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[GUEST POST] Listening & the pattern

Dan Rockwell is a User Experience Researcher at Lextant.

[BACK STORY: I met Dan at BarCamp Ohio and started following him on Twitter. Then I started listening to his soundbytes on Utterli. One of his messages really resonated with me, and I asked him to guest post here on the topic of “getting” social media. Thanks, Dan!]

Anyone who’s watched a few hundred movies (like we’ve all done) knows that feeling of “oh yeah, I know what’s happening…” It’s that twinge of you “guessed it;” you know what’s going to happen next. You’ve seen the pattern, you’ve added it up. You feel a bit smug a first. Sometimes you look to see if anyone else figured it out. It’s a natural thing really and, lets face it, we love that feeling of “oh yes, we get it”.

For anyone following the buzz around social media these days, that feeling is like a constant hum your head, a subtle but noticeable nudge that you, yes, you,.. you get it. Sad part is, it’s often hard to share that joy of seeing the pattern in social media with folks on the outside of it. Folks that don’t get it. You’re right back in that movie theater, trying to convince a friend that in that one scene where the bad guy does X, you knew that was going to happen. Of course if they didn’t get that subtle nudge, that trace of the pattern that you got, well, here comes the debate. At this point, you can’t really win; after all it’s just a movie. However, with social media, you just can’t afford to lose. It’s far too important.

At first, I thought I was a bit crazy. I started seeing all kinds of interconnected events unfolding, small at first, larger over time. Patterns unfolding in my head. Naturally, I’m more drawn to folks that get the same nudge I get over social media. My “ah ha’s” resonate better with them. They get it too; there’s less resistance to the big idea and more of an open embracing arm gesture to bring it on. We iterate on ideas faster, all thinking in the same vein of sharing, learning, expressing, embracing, interconnecting and more.

But then there’s all those folks I know on the sidelines, looking at me as if I’m nuts. It’s understandable at times. It looks like a massive waste of time, all this twittering, blogging, social networking, social bookmarking, media creation, vlogging, super poking?!–for what, what’s the big “ah ah?” Folks on the outside of social media see time loss, that’s the biggest blank in their heads. They need to understand the real value of why are you doing it, because right now, all they see is time… disappearing.

The first mistake you can make when attempting to get a friend or co-worker to see the pattern is to threaten them with weight of it. I call this the “warning;” it never works and it’s a sure fire way to demotivate someone. Giving someone the “this will happen, you can’t escape it!!” mentality never works, you’ve seriously dropped the ball. In general if you back anyone up against a wall they will resist you to no end and logic goes out the window. So you can’t force someone to see what you see–you have to go back to that movie setting. What would the hero do? Well, a smart hero would do his/her research and find connections between your friend and the “ah ha” pattern.

You’ve got to make a bridge over into their world. Find a point where their life could be just a tad bit more interesting if they knew about the pattern. Then jump on that bit and show them how it could really benefit them.

You need to tap into what I call “universal truths,” whereby the pattern of social media helps all. We hear one of these truths all the time right now in social media marketing. Listening is a universal truth. You really can’t go wrong with listening. Today, everyone, and I mean everyone, is connected to the web is some way. Our lives, kids’ lives, businesses, products, markets, you name it, it’s all connected there on the web. You can go for a broad inquiry and collect a ton of data, or you can scale down to see the finer bits in between.

Once you get a taste for listening to the web, the hive mind of the planet connected by a billion bits of fiber, you can start asking it questions. Using tools like Google Insight Trends, Search Twitter or blog search tools, you can veer away from the beaten path of marketing speak buried in websites and plow into the mind of your customer.

So, big deal? Well the big deal is that people are in the system. Tap into the hive, think with it, and you’ll find it. Google is just the start really, the first place you go. If you want more real time knowledge, you go to Twitter or a blog search engine and start getting closer to the source.

Now you’re probably thinking, “oh man, this is work, I’ve already got a job.” Well, wrong again. Social media is smarter than that. The hive mind continually iterates itself and RSS is about the coolest thing fueling that hive mind. TweetBeep uses RSS to bring your twitter to you. Stop visiting 5 to 10 blogs a day and visit one with Google Reader and RSS. Subscribe to what you’re interested in, and it all comes to you.

Listening is very powerful. You start to eavesdrop on a 1000 conversations online. Who are all these people talking about…? Oh that person is reading the same book I’m reading, hey they do what I do, go to the same places I go, wait a sec that guy is from Brazil and he’s into what I’m into. Physical barriers are gone, this isn’t plain jane website exploration…you’re in the hive now–learn, absorb, see the pattern, iterate.

Once you start listening you’re ready for the next step–participation. Then you can roll into validation and tracking, one of my favorite aspects of the web. It’s all recordable, traceable, you can see your net effect online. Did an idea resonate, did a concept stick, change, iterate, improve, try again, all within half the time you’d think.

You have to listen, somehow. Odds are you’re doing it now, but you just haven’t leveraged the web and the hive chatter isn’t part of your iteration process. You may still add it up over time, but a little more data couldn’t hurt. Of course even the researcher in me debates that concept a tad. If you’re all about a vision, you must follow that vision, if you want more ideas, go get more ideas, and that means ya gotta listen.

Start listening, and start seeing the pattern. You’ll benefit and it won’t cost you any more time than you spend wondering what people are thinking with traditional methods.