Recently I had the privilege of attending my inaugural meeting as a member of the professional advisory board for the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. As part of this informative day, our group got to meet the new dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Chaden Djalali. In addition to having great insights on the path ahead, Dean Djalali also had some advice social media marketers need to hear. 

Emptying the Cup

The advice? As you can imagine a dean at a large university has many constituencies to serve. In approaching this, Djalali related a proverb his father had shared with him stating that “First, you must let someone empty their cup. Then when it’s less full, you can put your own drops in.” Think about it. You can’t overflow someone’s cup with your own ideas until you first let them pour out their cup by listening to their thoughts and needs. A great parable for leadership, management, and relationships in general, it has a great lesson for social media marketers as well.

Listening to the Lesson

The lesson? Social media is different from every other form of media in one unique way. If done properly, it focuses more on listening than talking. When you consider virtually every other marketing channel such as TV, radio, online ads, even email, all of them focus more on the brand’s uni-directional message rather than the thoughts and needs of the community. And yet many marketers jump in cavalierly, treating social media like a 30-second TV spot. “What thing are we trying to sell this week? Let’s talk about that a tonon social media!” I’ve even heard some refer to creating a “social media broadcast.”

How Do You Listen?

Great story but how does a brand start listening more on social media? Better yet, how do you listen if no one is saying anything? Valid questions. How does a brand start listening more? If your community of fans and followers isn’t directly engaging with you already and telling you things you could listen to, consider asking a few questions first to draw them out. It could be as simple as “How was your Monday?” or as complex and probing as “Be honest. What could we do better to meet your needs?” Another media built around the other person — but also includes an audience — is a talk show. How is a talk show formatted? Questions!

The Big Question: Why Are You Doing This?

The strategy question rears its head again! It’s true. Once you clearly define why you’re engaging in social media — branding, customer service, PR, etc. — you’ll have a better idea on what you should talk about. Or, rather, what to ask questions about. This not only steers conversations toward your social media objectives but it helps you bring your social media plan into focus even more. With social media, like so many things, you need to first let your community empty their cup a bit first. Once they do, not only will there be room for your drops in the cup but you can make sure you’re putting the right drops in. Think about your own social media efforts. Are you listening to your community or talking at an audience?

Photo via Flickr user kalyan02