conversation.

That’s what two organizations have most definitely recognized, according to, which showcases the stellar examples of Kodak and Dell, both of which have Chief Listening Officers. More on that in a minute.

The advent of social media has brought the topic of listening to the forefront of organizations’ communication planning, internally and externally. During the past decade, especially in the past couple of years, we’ve seen social media become a significant element in the strategic approach to communication in many organizations. Some best practices are emerging, too.

We’ve also seen the emergence of new roles to bring individuals with wisdom and insight to the communication mix where everyone has an opinion and ideas that often require significant structure for them to be viable in an organization setting.

Enter the Chief Social Media Officer, a job title that sprang up in the US a year or so ago. The case for a CSMO role was well argued by Jennifer Leggio last year.

It’s not a function that seems to have captured imaginations on this side of the Atlantic, though. I know of no one in the UK with that title (although I do know a handful with the responsibilities). I know of only one person in the whole of Europe who has it – Philippe Borremans, the Chief Social Media Officer at Van Marcke Group in Belgium (who I interviewed for a recent WCG ThoughtLeader podcast).

So I wonder how a Chief Listening Officer will do.

In my view, such a role implied by the title is surely and exactly what organizations need today, especially large organizations. It’s not enough just to listen to conversations, analyze what’s going on and interpret the metrics: you need to know exactly, with precision, what the huge amount of interpreted data means to your organization specifically and what the people in their different roles can and must do as a result of the knowledge and insight you’ve gleaned from that listening, from that interpretation of the data.

Above all, you must know who in your organization needs what information, and be able to get that info to those people, on demand, when they need it.

Such a role isn’t necessarily one for someone with a communication background. That’s the case at Dell and Chief Listener Susan Beebe who told AdAge that her job is "complex."

[…] "There is a data-analysis research role to this job, and I have a very technical background," Ms. Beebe said. Dell has thousands of new mentions per day and the CLO’s job is one of "broad listening" – as Dell has such a deep penetration globally in so many different markets.

Unlike many social-media jobs, this position is very inward-facing. She’s listening to Dell customers and consumers and giving all the intel to her Dell colleagues internally.

"Our chief listener is critical to making sure the right people in the organization are aware of what the conversations on the web are saying about us, so that relevant people in the business can connect with customers," said Richard Binhammer, communications executive at Dell. Mr. Binhammer points out that "Dell has been listening for four years and created a position called ‘Listening Czar’ two years ago. We are a leader in the listening space."

Another leader is Kodak who has Chief Listening Officer Beth LaPierre who says data mining and figuring out who needs the information is her "big task."

[…] "We get about 300,000 new mentions of Kodak every month and we don’t censor the comments or videos people create about our company"[…] "I’ve spent the past five months defining how we handle those data via technology and tools."

[…] "What kind of information does our marketing team need vs. our product team?" Ms. LaPierre said. "How do we classify the data? What is the process for handling ‘ABC’ information vs. ‘XYZ’ information?" For example, she sends commentary about features and product requests to a product development team and so forth.

These are great insights, ones to give careful attention to as you consider what you need to do in your organization as part of your engagement planning and understanding the real value of listening as a strategic business tool.

Let’s see how the CLO captures imaginations.

[Image above is a snip from The Conversation Prism created by Brian Solis and JESS3, used under CC license.]

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Judith Copeland

    Thank you for sharing this insightful article, I do think however, a versatile communications person who understands measurement and has technical knowledge could do this job.

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