Open Your Ears

Ma’ayan Plaut (@plautmaayan) is the social media coordinator at Oberlin College.

During one of the first sessions at the CASE Social Media and Community conference in Chicago this spring, someone asked how we know what sort of content will work for our institutions on social media platforms. I piped up and said that I spent my first year as Oberlin’s social media coordinator listening on all our social platforms. I was clueless as to how to tackle all of our social platforms, since I had no idea who the audience was. Sure, I was throwing things out there to see what stuck, but I had no idea how to start thinking strategically about content. Rather than doing this, I decided to try something else on for size: sitting back and seeing what’s going on.

What do you get from listening?

  • You learn to understand your audience. Really, do you know who you’re talking to? You should. Not just because it’s a nice thing to do, but because you’ll get a better idea of whom you’re talking to by listening to what they’re saying (both in general and about your institution).
  • You find out what is important to your community. What we say may seem important to us, but what other people say should be just as important. Despite what we as communicators might think, it’s not just about us. You may not get a direct comment on something that you post, but in sharing your content, you’ll start to get sense of what your audience is saying about what you’re doing.
  • You determine what your audience likes. This is not dictated by community affiliation (For example: I go to Oberlin! I obviously love trees and learning! And all other people who love trees must love learning and Oberlin!) Your audience is a diverse group of folks with a wide array of interests that may or may not ever show up on your radar.

Why is it hard?

  • Listening isn’t contributing! But yes, it is! The 90-9-1 principle of online communities is exactly what I’m talking about. Ninety percent of the people out there are just lurking consumers, 9 percent of the folks out there are adding their thoughts, and 1 percent are active participants and conversation drivers. The 1 percent is an obvious place to start listening but that other 90 percent say much in their silence, too. If they’re silent in your space, it doesn’t mean they’re silent everywhere. Every bit of listening you do helps.
  • Active listening is hard. Yes, it is. I bite my tongue a lot when I hear things I don’t agree with, but it’s good to keep those things in mind. It means that I have more voices in my head than my own when it comes to creating, posting and talking about things in the future. You will hear things that won’t make you feel good inside. I have a thicker skin when it comes to criticism now than I did before. It does still hurt to read harsh, difficult or sad things, but rightfully so. We’re human, after all.
  • It takes time. A lot of time, actually. I spend most my workdays listening to Oberlin chatter in an attempt to know what’s up with our community. I mostly listen to stay informed, but when something deems a response, I can get on it quickly. It’s fascinating to watch things travel online and to see what the responses are to the happenings around our campus and the world.

There are tons of amazing listening tools out there that will cost your institution a lot of money. I’m not saying that they’re not worth it, but to start, you really need nothing more than a bit of time during the day and the desire to hear.

One response to “Open Your Ears

  1. Very good advice. All of us in higher ed should “listen” to what you’re saying here, Ma’ayan. 🙂
    Like you, I need to bite my tongue sometimes when I want to just jump in to a social media conversation happening about our institution. It’s important to know when to speak and when to keep silent. On the other hand, many times I sense current or prospective students really want some acknowledgement from the institution, via an official social media channel, when they specifically tag or reply to the institution (i.e., an @ reply on Twitter).

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