I spend a fair amount of time in the Linkedin “Answers” section, learning from fellow PR industry professionals, and also contributing expertise to the community pot, so to speak. Unlike many of the active participants, I don’t answer every question that I see; I prefer to share knowledge only on subjects that I know very well. A few weeks ago, I came across a great question, and wanted to share it with my readers. It went like this:
“When I read about planning your social media strategy, it is recommended that you “listen” before getting involved. What does listening consist of? Reading, watching sites? Looking for thoughts, ideas and strategies.”
So I decided to respond. But first I had to stop and think…
What does it mean to “listen” in Social Media?
Do we need to listen? How do we do it? And more specifically, what does it mean for the PR professional to “listen”?
It Starts With Lurking
“Lurking” means to read and observe, but not actively contribute in an Internet setting. Many lurkers purposefully do this to avoid poor netiquette, or other mistakes, and would be far more likely to bookmark a useful link than to post a comment or email the author. Many studies have found that more than 90% of Internet users do not actively participate in most of the locales they visit, including blogs and social media sites.
Calculated lurking for a while can be a useful strategy for the PR professional. Learning some about the culture of a social network before leaping is smart, and can keep you from making mistakes. One of the most embarrassing mistakes you can make is jumping right in with no real strategy.
So many people hear of social networking and how ‘cool it is,’ jumping right in… totally ignorant of the etiquette, the way things are done, what people like/dislike when using the medium, etc. So, after several years of networks popping up, with millions of people making unnecessary social networking mistakes, experts now insist that newbies “listen” instead of jumping in.
Research. Strategy. Execution. In that order.
This mean reading up, doing your homework before you jump right in. This phase is absolutely essential to any person or business looking to see any kind of return from social media, PR professionals included. This means learning about a site, learning about the main demographics that use it (e.g., younger people and businesses are generally drawn to Facebook, career-minded professionals to Linkedin), what kind of information tends to get posted, and what kind of information doesn’t. It’s also wise to consider the site culture and popular lingo (e.g., Twitter’s “tweets” and “@ mentions,” versus Facebook’s “wall posts”).
Yes, eagerness can be a wonderful thing, but not if have no idea of the site’s culture, or even its main purpose. Trust me, every site has a purpose, you just have to do enough research, and pay enough attention to what goes on there long enough to figure it out. There is a lot of “feeling things out” when learning a social medium, but you should definitely do your homework first and observe for a while before you start start posting.
Reputation management is just as important for PR professionals as it is marketers, because it allows you to perform active reputation management.
Don’t just Google yourself once; if you’re really serious about listening, subscribe to Google Alerts and regularly check up on what’s being said about you or your company. You’ll be pinged every time the terms you set are mentioned, and thus will be the first to know what good or bad comes up for your brand. If you tweet, I suggest using a service like Hootsuite. The service allows you to have more control than the generic Twitter interface, and supplies you with metrics that will be crucial in your ongoing social media strategy.
The only way you will know this valuable information is if you are proactive and find out. As you can see, you must listen” to do this.
Listen well, and you’ll see not only what’s being said about your personal brand or business online, but you can then use that information to brainstorm ways to fix it, if what’s being said is less than optimal. And if what’s being said is good, wouldn’t that be great to know as well?
Don’t make a fool of yourself. Listen before you leap.