Whither conversation? (1)

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Thomas Cook listening labThis image has been lurking in my in-box for a couple of weeks now. It’s from a press release from Thomas Cook celebrating the launch of their Social Media Listening Lab. To quote the release:

The Thomas Cook Listening Lab, using a specially trained social media listening team will provide real-time global brand reputation management, listening in over 180 languages about “chatter” around their brands.  The team will identify social ‘brand champions’ and who the company should be interacting with socially to help increase sales.  Data will also be collected that will be used for future marketing campaigns and to provide insight on how to heighten social brand awareness.  The facility will aid in crisis management, provide real time comparison of competitor brands, and importantly, listen to all customer sentiment.

Maybe I’m a crusty old Cluetrain fundementalist, but there’s nothing in there I find remotely inspiring. There’s no suggestion of the idea of reaching out and engaging customers in any form of conversation, just monitoring, processing data and intervening with the people who might boost sales. Now, bear in mind that this is a press release, a form of communication whose relationship with reality is often tenuous at best. This could be a more social effort than it appears.

However, it appears like a profoundly anti-social approach to social media. A dark, windowless room, full of screens and dashboards. A small team tasked with listening to their customers – which presumably implies – or at least sends the message – that the rest of the company doesn’t need to bother. Is this really the promise of corporate social media?

There’s no element of making the company walls more porous to the customer here; no attempt to engage in widescale conversation. Listening is great. Collecting data is great. But they are just the first two steps on a journey towards actually beginning dialogue with the customer. What’s potrayed here isn’t conversational at all. And that seems to miss too much of the potential for social media in this market.

There. I can delete the press release now.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.