When you arrive at a party, you may chat up the guests and poke into various conversations. Nothing wrong with that. But if all you did was yammer on and on and interrupt other people, you would end up being 1) unaware of what other people were talking about and interested in and 2) rude.
Interaction and engagement define social media, but that doesn’t just mean connecting and communicating. It also means listening. When you enter a space, like a party, it usually helps to mill around a bit first, get a feel for the vibe, take in the tenor and subjects of other people’s conversations. Then, when you’re comfortable, you can engage.
As much as we’re out there interacting on Twitter and the like, we’re listening to what people are posting on YouTube and Flickr, what people are blogging about, what links they’re saving on Delicious, what they’re tweeting about. While we do a lot of pushing and publishing, it’s refreshing to do some listening as well, not only to see what people like or don’t like about Tufts at any given moment, but also to get to know them a little bit. Instead of thinking facelessly about “students” or “alums” as an audience, I can think of specific students whose YouTube videos I’ve seen or tweets we follow. The work we do is already very “human,” but by listening and getting to know your audience and the community you’ve built, it becomes even moreso. And when you do communicate, you’re more informed about who you are communicating to and what they want to hear.
What, however, if the person at the party is making a disparaging comment about your new shoes, which you happen to love? Then again, you may overhear the person across the room mentioning how you drove her to work for a week when her car was broken, and how sweet that was of you. When you listen, you hear the good and the bad. The wisdom in social media comes from knowing when to simply take it in, and when to interject.
Chris Brogan does a lot of great thinking about listening, from the nitty-gritty of “growing bigger ears” and building a presence framework to understanding that people won’t embrace every thing you do or say (and how that’s okay).