The goal of any public relations program is to cultivate and enhance one’s reputation with select audiences. This brand messaging can be about one’s products or services, what you stand for as a business or organization, your stance on an industry issue or public policy, or your involvement with communities.
These messages, however, must be accurate, consistent and sincere. Today, more than ever — in a world of complex, specialized and diffuse media formats — the path to this conversation must begin by paying attention to the thoughts, feelings and ideas of those you wish to influence.
“Active listening” is about being genuinely interested in the needs and wants of your key audiences; knowing what others (even your own internal stakeholders) think about your business practices; understanding what you stand for as an organization; and then responding in a meaningful, thoughtful way.
A good listener focuses on the other party with the goal of understanding — they ask questions and make the messaging interactive. Active listening is the difference between talking at your audience as opposed to talking with them.
The platform opportunities
One of the greatest opportunities in public relations and marketing today is what to make of the vast array of ways to listen.
In addition to numerous social media platforms, we have podcasts, video, blogs, forums, online reviews, the comments sections of online newspapers and magazines and more. Today’s specialized trade publications also offer a powerful array of uniquely targeted marketing platforms for advertisers. Additionally, all of these various outlets — particularly the self-published formats — can be further customized for each specific audience.
What do we do now?
Much of the power of these media formats is in how companies can use them to develop and sustain their brand messaging and demonstrate thought leadership among diverse publics.
Certainly, social media has great appeal because of the instantaneous and powerful feedback that it can provide. As an active listener, you can access a rich mine of information that helps validate your existing messaging, identifies early warning signs of misunderstandings and unfavorable impressions, or inspires you to improve your brand image. You also may discover new product ideas or an entirely new customer base.
Above all else, active listening leads to effective pubic relations strategies when your communications are meaningful and relevant to your audiences.
Three immediate things you can do to become an active listener:
- Know thy self. Take a thorough inventory of what your organization stands for and summarize the brand messages that you want to communicate to key audiences.
- Join in. Regularly contribute to industry forums and various user groups. Comment on a recent article or posting and become engaged in the conversation.
- Start building content. Create a blog page on your website. Post regularly and share your thoughts through postings on other websites and social media.