Listening Tour

I read that Caroline Kennedy is going on a “listening tour” of New York in preparation for her run for Senator of that fair state. By doing so, she nods her head at Hillary Clinton. Most political pundits believe that it was Clinton’s months of listening that gave her the credibility and support for her Senate race. However, Kennedy is also lending credence to a basic tenet of community organizing: the importance of listening.

Before any campaign launches, the skilled organizer hosts “house parties” and community forums to listen to his community. What are the issues in the neighborhood? Who speaks up? Who do people listen to? What are they saying about the organization and its record? How can the organization best respond to pressing issues? The ideas come from the grass roots (and the connection to this blog’s image header.) A good organizer doesn’t have any agenda other than to listen. The ideas should bubble up from the community and direct the organization to its next campaign.

This is true for stakeholder engagement. Your organization needs to listen to what its people are saying before you do anything. How are you doing that? How will you know what to change and where to act next? And importantly, do you know how to listen without advancing your own agenda? You can “listen” on the web to what people are already saying about your organization, cause or leaders. If no one is talking about you, that’s a whole other issue that can be rectified with a good social media strategy.

What tools can you use to listen?

1. Find out what people are saying about your company with twitter. Create as many searches as you want.

2. Sign up for Google alerts that will alert you any time your company/organization appears online.

3. Search blogs for mention of your company: use Google blog search. Go to http://www.google.com. Then look in the upper left for “more” and click on that. You’ll find “search blogs” in the drop-down menu. Type in your company’s names or any related search words to find out what people are saying about your organization or industry. You can even add a blog search gadget to your google home page.

4. Search blogs on technorati as well. I find their searches to be more thorough than Googles, but it’s worthwhile to do both.

5. Find out who is listening in on you. Check out who is linking to your website or blog. Go to SEOPro. Thanks to Chris Brogan for this great idea!

6. Don’t forget to do your basic Google search as well using your organization’s name, staff names and key words.

7. Once you’ve implemented your social media strategy, you might want to consider more advanced listening tools. Radian 6 is one that captures and analyzes all the chatter on the web of the selected key words. Bill Ives gives a good explanation of the potential of Radian 6 here. It’s pretty cool technology that lets you uncover the people behind the posts, “share of voice” of buzz of your company on the internet, and selected analysis such as countries where you want to know about the web chatter. It’s a subscription application.

Now that you know which technology to consider using, what are you listening for?

  • who is talking about your organization? Do you need to respond? Are they influencers, potential stakeholders, or leaders?
  • what are they saying? Are they praising or condemning? Are they demanding your response?
  • where are they?
  • who else do they influence?

If I were taking a listening tour, I’d start with those questions. I’d track the main “chatterers,” and contact them. Can you turn them from enemies into friends? Can you turn friends into stakeholders? I’d think about which issues generated the most chatter, and continue to track this for my analysis. I’d look at who their followers are (on twitter, on their blog, on facebook, etc.) to find out if major stakeholders (or funders!) follow them. All of these questions can assist your organization to use social media, plan activities and engage your stakeholders.

You might be new to social media, or not. Either way, it’s a smart idea to insitute your own “listening tour.”

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