By Nick Westergaard on May 2, 2013

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Are You Listening?

are you listening

It’s admittedly a tired stereotype. In TV shows and movies we are beaten over the head with images of the therapist repeating questions back to the patient for comic effect. “What do you think about that?” As a fictitious talk radio therapist, Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane began each of his broadcasts with the iconic phrase, “I’m listening.” As digital marketers we talk a lot about this but are you listening? Are you really listening?

If you cast aside all of the social media talking heads, the biggest way in which channels like Facebook and Twitter are different from our traditional broadcast mediums is the fact that they are multi-directional in nature. Simply put, this means that rather than crafting the perfect 30-second TV spot and blasting it one-way at whomever may be watching, we are now having conversations where our community can actually talk back (gasp!).

Once traditional marketers and agency types get over this loss of control, they realize that this is an incredible opportunity to have an enriching conversation with our consumers. It also means we can build a deeper connection than ever before with these end-users. And yet 95% of posts that fans make on Facebook pages are not responded to by the corresponding brand. That’s because too many still focus on social media as they do on traditional broadcast media. Why is this so hard? The answer is that we are still spending more time and money on talking then we are on listening.

An added layer is that you also have to actively show your users that you are listening. If you think back to high school speech class, you’ll recall that it’s important to give verbal and non-verbal cues when someone else is speaking – nodding your head, quietly saying “Mm hm,” and so forth. These active listening cues can be challenging when it comes to social media. Here are a few ways to show that you are listening across various digital channels.

The Blogger as Therapist

There’s no better way to encourage conversations and comments then by reaching into the therapist’s bag of tricks and asking, “What do you think about that?” This too is an easy one to miss. As bloggers, we even fall prey to traditional media constructs, which push us toward focusing on our own uni-directional broadcasts complete with a tidy conclusion that fails to invite the user to comment.

This approach has long been heralded by Chris Brogan, who has one of the most engaging blogs on the social web. It’s also a blogger-friendly tactic as your conclusion essentially writes itself. What do you think? How is your business approaching XYZ? I’d love to hear in the comments below. If this sounds familiar, it’s because I end almost every post here with variations on these phrases.

How will someone ever know to leave a comment unless you ask them to do so?

How Community Managers Can Show They’re Listening

Simply remembering to ask for engagement can be useful when managing your communities on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Questions have long been effective ice breakers for social media managers looking to spark conversation among their followers. This is where the opportunity for active listening begins.

Once the question is asked, many sit back and let the answers roll over them instead of showing that their brand is listening. Just as you would nod along with a speaker who is talking to you, you should also look for ways to show your online speakers that you are listening as well. At the most basic level, consider liking or favoriting each new comment from a community member. If it’s at all complementary of your brand, a simple ‘thank you’ can go along way toward showing someone that you care. Facebook’s new nested comments feature makes it even easier to reply to individual fan comments.

Good comments aren’t the only ones that merit active listening. If someone is upset at your brand and voices a concern on social media, often times the first step toward mending their issue is simply speaking up and stating that you are here and you are listening to them. Even if it’s something that you need to escalate to another department for resolution, embracing them quickly with a message of care shows that your brand is here for them.

Listening vs. “Waiting to Talk”

Again, as a multi-directional touch point, social media is about conversations between various parties. Like their offline counter parts, effective online conversations are achieved when one party talks while others listen. Really listening, though. Not just “waiting to talk.” And not ignoring what the other parties are saying.

If all of this sounds a lot like relationship advice, it’s because that’s what this really is – building human relationships online. As the digital channel is different and void of our traditional forms of supportive listening cues, brands need to work to show that that are, in fact, listening.

How do you show your customers that you are listening online? I’m listening here. I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.


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is Chief Brand Strategist and founder of Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. In addition to his agency work, he teaches social media marketing at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and is the co-host of The Work Talk Show podcast. More about Nick.