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You help build capacity in dependencies by listening, synthesizing, and feeding back to your audience.  Through this, you are uplifted, and they too are uplifted. By synthesizing the wisdom you pick up from the people who interact with you on Twitter or elsewhere on the social web, and feeding it back to the whole, you help all the people you are connected to.  Yes, it can involve introducing them to each other.  Yes, it requires listening (it's a core competency of network weaving). And the synthesizing and feedback part is crucial too.

What you need is a listening post.  I  set up my listening post 5 years ago to scan for people, trends, and ideas related to social media and nonprofits. Listening and engaging with people has been critical to any success I’ve achieved as a social media practitioner – whether I’m blogging (http://beth.typepad.com) or fundraising for Cambodian children (http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/feb2009/id2009029_776708.htm).  

A Simple Definition: Listening
Listening is knowing what is being said about your organization, field, or issue area. Listening online uses monitoring and tracking tools to identify conversations that are taking place on the social web. It is a prelude to engaging with your audience.  At its most basic, listening is simply naturalistic research, although more like a focus group or observation than a survey.  The value of listening comes from making sense of the data and using it to inform your social media strategy and response.          

Understanding the Value of Listening and Engaging
The value of listening is more than “free market research,” although listening through social media channels is priceless because you can hear what people are saying in their natural environment. Listening is typically used by nonprofits to help improve programs and identify misconceptions.  http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2009/01/nonprofit-examples-of-how-listening-returns-valuable-insights-and-impact-.html  

Finally, it isn’t a matter of just collecting data,  someone will need to transform it from a river of seeming noise into useful insights – and this takes a particular skill: pattern analysis.  And then you need to share it back out with your network.  This builds their capacity, which returns to you in a feedback cycle of helping and sharing.

Far more important than our choice of tools for the listening task, are your listening literacy skills. http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2009/01/listening-literacy-skills-keywords-are-king-what-keywords-or-phrases-have-brought-you-some-insights.html.  These include composing and refining keywords, pattern analysis, and synthesis of findings. There’s also a fourth skill: Effectively engaging. Listening is not just quietly observing, sooner or later you need to interact with people and build relationships. Working out when and how to respond is an important technique that needs to be mastered.

  • How will you engage once you find people talking about your issues or concepts?
  • Using your listening, how can you help those who are helping you?
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