Listening is a buzzword of the social media age. Businesses are no longer forced to go out into the world and ask customers what they want. Instead, customers broadcast their wants and needs publicly, for all the world to see. Millions of Tweets, Facebook updates, Pins and Google+ posts are sent out into cyberspace every day.
The question is, amid this constant noise, and thousands of messages every second, what’s the best way to listen?
How can businesses tune in to the messages they need to hear from social media, and let customers know they’re being heard?
In the classic psychology book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck outlines five ways parents can listen to their children. Each way requires a different – and progressively deeper – style of listening. And all five of them can be adapted for social media.
1. The Victorian: Seen and Not Heard
In this approach, children are banned from speaking. For Peck, this is the right approach when children talking would be distracting from an urgent situation that requires full attention, or when talking would be rude.
The social media equivalent is hitting the off-switch on your social networks to focus on other aspects of your business or marketing. This is especially important when you need time to refresh and reboot, when you’re working on a project that requires your full attention, or when you need to be creative. I find it impossible to be creative with only half my mind present.
2. Ears blocked: Ignoring the chatter
Children love to chatter, Peck says, and often don’t want attention. They’ll talk to themselves for “the pure joy of chattering”.
Paying attention to your Twitter feed or Facebook page 24 hours a day is impossible. If nothing else, you’ve got to eat, sleep and wash your face. Sometimes you’ve got to let go and allow all the updates to gush past on the corner of your computer screen, unseen and unheard. There will be other times when you’ll give more attention, but right now, you’ve got other things to do.
3. The Faker: Pretending to Listen
Here, parents carry on with what they’re doing as the child talks, answering with an occasional “uh huh”, but not really listening.
On social media you can pretend to be present with scheduled tweets and updates. Scheduled tweets let your followers know you’re around and approachable if they ever want to talk. You’re providing constant value, and keeping yourself visible, without the trade-off of giving your full attention.
4. One Ear On: Selective Hearing
For a parent, selective listening involves tuning in and out of what their child is saying, depending on how important the kid’s message seems.
This is the most useful approach for social media, as it allows you to dip into the right conversations while ignoring the rest of the background chatter. Here’s a few useful tips to get started with selective hearing.
- Twitter Lists and G+ Circles. Creating Twitter lists and Google+ circles allows you to choose a select group of people whose updates you never want to miss. This is particularly useful if you use Twitter for professional networking, as you can create a target list of people you’d like to engage with.
- Hashtags and Twitter search. Dip into conversations around your brand or niche with a #hashtag search. You can find popular hashtags in your niche at hashtags.org. Topsy pulls up the most popular recent tweets related to a hashtag. As a bonus, Topsy also lets you search public G+ updates.
- InboxQ. This browser plugin conducts a constant, real-time Twitter search for questions in your niche. You can jumnp right in and answer the questions, building new relationships, showing your expertise, and pulling new people in to your sales funnel.
5. The Real Listener: Full Attention
The fifth way of listening is “to truly listen to the child, giving him or her your full and complete attention.” Peck says this is the most effortful way to listen, but also the most rewarding.
For social media users, this is when you’re fully present on social media, replying to your followers, answering their questions, and posting live updates. Of course, you could never do this all the time, but you should set aside time every day to do this. Your followers will appreciate being listened to, and you’ll build an engaged following of true fans.
Time spent being fully present is vital on social media. Without it, you risk becoming a social media zombie.
Finding a Balance
“What is required […] is a balance of all five ways.” ~ M. Scott Peck
As you experiment with these five ways of listening on social media, remember none of them is right all of the time. They’re all appropriate at different times, and you’ll need to use them all to be successful as a social media marketer.
What’s your preferred or default way of listening on social media?
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