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Engaging Members Through Listening

by | Oct 20, 2011 | Industry News & Trends

You’re not listening to me! How often do you think you’ll say that over the course of your lifetime? Or — worse yet — how often has it been said to you? When you are delivering those frustrating words, you feel devalued. Whatever that person is doing or thinking is more important in their world than you are. When it’s a personal relationship it’s discouraging; when it’s a professional one — it can be a death blow. It translates to disengagement. “If I’m not important to you, you are not important to me.”

On the reverse side, how do we feel when someone listens? Valued, encouraged, willing to share/volunteer/work harder. Engaged employees and members are less likely to leave; they feel invested. So there’s obvious value in listening to your members, in how it makes them feel, but there’s also direct value for to your organization. When you are listening to your members you can use their casual conversations to change how you do business.

With a few minutes of active listening a day on a site like Twitter, LinkedIn or your own private online community, combined with several well-chosen Google keyword alerts, you can begin to hear conversations that can easily be applied to your organization. If you have an online community, it may just be as easy as logging in to your forums.

This type of “listening” does not require some advanced degree in espionage, it just requires you be present. If you set up a few quick searches you can monitor the conversations with ease. If you have an online community/AMS with an executive dashboard, you may have this functionality already available (or easily set up).

Some of the things I’ve heard when listening in on the association and nonprofit worlds:

Complaints about the food at events.

Complaints about inattentiveness in answering phones or questions.

Encouragement to bring in a more varied pool of speakers.

But I’ve also heard a lot of positive:

Enjoyment of speakers, article or a particular event.

Broadcasting events and inviting others.

Thanking an association for job-hunting help or industry advice.

Each of the items above serves not only as an opportunity to reach out and let your members know you are listening, it also changes (if you allow it to) your offerings. Can you change your menu at events to offer healthier fare, for instance? Can phone calls be answered quickly or can a level of service be agreed upon, such as we will get back to you within 24 hours? And what about the positive comments you hear? Now you know what’s enjoyed and valued.

All of what you hear deserves to be recognized and acknowledged. You can do this in person at the next event, over email or my personal favorite a letter. Yes, some people still use cursive.

But when you’re caught and accused of not listening, the worst thing to do is nothing. You would never dream of ignoring someone who said that to you so why would you ignore it on the social media outlets? When I get caught “red-earred” not listening, I turn my full attention back to where it belongs and say, “I’m sorry. You’re right. What were you saying?”, and I hope that they’ll give me a second chance to learn what is important to them.


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