One of the first things you begin to realize, as you delve into social media, is that there is a lot of trumpeting of personal brand and boosting of egos. Whether it’s getting your article onto the front page of DIGG, seeing a couple hundred comments or trackbacks rolling into your blog or even just having that witty bon mot retweeted a dozen times over; the ego feedback loop is intrinsic and instantaneous.

Given all the tools, means and tactics for sharing your message via the social platforms you can almost forgive brands and their communications and marketing professionals who step into social media, for treating it as another broadcasting platform.

There is success to be had with those tactics. The cost of broadcasting your message online is nominal in comparison to traditional media, and arguably the measured results are more representative of interest in your message. No one chooses to see your poster on the subway, but anyone subscribed to your brand’s YouTube channel definitely cares what you have to say.

Locate the communities that matter to your brand and deliver your message directly. It’s efficient. It eliminates the many layers and filters of media that could potentially distort your message to meet their own editorial objectives. It works.

But missing from a strategy devoted to talking is that which offers the greatest potential of social media: listening.

Listening.

Not just making the motions of listening where you occasionally nod your head whilst waiting for your next opportunity to speak. Not simply making note that tumpty-tump people talked about us today and we anticipate tumpty-tump plus one to talk about us tomorrow. I’m talking about listening and hearing what has been said.

When something is fait accomplis and dumped upon the masses, you can listen, but it’s too late to hear. All you’re going to discover from that point forward is how many accept or reject your choices, and, from there, how well your team is doing in swaying, selling and winning over the naysayers.

All that selling. All that swaying. All that effort to win public opinion. Unnecessary actions if you involved your customers and stakeholders early on. Your customers will always have more information about what they want, what they need and what they are willing to do, than you will ever have. Until you involve them, you will always be taking guesses. They may be educated and informed by experience, or they may be wild stabs at the dark, but until you begin to truly listen to your customers and stakeholders, guesses they remain.

You don’t have to bend to every whim, desire and kooky notion shouted out by the crowd, and nor should you. But the nuttier notions are still part of the public perception and will eventually need to be dealt with. Better to tackle them at the beginning of the process than at the end.

What are you doing in your company to better listen to your communities? What are you doing to ensure their voices are heard, and to effectively give them a seat at the table? Please post a comment or trackback. I’m listening.

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