Listening Lessons

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find out more at SocialFuse.

“To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.”
-Chinese Proverb

I attended a meeting of social media aficionados last week—the Dallas Social Media Club. It was a vibrant group of new-media-savvy folks with cutting-edge interests and razor-sharp wits. I loved the energy in the room and the combination of slightly smug awareness and wide-eyed curiosity about what might replace Twitter as the next techno-networking phenomenon. Officially, “the Social Media Club Dallas focuses on social media practitioners in corporate, agency, and PR roles—primarily interested in how the medium to large enterprises are leveraging social media to reach, engage, and most important, drive revenue.”

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Thursday evening’s confab consisted primarily of “vendor” types—as the speaker, Chris Vary, VP of Weber Shandwick’s Digital Division, noted when he conducted a quick poll of the room. I think this strongly indicates that the social media charge is still led by the practitioner-evangelists, and that most businesses, small to large to small (including nonprofits), have still not seen the proverbial light. On a practical level, they have not figured out how to integrate it into everyday operations.

As I have posited in past posts, I believe this is because it is more than a change of media. It is a change of mentality. That’s a tougher paradigm to shift. Clay Shirky is one our most articulate voices around the gestalt of this communication transformation, yet it’s still a bit slippery.

As I interact with nonprofits and small businesses, I struggle to identify ways to provide high-value impact. So many complain that they have set up their various social platform accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In, but they sit dormant—like throwing a party and no one attends. Still, nonprofits and for-profits are tentative about investing—staff time, budgets, mindshare to the care and feeding of these communities without tangible proof of ROI. I was amazed when the PR big wheels at Weber Shandwick had to cajole their Fortune 10 client— General Motors, to commit to social media. It took three years. They had to construct some sort of elaborate expense metaphor quantifying projected Google pay-per-click costs.

So, more and more, I’m thinking it is really all about listening. I’m not too keen on the concept of “active listening,” because I think that is redundant and a little cheesy, as my teenage sons say. “Passive listening” is simply not paying attention in my book. (That reminds me of some relationships I’ve had.) That said, I think businesses should first approach social media as a listening tool, as opposed to a communications tool—an ear as opposed to a mouth. I think that helps marketers diminish some of the execution-related tension. All of the social media gurus—from Beth Kanter to Seth Godin, recommend starting with listening. However, I’m now thinking this should be the fundamental objective—allowing other opportunities to blossom.

Really, social media is a gift to market research professionals—a way to gather real-time and real customer feedback inexpensively. Then, the way we respond can dramatically enhance, strength, and embellish our brands in this new context of conversation. Crafting the response becomes the artistry. We can provide customer service, build relationships, or even soothe the ruffled feathers of cranky influencers/bloggers. This must be authentic, customer-validating, spin-free conversation.

Chris Vary talked about the new PR being the “virtual newsroom.” He is definitely on to something. We as public relations and communications professionals must me become more like monitors than marketers. Great places to start include: (Begin with the free ones.)

Google Alerts
Social Mention
Radian 6

RSS feed rules:

Your feed dashboard becomes your roadmap. Set up Google Reader, iGoogle, or Bloglines to track—organization names, names of key leaders/board members, other players in your space, industry terms, your URLs, possible controversial subjects, etc. Get creative with keywords. And as Beth Kanter advises, involve the entire operation in the process. Here’s Beth’s great presentation:

Move social media out of the silo of the communications department. Empower all of your employees as listeners. Then, your social media strategy looks more like a training initiative for your various constituents and stakeholders. Brainstorm keywords, learn how to respond effectively, and handle red-flag issues. This is where social media gets organic, integrated, and exponential in impact.

Are you listening?

9 thoughts on “Listening Lessons

  1. Elaine,
    It was great meeting you at the Social Media Club and sharing ideas with you. I wanted to clarify the point I was making, because I think it was misunderstood. I am arguing that, for GM or any other company, ROI has to be presented in the context of advertising. Social media efforts are better and more clearly understood when compared to an advertising model. If corporations had to pay for the kind of coverage they get via social channels it would cost significantly more for the corporation to do.

    When we started working with GM’s social media team three years ago we were asked to quantify social media in relation to advertising — a reasonable request, and one we hear from many clients. Using Google pay-per-clicks to demonstrate the ROI was a great example of how GM can show value of their messages in comparison to paid placement. This is something that should be expected by any company that invests in this space. This is measurable, and I wouldn’t say that asking for measurable ROI represents needing to be “cajoled.”
    Thanks, Chris Vary

    1. Chris — Hey. Thanks for your pithy retort. I sense your tension around the expectation of ROI, and I get. It’s still a slippery slope with regard to the decision to dive into social media.I recall your saying it took “three years” to convince GM to go with social media — and that’s really how I was applying the “cajoled” reference (def.”gentle pleading”). Chris, I typically write with a nonprofit slant, and I just found that fact rather ironic for all those folks who think nonprofits are dragging their feet. In addition, I have written in the past about our need to find a new way to connect the dots. Check out David Spark on I still think your ROI calculation is a bit contrived, because it’s really an expense projection — base don an “apples and oranges analogy.” Organic actions are different from paid clicks. Really, aren’t they paying for it anyway — when they get your invoice?? And in the end, don’t we have to connect the clicks to cars if we are talking about real ROI? It’s a sticky wicket, indeed. Thanks for chiming in!

      1. Elaine, Thanks for replying to me. The fact of the matter is that I assisted with the IGotShotgun social program with GM during my three years in Detroit. GM and Social Media was here before me and will be way after me. Working in Dallas I look forward working with you and evolving this space, especially ROI. See you at the next event!

      2. Chris — Thanks for the clarification. Duly noted. Regret any confusion, indeed. Congrats on your trailblazing work! And yes, looking forward to making the social media journey with you in Big D. Social media is a little like the weather here in Texas. Wait a minute, and it will change. Appreciate the lively repartee — and the friend request! Elaine

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