August 31, 2008...7:17 pm

Why listening is the first step in social media

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For anyone in PR, this should come as no surprise. Listening has always been the first step. Right?

The first piece of career advice I received as a student interested in PR was that I should read the news every day in order to understand the news cycle in addition to learning who writes about what and how my potential clients’ stories might fit in.

It seems that many seasoned PR pros have a hard time recognizing that the same listening rules they learned at the beginning of their career still apply to new media. They get distracted by the interface and the technology. People are asking questions like “how do we convince our clients to be on Twitter?” and “should our rubber stamp factory have a Facebook page?” because they’re feeling pressured to integrate social media strategies to their practice, but they could answer those questions for themselves if they just expanded their listening.

In order to prove social media savvy, many seem premature in their gusto to add social media as a new capability, err, commodity that can be packaged and sold a la carte or as part of an entire plan. And while this might make sense sometimes, in the rush to market most are probably missing the point.

Social media engagement has the ability to give more depth and reach to everything you already do to communicate. This happens as a result of better listening.

Since we’re in the midst of a shift in how information is transmitted or rather, shared, this simply means that the way we listen should change, too.

Listening 101

1. Read PR blogs – PR Week is great, but a lot of thought leaders in PR that you might see speaking at PRSA events have blogs. That means you now have direct access to experts who are succeeding at adapting to the changes and sharing their wisdom. Leave a thoughtful comment and you might just strike up a valuable relationship with an invaluable resource. Leo Bottary has compiled a pretty long list of blogs that deal with client service and marketing/PR/communications. Other great lists are found on Alltop and AdAge.

2. Read client industry blogs – There are influential bloggers in every industry sector and sub-sector. Again, Alltop has a growing number of blog categories where you can find top blogs in every flavor, from nursing to auto racing to pets. Add relevant blogs to your regular reading lists. Subscribing to this content is free, which is almost never the case for pricey niche publications in traditional print formats.

3. Search online conversations – Use to search Twitter conversations for keywords. Enter the name of your company, event or product to see what people are already saying about you.

There are also great listening tools like Radian 6. They’re not just the sponsors for the famous 3-part Twebinar series. If a Radian 6 demo doesn’t actually make you salivate, then you can’t really call yourself an information junkie. Radian 6 monitors online conversations on blogs, microblogs, vlogs, video and photo sharing sites, discussion forums, traditional news media websites and visitor comments on traditional news media websites.

Remember, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Listening matters because it has always mattered. Please feel free to add to this list and share the ways you listen better than you did before.

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  • Great post Shannon! Keep it up!

  • Great post Shannon. The smartest people I’ve ever met also rank as the best listeners I’ve ever met. Your point about listening, reading and just soaking up as much as you can is invaluable advice.

  • Hi Shannon,

    I also listen to what people are asking about social media in the LinkedIn question and answer section. A great insight into the level of knowledge of certain industry leaders.

    John Carson.

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