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Social Media is an Opportunity to Listen and Engage

This article was originally written in April; however, it still has relevancy, so I thought I would repost. Enjoy!

Original Source: The case for social media, Ragan Communications

Examples of companies that use social media to listen and build relationships with employees and customers

Turkish proverb: If speaking is silver, then listening is gold

“It is an exciting time to be a communicator” was tweeted and retweeted during Ragan’s Social Media Conference in Las Vegas.

For most people in attendance, that statement meant that it is an exciting time because of all the communication tools out there for us to use. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Friendfeed, blogs and wikis. You could see the wheels turning during many sessions as attendees thought “wow — I can do this at home and then the leadership will like me because we are doing social media.”

But for me, this statement meant more — for me it is an exciting time because these tools allow us — the communicators — to practice what is arguably our most important skill. The one that we really need to excel at in order to be a leader. To be of value. To be at the table. To be a strategist.

The skill: Listening.

I believe that when most people today hear about Twitter or Facebook or blogs, they think about “What can I be saying.” Or “I don’t have anything to say.” Or, “Who cares what I say.” It is time for us to change that way of thinking and instead say, “What can I be learning?”

For organizations, social media can be a form of knowledge management — with input from both internal and external audiences.

Inside looking in

Dr. Leslie Ross Gaines, chief reputation manager at Weber Shandwick says in her blog reputationrx: “…Management does not always have to go beyond its own four walls to learn first-hand how it is doing and what needs to be fixed.”

Great ideas often bubble up from the frontline. If a company has a blog or a social media network, you can create a conversation, promote trust and get the employee actively involved in the business of the organization.

There are some great examples of companies that are using social media tools internally and doing it well. Zappos, the service company that happens to sell shoes, encourages its employees to tweet — and they have a whole area @zappos to do so. Dell Computers created a Web site — Employee Storm: Where Your Ideas Reign (because as CEO Michael Dell said, “I’d rather have that conversation in my living room than someone elses.”)

So why should an organization use social media internally? Think of your employees as your own secret weapons. For one thing, if you don’t tap into the need, your employees will go elsewhere to share. Social networks can also make large organizations seem smaller. Dow Chemical maintains a blog for its workforce and over half the workforce reads it on a regular basis. In the past six months, 2,300 comments have been posted to the blog with one post alone drawing 160 comments.

If your organization has been timid about testing the social media waters, putting your big toe in the water internally is a way to test the temperature and build confidence before taking the tools public.

Outside looking in

According to a recent survey by NetPop, social media is changing the way brands operate. Why, because consumers are spending more time on line communicating. If you can’t control it, join it! So smart organizations are embracing social media.

Are their risks? Sure. Peter Shankman, CEO of the Geek Factory, said it quite succinctly “Social media helps you screw up to a lot bigger audience.” The reality is that as the general public clamors more for transparency, social media allows organizations to deliver.

I think back to one of my favorite examples of transparency — Airline, the A&E series that followed the interactions employees and passengers of Southwest Airlines. The show was great because it revealed the airline, warts and all. I thought it would be so great to work at an organization that would participate in a TV show like Airline. It’s no surprise that today you can follow Southwest on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook. And they have a great blog, Nuts About Southwest.

So the Southwest show and blog are entertaining, but do they tie to a business purpose? Absolutely. Southwest wants to build a personal relationship with you and by doing so, become your favorite airline.

Some other great examples of companies using social media to listen and build relationships with their customers include:

* Marriott. Bill Marriott blogs because he says “I am able to talk about whatever I want and people are able to talk to me.”
* Coca-Cola. While it didn’t create the original Fan Site on Facebook, the company chose to embrace the creators and work with them instead of being the brand police and taking the site down
* It tweets a daily “twitter deal” and welcomes customer feedback. They even comment on @zappos!
* Walmart — the Elevenmoms blog is comprised of influential female bloggers, unpaid and unsponsored, are given free rein to comment on whatever they want about the retailer and its products.

People are going to talk about you, so let them do it and participate. Companies who embrace and engage in social media, whatever form, are positioning themselves for long-term success. Gaines-Ross states: “…companies that listen and engage employees and customers online will be tomorrow’s reputation kings and queens.

Our recent research on managing reputations online among global business leaders found that word-of-mouth is an essential reputation ingredient today, ahead of financial performance, talent and corporate responsibility. CEOs are woefully stuck at the Web 1.0 level and need to embrace Web 2.0 social media tools to spread their company’s merits far and wide. Companies that reach out to bloggers and posters with solutions to problems will prevail.”

Social media is right now. And whether you chose to use it for internal or external audiences — there is a giant opportunity sitting right out there in front of us. The opportunity to listen.

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