Social listening for social change

The phrase ‘social listening’ might conjure up echoes of Big Brother following our every move – but social listening can be a force for good and it’s a method that’s increasingly popular with development and civil society organisations. Monitoring is a tradition within the development sector, and social-media monitoring provides a real-time approach to detecting and responding to social concerns that are often discussed online.

In the commercial world, social listening is mostly used to measure the popularity of a brand or company by gathering information from social media channels, such as blogs, wikis, news sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc. It’s a way to measure the success of marketing strategies and can provide valuable information about emerging trends and what consumers and clients think about specific topics, brands or products.

RNW Media’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and Citizens’ Voice programmes aim to build online communities of young people to encourage social change. Targeted social listening can help us strengthen the impact of this approach by ensuring that we are aware of what is being discussed online – both by our young target audience and by important stakeholders such as governments, media outlets and influencers.

What’s the buzz?
Social listening tools help us monitor what people talk about on social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This means we can process large volumes of data from different platforms and provide insights on what people are discussing there. These insights help to understand how to best engage with young people on our own platforms and also to map their stories and needs which can then be used to advocate for change. Up until now. RNW Media has largely focused on collecting data on the direct interactions with young people on our own websites and social media channels. In 2020 we will broaden our social listening work to obtain a clearer understanding of what happens beyond our own platforms in the online space.

Bursting the bubble
The aim is to analyse online public debate systematically in order to better understand the landscape that RNW Media aims to influence. Monitoring relevant stakeholders (such as media, journalists, politicians, activists, CSOs, influencers etc) provides insights into the mechanisms that cause changes in the public debate (eg which actors have the most influence). It also helps RNW Media’s country teams stay informed about what topics are discussed in which social “bubbles” – ensuring we don’t miss aspects of a debate that may not be discussed directly by our target audience.

Although RNW Media has less influence on discourse in the broader online landscape, monitoring the discussions of stakeholders around topics relevant to our programmes means we can make sure we are not missing out on important information shared by key-players who have the potential to elicit social change. Content shared on platforms such as news sites, discussion boards, blogs and websites can indicate opportunities for RNW Media to encourage the amplification of the youth voices expressed on our own channels and build strategic partnerships to increase impact.

Social media for change
Past events have shown that social drive, together with real-time communication with the masses, can create a powerful movement for social change. It has the potential to build virtual bridges and help societies to deal with challenges. The first massive Tahrir Square protest in Egypt and the public demonstrations in Tunisia after 20 years under a repressive regime are examples of societal events where social media played an important role. Tracking societal issues on social media, and in turn, having the online network to mobilise people has the potential to empower and influence social change.

RNW Media’s mission is: to identify young people’s needs and to bring young people together in user-owned digital communities where they can safely engage on taboos and sensitive topics and generate strong stories for advocacy to unleash their potential for social change. Social Listening is a powerful tool in realising that mission.