I think if you asked people what social media is all about, many of them would say that it’s about broadcasting your thoughts and ideas to a wide audience. I don’t think that many people would say it’s about listening, but in reality, listening is a crucial component of effectively using social media. In fact, according to Beth Kanter, listening to what people are saying about your brand or issue is the most important step in building a social media strategy. Listening can even help you address a potential crisis.
Speaking of crisis, not listening to your social media audience can produce horrific results, which was demonstrated by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. When they pulled their funding to Planned Parenthood, social media outlets went crazy. Instead of responding to the uproar, the Komen Foundation did nothing, allowing others to control the public dialogue and severely damaging their brand.
There is an important lesson to be learned here, which is that if you fail to listen to the people you are trying to reach and influence and fail to respond to their concerns appropriately, then you can inadvertently end up relinquishing control of your image. When an organization relinquishes control of their image, they effectively relinquish control of the organization itself. You can’t just put up a webpage with the information you think is relevant, and call your job done. There needs to be an active, two way exchange of information and ideas in which the organization responds to what their audience is saying. The more immediate and substantial the response, the better. Appearances matter a great deal (perhaps more than they should) in this world, and if you aren’t in charge of how you are perceived by the public, then you might as well close up shop and try to do better next time.