What Hemingway, George RR Martin and John Wayne can teach us about social media

Ever since social media started to become a factor we have reminded ourselves that ”it’s a conversation, not a monologue” and that we should use it to listen as much as talk. We talk about not doing megaphone marketing and we measure “engagement”. Yet even as social media is maturing there is still a lot of opportunity lost because companies don’t take the listening part seriously.

imagesThis problem goes beyond social media, it seems to be as old as mankind itself. The Greek philosopher Epictetus famously stated “We have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak”. If you prefer a more modern take G.R.R Martin has one of his characters in Games of Thrones say “A man who won’t listen can’t hear.” But I think perhaps Ernest Hemingway said it best: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”.

Social media offers us several opportunities to really listen to our customers and other stakeholders. First and foremost we can listen directly to what they have to say when they comment or ask questions. Secondly, we can learn more about how and what they think about our brand and products by listening to what is being said about it in various channels. It’s important that we do both.

Really listening to what is being said about us can provide insights on several levels. It can teach us what to change and improve about the way we treat customers and others. It can offer new ideas on both products and customer service. And, most importantly, it can provide us with increased understanding of the role our brand plays in people’s lives. How are we important to them? Do we solve problems, or create them? Does our brand play a part in how they portray themselves? And so on. Understanding all of this can help us shape how we communicate and what we talk about. If needed, it can also help us if we want to try and re-position our brand.

For all of this to happen, we have to get much better at really listening. There are a lot of very good tools we can use to listen across social media. But what is really required is a change of attitude.

Otherwise we run the risk of having someone quote John Wayne at us: “You’re short on ears, and long on mouth”. And we don’t want that to happen, do we?

This was originally published on LinkedIn in November, 2014

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