One of the key skills required to be a good Online Community or Social Media Manager is mastering the art of listening to your community and effectively analysing feedback. Maria Ogneva's post "Tweet Me, Help Me, Don't Just Sit There" made me think about brands thinking they are listening but not really hearing feedback. It's a human trait to want and need to communicate, and when working for a brand we have a message we are in charge of delivering to customers or members of our website.
What is easily misunderstood is that communication is a two-way street that requires effort; while we realise we need to listen as well as talk, what happens when we are not really hearing what the customer is saying to us? Maria says it well: "At an actually useful level, you should be actively listening, triaging and helping, while utilizing the expertise of the whole enterprise and beyond." In her case, the failure occurred when the company she was communicating with didn't hear her problem - they listened, suggested a solution that wasn't suitable, and couldn't hear in her reply that they needed to work around their standardised responses to resolve the problem.
But is listening properly that important? and if so, how can it be done effectively? First, let's see what listening really is.
What listening is not
A good starting point is to understand what is not listening. When you truly engage in listening to another person, you don't react there and then. You make a point of not talking, or thinking about what is being said on the spot. When you listen, you don't judge what the other person is saying; it is a very humble action during which you focus entirely on the other person, not on how you feel about what they are saying to you. Concentrating on absorbing what is being said is the goal.
The value of listening properly
Only by listening can you learn about what makes others tick. When you fail to listen properly to what your community is saying to you, you are failing to embrace an opportunity to create a highly successful product. Once your community realises that you are not listening to them, they will lose trust in you and decide that because your mind is closed to their opinions, you will never provide them with a product that meets their needs. If you don't listen with an open mind, you are simply left with your conditioned reactions, and miss out on learning something new.
By cultivating good listening skills, you make the process of collating feedback more productive. These skills will allow you to better understand what the needs of your community are, build a strong rapport with your customers, answer question and resolve problems more effectively. You will also be better equipped in finding underlying meanings in what you are being told.
How to understand what is being said
Due to the fact that we manage our communities online, specific challenges present themselves in terms of the processes of both listening and demonstrating to your audience that are doing so. We cannot rely on verbal and visual cues for example, so we need to find ways of letting the member know we are listening to what they are saying, taking on board their opinions and offer satisfactory solutions through discussion. When reading through your members' views, try not to react immediately; rather spend time grouping together similar topics and request clarification on each when necessary.
Look for links between each topic to see whether you are missing a common issue that can be addressed to resolve several problems in one go. Cross-reference your organisation's product roadmap with your feedback in case anything can address one of the points being made. Once this process comes to its conclusion, offer a summary of what you understand has been said to you, seeking clarification once again if required, and suggest some practical solutions; if none exist or become apparent, initiate a discussion around what needs to be achieve to solve the issues raised.
Pitfalls to avoid
Because we think we know the product better and we are confident in our interpretation of how to develop it, it is easy to listen to what our customers say without really hearing them. There are many pitfalls to be conscious of, all of which will lead us to prejudgments and an inability to take on board what is said to us and act effectively on that feedback.
Are you feeling bias or prejudice towards the community member offering their views to you? Dismissing these views because of what you perceive to be poor grammar or self-expression? Are you fearful about raising customer concerns with your boss or the development committee? Or are you so over-worked your attention span is lacking? (in which case you need to read 7 tips on achieving work/life balance as a Community Manager!) All of these factors may hinder your ability to properly listen to feedback.
Just make sure that as a Community Manager, you don't end up spending all of your days reading what is being said. Regardless of the volume of feedback you receive, at some point you are going to need to assess, respond and filter this information to relevant departments in your company.
How do you go about truly listening to your community? Can you share any success stories which were the result of effective communication with your customers?
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