The Myth of the Chief Listening Officer

The first time the concept of a CLO came onto my rader was in 2007, when eConsultancy published an article called “Introducing the Chief Listening Officer.” Contrary to its title, the article was not actually a demand for companies to begin filling that precise position, but was instead an early call for brands to view social channels as a place where they could interact in a meaningful way with their customers.

Bigfoot or Chief Listening Officer?

Since then, Dell and Kodak made headlines for hiring CLOs. This spawned hundreds of articles written by social media-minded bloggers embracing the idea and writing job descriptions that they, quite possibly, hoped to someday fill.  But these speculators have mostly been either Waiting for Godot, The Great Pumpkin, or chasing a mythical white whale. Go ahead and search for the position on company rosters. Search for postings for the CLO position on and Monster.  You’ll find tracks, maybe the scent of an old trail, but finding one is rarer than getting a photograph of  Bigfoot.

So what happened?

The best brands have woken up to the fact that listening is everyone’s job, from customer service departments to sales departments to marketing departments. All need to be highly engaged in the conversation about their brand in social channels. Everyone from a company’s call center reps to the CEO needs to be highly invested in knowing what’s being said online and how that data is being tracked, stored and utilized.  Many other brands are putting a toe in with their own marketing or PR people, or outsourcing these duties to agencies.  Most are not yet ready to begin clearing out an office in preparation for yet another C-level position.

Perhaps the CLO is actually best thought of as a mythological creature.  A symbol of a company that is highly attuned to the needs of its customers, anticipating every need and desire almost before posts are made. One that optimizes social channels at every turn, micro-targeting ads based on highly personal demographic information.  And one that always knows the ROI of his social investments.


5 Responses to “The Myth of the Chief Listening Officer”

  1. AnnieR June 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    Afraid you can’t use the white whale any more – Migaloo is alive and well off the east coast of Australia!

  2. Dave Jackson February 8, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    William (Bill?)

    I first wrote the article entitled Introducing the Chief Listening Officer in 2005 for a UK Financial Services journal called Argent. As you rightly say it was not about a title then but about a culture that I thought (and still think) organisations should actively embrace. It is about building an organisation that listens, understands and responds. That does not mean doing exactly what customers say but it is about recognising that they have an opinion that should be understood and factored into decision making.

    That it has gone on to become a real title is interesting but of itself does not guarantee success. Banks have Chief Risk Officers but we still got into one hell of a mess in the last few years from banking screw ups.

    Dave Jackson

  3. William Tyree February 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Totally agree, Dave. Thanks so much for chiming in. It’s an honor to hear from the original town crier, so to speak.

  4. William Tyree February 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    How true!

  5. A. Rivera July 7, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    I have recently been researching the CLO position and have come across several articles which claim that listening is everyone’s job. The problem is that no one is accountable if it is everyone’s job and no one is dedicated solely to listening. If there were one person, or team, specifically searching and responding to customers, directly or indirectly, that person/team could make a great impact on the success of their organization/brand. We have to consider how society receives their information and how society communicates most; online news sources and social media.

    At the end of the day it is everyone’s job to wash their hands after using the restroom, but we still have to hang up a sign to remind them, and not everyone complies.

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