Listen first

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At a conference this past week I was fortunate to speak to lots of great people about their social media outreach. There are many well-intentioned organization/business owners out there who really do want to connect with their customers/constituents using social media, but they don’t know where to start. To me, that’s the easy part and also the most fun part of the whole process: listening.

When you learn to ride a bike the only way to do it is to get up on the bike and just try it. You’re scared at first but if you want to ride the bike you gotta just do it. With social media outreach you gotta just jump in and do it. But I don’t recommend yapping your head off to everyone at first. Listen first.

The first thing you need to do is participate in those social media networks out there. Use them on a personal basis so that you learn how conversations take place, what’s acceptable and what’s not, what people like to do and don’t like to do, and more. You can’t very well start making status updates on behalf of your business if you don’t know what a status update actually is.

Get into Facebook. Start following others on Twitter. Post some videos on Youtube. Start checking into Foursquare venues. And if you can swing it get an invite to Google+, which is the hottest social phenomenon that we’ve seen in a long time. Participate in these for at least 2 to 3 months before you start trying to get your business set up inside there.

Then you need to start listening for mentions of your business and your products. If people are talking about you then you can’t respond unless you are listening. Fortunately for you, there are more tools than ever to help you listen on the social web. Here are some of my favorite free tools: – this is a fantastic real-time search of all the major social media sites. You can even set up alerts to notify you when you are mentioned. – If you are going to use Twitter, then this is the site you need to watch. – no Twitter user could skip this great tool. You can even set up search terms and then create an RSS feed to send you notifications of mentions. – One of the oldest and still one of the best. I still use this tool on a daily basis. Set up the terms that you want Google to watch, and they will email you the minute that is appears on the web. It really does work that fast, and it is an essential part of my daily work.

There are more great resources out there than I could possibly mention, and others have done a fantastic job of writing about them. Like The Social Media Examiner, and Six Revisions, and Mashable.

Didn’t your mom always tell you that God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth because He wanted you to listen more than you talk? Yeah. So listen first.

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