In my early 20’s I found myself in a casual conversation with an older couple. I was listening, smiling and nodding. I held eye contact. Nothing significant for me, it was just the way I had been taught to communicate. At one point the older gentleman stopped and said “You are an incredible listener. I’ve never met someone of your generation, and barely any of your parents generation who knows or cares how to listen to an old man speak.”

I still remember the hotel lobby in which we were standing in Miami over a Passover holiday trip with my family. I remember the humid moistness in the room. I remember the look of the couple. I was touched deeply by the comment. It told me that I had given an old man the simple thing he had been looking for in his day, to be heard.

Many years later when I took the proverbial jump off the cliff and left my job to travel to all 50 states and gather the stories of community problem solvers, a journalist who I respect above all others said that the biggest challenge I would face was to learn how to listen. I remembered that moment in Miami so many years earlier and knew I had what it took.

Face to face listening, or active listening as it is called, requires:
– Sustained eye contact (devoid of looking around the room to be sure you are not missing something)
– Facial expressions to indicate you can empathize with what the individual speaking is trying to communicate (not jumping in with the “oh yeah and when I had this experience….”)
– Reflecting back in your own words what the individual has said to you (as opposed to “uh-huh…”).

It is a true art form and certainly takes practice. When I nailed it on the head the people I interviewed opened themselves up like a book and shared their deepest held motivations for taking the community changing actions they had.

Social media gives us a great opportunity to listen and to be a megaphone. Choosing to utilize only the megaphone will cause you to miss out on others listening to you and learning how to communicate with people the way they wish to be communicated with.

Transcript of a tweet session with Barry Moltz
Transcript of a tweet session with Barry Moltz

This post came about after two social media events: The first was when I participated in a Twitter chat led by business maven Barry Moltz. He was asking for tips from Small Business owners on how best to recognize employees. My response was: Making employees feel special starts by listening and learning how they like to be recognized for their hard work. Barry replied, accurately, that many small business owners don’t have the time to listen. I thought for a minute and replied with a tip: Look for cues about how your employees would like to be recognized in how they ask for feedback.

The other event was in comments on a blog I posted about building engagement on social media. (3 Steps to finding your voice on social media)  I took it for granted that most people understand that the purpose of social media, even social marketing, is not a one way push of information. The true value of social media is to build engagement, conversation and community around you, your product, service or interest areas. I have learned through working with clients who are frustrated at the lack of engagement that the listening piece was missing from their plan. Then Dharma Rajan commented on my Biznik post and specifically asked for tips and tools for listening. I heard you Dharma and I’ve heard what my clients are asking for. Here are a few tips to get started.

Comments that led to the development of this post.
Comments that led to the development of this post.

The first step is to practice the in person listening skills mentioned above. For an entire day challenge yourself to listen fully and actively. Only participate in one conversation at a time (no cell phone checking mid conversation). Do not add in your personal experience unless specifically requested. Listen, empathize, reflect what you heard and only give what the person you were listening to asks for. This will prime your muscle for the art of listening on social media.

Now we are moving in to the fun stuff! Be prepared, there are no shortcuts here. This is going to take an investment of some of your time. The rewards in your true engagement with customers, clients and peers will be well worth it.

1. Read other people’s posts

Sometimes it may seem like a waste of time to plow through the endless posts from your friends on Facebook and your home feeds on Twitter and LinkedIn. And, most of the time, you are right. Listening takes some advance planning. Utilize tools like Hootsuite to help you track specific hashtags and individuals, make lists on Facebook and categorize people in friends, clients, prospective clients or colleagues categories. Utilize LinkedIn to check the posts and activities of specific individuals you are eager to engage with by joining groups.

Read the home feeds when you are killing time in a waiting room. It will be much more fun when it is an occasional check in versus your main method of listening.

**Expert tip: if there is someone you are really eager to engage with have their posts and tweets sent to your cell phone as a text message. Be sure to comment and re-tweet (RT) those posts that reflect why and how you would like to engage so that the individual knows you are listening and your name remains on their radar.

2. Pay special attention when people tag you in a post

Responsible taggers (NOT those who tag people in pictures of items they’d like you to buy) are tagging you in a post because they would like your feedback. They may be honoring an experience you had together or sharing something that made them think of you. Read these posts thoroughly and any connected articles and take the time to craft a meaningful response in the comments or in your thank you Tweet.

**Expert tip: Listening shows you how people would like to be recognized as well. Someone who is tagging you may themselves like to be tagged in your posts when appropriate. Return the favor by recognizing people the way they exhibit that they would like to be recognized. This simple act will go a long way towards establishing the type of relationship, business or personal, you may be seeking.

3. Look through your “likes” on a post.

We all do it, we post on Facebook and then we refresh the screen over and over again to see if people have liked or commented on our posts. Ok, we may not ALL do it but we do tend to judge our Facebook worthiness by how many people and which people are taking an action on our content. These “likes” are a significant window into who is listening when you post and who is being touched. Hover over the number of likes and look through that list. Take a minute to check what is going on on these “likers” pages and see if there is something there you may like or comment upon. This simple act shows the liker that you are concerned not only with your own content but with what they have to say as well.

**Expert tip: Don’t force yourself into a like. Likes should be specifically reserved for information you actually enjoy or resonate with. Randomly liking all the posts on your page will do more harm than good. Remember, when you “like” a post a post is added to the feed of your friends and followers that says “John liked: ….” People will catch on quick to rogue likings!

4. Check when your comments have been “liked”

When you are taking the time to comment on a persons post you are truly taking the first step to engagement. Social media engagement, one more time, is not all about pushing out your information. It is about building relationships and commenting on another’s post is a key way to cement relationships. Heighten your awareness to when your comment on another’s post is liked, and by whom. If the original poster likes your comment they are telling you they saw it and they appreciate you taking the time to comment. When their friends like your comment you know you’ve hit comment gold. Take a moment to reflect back about what you wrote and why you think others might have liked it. Was it particularly sensitive? Was it funny? Was it a great tip?

**Expert tip: When you hit that comment gold and start garnering likes from friends of friends on a post perhaps the chord you struck indicates that you may have stumbled upon a great topic for a blog or vlog entry. We are always generating content and repurposing a great comment into an even greater blog post is another way to add value and keep your engagement going. Be sure to mention where the idea came from and give credit to the original post creator.

5. Take the time to read the blogs your colleagues post

Don’t you hate it when you post a blog and NOBODY COMMENTS??? Don’t they know how much time and effort you put into creating this content. Don’t they know that each word is a pure morsel of gold?

Now, step back and ask yourself, have you been reading your colleagues blogs and taking the time to recognize their efforts? I didn’t think so. We are all learning this method of communicating thoughts and sharing ideas. When your colleagues and clients post blog links to their social platform of choice spend a few minutes reading it, extra points for commenting so the writer knows you were there and 3 gold stars for sharing or re-tweeting the link to your friends and followers.

**Expert tip: Pay particular attention to the blogging habits of key individuals with whom you are trying to build a relationship. Blog entries give you an insight into their thoughts and into the ways they conduct business. Learn their style of communication and it will help you determine how best to communicate with them. Do they write very short posts? Make sure when you reach out to them you keep to the same level of brevity.

Congratulations! You made it to the end of today’s lesson. You are now ready to go out there and practice what you have learned. Listen, listen closely. When you have a moment let us know what your greatest listening success has taught you.


One thought on “How to listen on social media to increase small business engagement

  1. This topic is particularly applicable to my life right now. It recently came to my attention that I am a bad listener. Over the last year, through my connecting with entrepreneurs and my involvement in network marketing, I have repeatedly heard about the importance of listening. The notion finally began to sink in and I started to analyze my listening skills.

    To my surprise, I discovered I was not the good listener I believed myself to be. I interject, disengage by breaking eye contact or glancing at my phone, and sometimes even walk away remembering very little detail of the conversation.

    Once I came to this realization, I decided to work on this skill because I wholeheartedly believe that it will build stronger, better relationships. It will also most definitely help me in my entrepreneurial ventures as well. My strategy is to use the Socratic method by encouraging others to talk more by asking follow-up questions for elaborations or explanations.

    The quote by Epictetus is extremely relevant: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This is the motto I am living by at the moment and it is making a difference.

    I will expand my listening by applying the tips to my social media platforms. It did not even occur to me to extend my listening efforts beyond my immediate, personal relationships. Thank you for the reinforcing the reasoning behind my efforts!

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