At some point during our educational or professional careers, most of us have been introduced to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s all-encompassing code to leading a successful life and optimizing your potential. While following all seven steps can have beneficial results, it was habit five, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, that struck me as an apt lesson for any online community manager to take to heart given its simplicity as a powerful principle for success.
This lesson comes as no surprise. Covey says, “You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?” Speaking and listening are THE two components that make up basic interpersonal (person-to-person) communication. Yet, the latter half of that duo is often overlooked in online community management and digital advocacy in an effort to generate more content and recruit community members.
“Most businesses use social media for talking,” says Kevin Ashton in his article Social Media Is For Listening, which chronicles his career using listening skills to create products that appeal to customers at companies like Belkin and Procter & Gamble. “They make announcements. They distribute coupons. They dream of ‘going viral.’ They measure the success of their ‘campaigns’ with media-style metrics such as ‘views,’ ‘likes,’ and ‘followers.’ And they miss the point. Social media is not a bullhorn for broadcast but a coffee shop for conversation.”
Although it seems overly simple, both Covey and Ashton make a good point; listening is an undervalued skill for people and brands alike. Content that is more appropriately tailored to community members increases the value of membership and participation. A more successful approach to management emerges when a brand understands how its community members think and feel and then creates content that appeals to those tastes.
Luckily, the very tools that allow us to over-communicate can be used just as well to listen. User-generated content shared via comments, reviews, and streaming video are the best sources of information from people actually interacting with a brand or following a campaign. Furthermore, as Ashton points out, community managers shouldn’t stop at their own channels. Read up on what are saying about competitors or brands that are impressive to take heed of their shortcomings and successes with their respective communities.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of negative commentary. Instead use negative commentary as an opportunity to understand the wants and needs of your online community better and to show them that you’re listening. This simple change in perspective can make all the difference when building a following and managing a digital community with success.