B.L. Ochman, author of "What's Next Online,' got it exactly right in a recent article when she stated: "Agencies instead need first to approach social media as listeners... Go to where the conversation about your client is taking place. Find out what people are saying about you and your industry. Listen to their concerns-only then should you begin to create the platform for communicating with them." Ochman addresses what most people assume in everyday personal interaction and don't apply to online relationships. Knowing people takes time and listening skills.
Blogging, Twittering or starting a cause-related Facebook group, more than writing a newspaper article or talking on air, are not based on one-sided relationships. Whereas I can read someones blog and immediately comment, when has anyone ever watched the Today Show and called up Matt Lauer to share their thoughts? If only for the accessibility blogging gives consumers, clients or even family members, people are in it for the relationships.
Listening is what makes these relationships work. Listening skills are what everyone needs regardless of whether or not you own a Fourtune 500 company or you just want to get in touch with an old friend. Listening doesn't mean someone has to be speaking either--typing and posting require the same attention.
How long do people need to listen (observe) before speaking (replying)? I like to think of it in terms of the job application process. What employer will consider a cover letter that doesn't apply to the business directly? What interviewer is going to be impressed by a candidate that can't offer proof they've learned about the issues facing the organization? The same is true for consumers in an online setting. If an organization isn't credible (if they haven't been listening) people not only will lose respect but they'll probably react negatively (and we all know how fast negative word-of-mouth spreads particularly on online social networks).
Companies tell prospective employees to do their research, professors expect the same from students, so shouldn't the standard be held for companies and agencies too? Practice your listening skills.