In a previous post, I started a conversation about the importance of having an Online Social Presence by exploring the dimension of visibility. To continue this theme, I wanted to take some time to consider another prerequisite of an Online Social Presence before you start engaging or conversing. That prerequisite is listening.
Much has been written about the Art of Listening. Most of it deals with developing skills to be active listeners and to be present while listening. Gail Brenner, Ph.D. posted a blog entry on dumblittleman.com, sites research on how our brain has the capacity to hear 275 more words per minute than the average person can speak. Contrast this with an article Dr. Steven Berglas wrote for Forbes Magazine which states that, “Scores of studies have demonstrated that people accurately comprehend or internalize a dismal 25%-50% of what they hear.” So why is it that while our brains can process more words per minute than what can be spoken, we only comprehend a quarter to half of what we hear? One explanation offered by Michael P. Nichols, Ph.D, who authored the book The Lost Art of Listening, is that “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Jeremiah Owyang, with Web Strategy, helps to link the art of listening and our online social presence with his statement, “Any savvy party goer knows to listen before jumping into a conversation at a cocktail party.” Conforming to this analogy, each of us are the savvy party goer and social media is the cocktail party. Before we dissect the how, I thought it would be appropriate to include some comments Swami Chinmayananda expressed in his article entitled, “The Art of Listening.” Swami Chinmayananda states, “Very often we are led to believe that speaking represents action and power, while listening connotes weakness and apathy…Listening is the channel most often used for “learning.” It is a vital communication function; it improves our ability of understanding, self-awareness and self-application.”
As Swami Chinmayananda points out, the goal of our listening should be learning. As we evaluate our online presence, listening provides context and enables us to learn about what is being said, who is saying it, and hopefully why they are saying it. Before we start talking, we need to see where our opinions, thoughts, and insights fit into the conversation. Below are some tools to help facilitate the listening process.
1. search.twitter.com This is one of the tools that Gary Varnerchuk, author of Crush It!, often references when he passionately urges corporations, individuals, and brands to “pay attention to what people are saying.” With the search function on twitter, you have access to the collective thought of 175 million registered twitter users and can comb the 95 million tweets issued each day. In addition to key word searches, you can also leverage hashtags that give you deeper insights into not just randon post, but also the stream of posts and the actual conversations that center around these hashtags.
2. Follow someone. This could be a colleague, fellow business professional, or someone you ran across via your twitter search. By “following” them, you can get real-time access to their tweets. After you follow someone, you can pay attention to how they leverage the social landscape. Taking notes on how often they tweet, who they interact with, and the subject matter of their tweets help to set your own expectation and sense of how to use the medium.
3. Read Blogs. While tweets give you short spinets of information, blogs provide a platform for thoughts to be developed in much more detail. The question is how do you find blogs. There are search engines for blogs such as Google and Technorati that help facilitate this process. You can also search for key words and people via a traditional Google search and this can provide leads to blog posts. My own experience is that in a relatively short period, you will soon find more blogs to read. Once you found a blog follow the blog. This can be facilitated through tools such as subscribing to blogs, using applications like bloglines, and RSS feeds. These tools help to alert you of new posts so that you aren’t constantly checking back in for updates.
4. Join a Group. LinkedIn is a great example how groups can be used to get the pulse of what is happening. LinkedIn has groups that center around locations, industries, interests, associatins, even your alma mater. Most of these groups host some form of a discussion forum which lends to more conversations that be listened to.
Charlene Li, in her book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, differentiates how people and businesses should engage people based on their activities. Specifically she challenges the assumption that everyone online should be engaged in the same manner. Ms Li, labels or classifies those online into five categories, watchers, sharers, commenters, producers, and curators. The base level of folks are watchers, or what I’ve heard refered to as “lurkers”. According to Ms Li’s research, watchers constitute the vast majority of those online (over 78%).
Before we start jumping into conversations, we should be “watchers” or “lurkers”. This gives us an understanding of the etiquette and context necessary to effectively engage in conversations online. The challenge is to listen and understand or learn. By doing so, it will make the move into conversations and sharing much easier.