Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Social Media: The Importance of Listening

Many people have a tendency to think of social media as a place to share, to say something. This makes sense, as this is how media has worked for centuries - as an information push, sharing a specific thought or idea with a large group of people. But there is another side to social media. Bringing a completely new set of tools to the table, it allows businesses to do something that has previously been much more difficult: Listen.

People are having public conversations about various topics, opinions, and ideas. Not only are they discussing existing themes, they are generating new discussions and content. Before the Internet and social media, of course people still talked about the same things, but they did so where nobody could hear them, unless someone happened to be passing by. Now, not only are these conversations available, but people EXPECT others to listen to them.

Twitter, for instance, is entirely based on the principle of listening. As it has evolved, many of its changes have been ways to make it easier to listen. Searchable hashtags, trending topics, and the new “activity” tab are all ways not to share more information, but to access more information. Co-founder Evan Williams found that listening to users was one of the driving forces behind the growth of the company, as they came up with new ideas and software to interact with the service.

I am very familiar with listening - I have always had a tendency to be a "lurker" on the Internet, reading conversations, articles, blogs, Twitter, and other content without ever commenting or participating. I don't regret the time I have spent as a lurker. I enjoy being an information "sponge," and it has been a valuable experience. But while listening may be the neglected half when people talk about social media, it's still only one side of the coin, and so the time has come for me to start participating. I hope that listening to what I have to say will - eventually, at least - be a valuable experience for others. Still, this post is a reminder, not just to me but also to other newcomers: When you join the conversation, don't stop listening.

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