The obvious - and rightful criticism - to the current fashion for Chief Listening Officers is that everybody in the organisation should be listening, not just one designated person or department.
But as this report suggests, Chief Listening Officers aren't really performing the touchy-feely task enshrined on their business card but instead bringing hard data-analysis skills to the torrent of online chatter about the brand. In fact, Susan Beebe - CLO at Dell - describes her job as building "complex queries."
I am in no doubt the need for such a role exists. What I question instead is the need for the grandstanding title.
In fact, listening is only one half of the CLO's job - and definitely not the more important half. As Susan Beebe clarifies in the comments in the this post, "It's important to not only "listen" but prioritize and disseminate that information back to the relevant business lines so they can take action on the information."
What the CLO is doing primarily is "prioritising feedback", choosing one thread of discussion over the other, ignoring the feeble - but probably revelant - voice, even while delivering on a delusional self-satisfaction to the brand that it's "listening" to everything directed at it.
In fact, if you have anything to say to the brand you'll have better luck routing it through anyone in the organisation except the CLO. While anyone in the organisation can ignore feedback and fail to act on it, it takes a CLO to do so and justify it as his/her job.
The critics are only partially right. It's indeed everyone's job to be Chief Listening Officer. Even better if everyone knows and agrees whose job it is to be Chief Not Listening Officer.
[Original pic by Un ragazzo chiamato Bi]