Hearing vs. Listening

Last week I attended and spoke at PR & MKTG Camp East in NYC.  I participated as one of the session panelists on Establishing Business Impact Metrics and Analytics. This afternoon session sparked a lot of conversation about social media monitoring applications and approaches,  but I wonder if through all the talking, was anyone really listening?

It’s often said that one of the most important things companies and organizations can do today is listen.

A whole new industry has risen up with multiple products to help us listen to what is being said in the many ways consumers and investors are today communicating.   There are countless stories and case studies about the results that we can expect if we are truly tapped into the conversation. BusinessWeek even speculated on the practice in their article Wanted: Social Media Sifters last week.

But I ask again, are we really listening?

There are many dashboards to help us, but they can also make us lazy.  They help us to decipher if our message is being heard by the masses or the niche markets we are trying to reach.   They help us add a new metric to our arsenals of graphs and charts that we can hand to our bosses, showing our good work.  But, are we listening or are we just hearing the noise?  Too often stories bubble up that become case studies to be discussed in blog posts and presented at conferences, where companies were burned because they weren’t listening.   This happens because someone got caught tuning out.  But, I’m not sure they weren’t hearing, they just failed to listen and act.

There are arguments that say it doesn’t matter what everyone is saying, only what the “influencers” have to say.   I’m not sure that I agree with them. Look at the story of Bob Golomb in the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  The story is about the philosophy of the best sales person at a car dealership.   He didn’t judge a person on looks, age, or profession.   He treated each person like they were his best customer.

Do we do that online today with what our audiences are saying about us?

There are times when we cursorily hear our audiences.  They make mention about not being happy with a product or service issue, but often their voices go unanswered in social media. It’s not that we weren’t hearing them, but listening also implies action. I was always taught that when you are in a conversation with someone you need to be an active listener.  Active listening is what we must do today.  This implies that you are acknowledging what’s being said, and that acknowledgement offline is much easier than online.

Online, active listening means that we must acknowledge the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly.   Most of the time, someone just wants to know they were heard, even if there wasn’t necessarily an answer for them. Some of you might say that you’re from the PR team, the marketing team, etc. and that the response must come from sales or customer relations.  However, today because of speed, all of our activities within a company are tied together.

Bad customer service can cause a bad reputation and make the job of communicators much harder.  As I recently heard Frank Eliason – formerly of Comcast and now with Citibank – say at the BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, Customer Service is the new marketing.

Authored by Michael Pranikoff, director, emerging media, PR Newswire.

Image courtesy of Suchitra Prints via Flickr Creative Commons.

2 responses to “Hearing vs. Listening

  1. Great post Michael about listening. I agree that listening also means digesting the information you have and acting on it — figuring out what to do with the vast amount of data that comes from these analytic tools.
    The Bob Golomb anecdote from Blink is a great example from a book that I’m reminded of almost daily, because of the excellent lessons it teaches about life in general. Nice job overall, and
    great idea to have multiple contributors to the blog, it’s the only way to go to avoid the hassle factor of blogging, tweeting, facebooking flickring, etc!

    • michaelpranikoff

      Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for reading and for the comment. I agree with your comment about Blink. It was a really fascinating read and I find myself referring to it and re-reading passages from that and Tipping Point all the time.

      Thanks for the comment on the blog too. We’ve tried to take that approach of multiple contributors and teams for all of our social media properties.
      – Michale

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