The Key to Social Media: Balancing Observation with Participation

The Key to Social Media: Balancing Observation with Participation

As social media popularity and functionality continues to escalate, many companies are asking how best to make use of tools such as TwitterLinkedInFacebook, and the like.  I believe it comes down to participation – something I highlighted in my post Using Social Media to Generate Leads.

Participation is something new for media.  In the days when traditional media like TV, radio, and newspapers dominated the media scene, all people could do was listen and observe.  But now with social media taking hold, people cannot merely stand back and listen if they want to make the most of these tools – they now have to participate as well.

A section of Scott Kirsner‘s recent article in the Boston Globe called Listening While Thinking highlights this point:

“Companies trying to market their products through new communications channels like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook often follow the same strategy they have used with more established channels like radio ads and billboards: They talk without listening. Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff says new “social media’’ channels require both talking and listening – which can be a challenge for many companies.”

The combination of talking and listening, as Kirsner describes it, is difficult when one strategy has been so ingrained for so many years.  Advertising, PR, and promotions are typically the “talking” channels whereas “listening” channels have traditionally been things like customer service, research studies, and focus groups.

The strength of social media, however, is in the combination of the two.  Companies can use what they glean from listening to these channels in their own promotions and campaigns while also contributing back to the media community – and their contributions are that much better from their listening experience.  But as soon as you start listening, you’ll want to participate – and as soon as you start participating, people will expect you to listen.  The key is to strike a balance between observing and participating.  You have to take into account what everyone else is saying in order to make the most of your contributions and get others to observe you and take account of what you’re saying.


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