Myth: To Be Heard, Talk.
Truth: To Be Heard, Listen.

by Eric Harr on October 23, 2011

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”

–Karl A. Menninger, famed American psychiatrist

There are roughly a billion active users of social media (give or take a few hundred million, depending on who you ask)—and most of those people are busy talking. They have something to say. They had eggs over easy this morning, con sarnit! And they neeeed you to know that!

If Everyone is Talking, is Anyone Listening?

Many people are intoxicated with these new tools of social media that can spread their messages far, fast and wide. But if everyone is talking, who’s listening?

It’s an understandable concern people have about social media: namely, that they won’t be heard amidst the thousands of Tweets a second and billions of video downloads a day.

You can rise above the din. You can be heard…by listening.

In Jim Tobin’s book, Social Media is a Cocktail Party (CreateSpace, 2008), he observes that the best hosts are the ones who ask questions and listen. You may be the most charming, intelligent, articulate, well-exfoliated host this side of Savanna, but if you stand on a chair and pontificate for an hour, you will alienate the very guests you are seeking to please. Move through the crowd, pour Pinot, get others talking—and you’ll be as pleasing [sic] as punch. Same in social…Most overzealous business brands, and overeager personal brands, make this mistake in social media. They are falling over themselves, charging into social media, over-caffeinated, trying to “message” people…when the first thing they should be doing is listening. As a business, the only way to know what to say is to listen to your customers and help them improve their lives. Like my dad always said: “Boy! God gave you one mouth, but two ears!” I never really listened to that. (Actually, I think every father has admonished his son with these words since the days of the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, in AD 55-135!)

This line of reasoning, of course, begs the questions: “How can I be heard if I’m not talking?” “How can I get people to act without prompting them to do so?”

Answer: Before you start talking, spend the necessary time listening to the conversations that are important to you. Do this, and you’ll be more equipped to craft intelligent comments that resonate with people. People have sensitive antennae in social media; you cannot coerce them to act. You must inspire them to act. It’s subtle, elegant and nuanced.

How can you know what to say if you don’t know what people want to hear?

There is a way of talking that shows you are listening and that you care. When a good listener talks, they echo the desires and dreams of the other person. Don’t use social media as a megaphone. Social media was created as a refuge from that very method of “interruption marketing.” People seek honest dialogue and authentic discourse. They want to be heard. You should spend roughly 80% of your time in social media listening and asking questions—and 20% of the time contributing to the conversation.

The art of listening

“Listen to many, speak to a few.”

—William Shakespeare

You win people’s hearts when you care about them—and listen to them. And, in this word-of-mouth economy, powered by a new vanguard of empowered influencers—whether you run a small bakery or a multinational corporation—winning people’s hearts will help you more than you can imagine.

Listening well is hard to do. I am a lousy listener. I mean look at me now. At 819 words, this post is a mini-diatribe, a downright deluge of verbosity! Okay, I’m working on it…

Most brands do not listen. For decades, companies have done all the talking. But times have changed. If you aren’t listening to your customers, they will think you don’t care, and they’d be right. These social media tools make it so easy for companies to listen that not doing that shows a disregard and a disrespect for the very people who put food on your table.

Monitoring your brand is one of the most important things you can do in social media. Remember: People trust one another orders-of-magnitude more than they trust you. Consumers are using these tools to communicate—and they are directly influencing one another’s purchase decisions. Are you listening to what they’re saying? You’d better.

(Oh, and if you wish to leave a comment, I’m listening…)

Like the post? You’ll love the book! Eric Harr is the Founder & President of Resonate Social Media, a leading, integrated social media agency in San Francisco. He is an award-winning TV host on CBS News and the best-selling author of the new book “The REAL TRUTH About Social Media: 8 Timeless Truths Uncovered & 8 Monumental Myths Revealed” available now in ebook or print edition.

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