Social Media Icon: @Sree Sreenivasan explains the Listener in Chief

Sree Sreenivasan is the Dean of Student Affairs at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, He blogs at Sree.net and his Twitter handle is @Sree. A contributing editor at DNAinfo.com, Sree calls himself a tech evangelist/skeptic. His lists of social media resources and tools are extensive and free. He is constantly updating updating his Facebook page, Sree Tips. Sree’s social media guide includes case studies and social media guidelines.

How will larger businesses with a conservative culture come to understand the social media conversation?

They can understand it if they spend some time being part of the culture. That is why I say businesses need to have a “Listener in Chief,” someone who is listening and paying attention online and jumping in. A business that announces the numbers of widgets per day, etc. —  that stuff doesn’t work.

Tell me about the Listener in Chief.

This is the idea behind a job that all organizations  need to have.

This is someone who is listening and helping the organization understand what is happening in social media. No one human being can do this. But if you don’t start with one you will never do it. Start with that.

The Listener in Chief is not only listening. You are also leading. You are also training. And you are also helping to bring along your colleagues and your customers in this new world. That means the Listener in Chief  is very smart about social media and knows what works.

How does the Listener in Chief  do their job?

This person spends several hours per day, actively strategically,  engaging in social media activities.

This person is a great promoter of the brand, but also is aware of its limitations. They don’t flinch when things that are awkward or incorrect or not pleasant are said about the organization.  I’d love to see more organizations having someone like that.

What kinds of tools does the Listener in Chief use?

Depending on the industry, they use different tools. The Listener understands the social media tools such as Linked-in, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube Foursquare. They also should know how to use social monitoring software, but those are easy to learn.

What you really need is somebody who has the faith of the leadership of the company and a seat at the table so that when they are able to share what’s working and not working, they are heard. They have to be very flexible.

The Listener in Chief needs to be heard – ironically.

What about businesses that don’t feel they can afford to have a Listener in Chief?

The good news is that social media does not cost money.  What it does cost is time and energy and commitment. Business people ask what is the return on investment (ROI). People used to ask the same question about email, about websites, about telephones, about cell phones. New technologies mean companies have to adjust.

But it does not mean that they have to jump into every new rabbit hole that comes along. They need to pick and choose.

There’s definitely proof that this particular kind of social media does have returns. It might not be selling “X” number of widgets immediately. But it is part of the cost of doing business. It is like asking what is the ROI on my phone.

You have to be in the game. That is why you have to be listening.

Will social media continue to grow?

Yeah! I think we are very early on this. We are just getting started. Today, social media is where the web was in 1996. That means there are lots of interesting things to come. We just need to be checking them out now and playing with them.

As with everything it’s more useful when you have played with it, and then you know how it works. That’s what I urge everyone to do.

How does the principle of “giving for free” work related to social media?

I do a lot of it. The thing I have learned form the internet is to give away as much as you can and you will get much more back. That is why I give away so much. It’s because I get back such a disproportionate amount.

I used to have my notes locked up. When I started giving the information away people jumped in and said “If this is the free version, then what will I get if I pay?” That is what I have always believed, so I do far far more free stuff than paid. People ask for help and for workshops, so I do them.

I could be the greatest expert in something but how would people know if you are not taking advantage of these tools?  I have benefited greatly from using these tools in action.

What kind of advice can you offer to businesses new to social media?

The main thing to understand is that this is a two way street and it is all about participating in the conversation. You cannot wake up one morning and say I am going to use social media and make a lot of money.

You have to be part of the community. You cannot parachute in.

The good news for businesses is that what works in real life works in social media as well. If you are from the neighborhood and you are generally nice, those are the things that reflect well on social media. People who have a terrible product and try to use social media, well it doesn’t help.

But if you offer a good product and you do good service, social media can help.

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  • http://www.fastcompany.com/user/douglas-crets Douglas

    What Sree is talking about is what I do for companies. I do it as a freelancer. I go into companies, and investigate their internal culture, and help them communicate across that transparent membrane between the company and the culture of consumers outside of the “box.” of the company day-to-day. I call myself a digital anthropologist.
    http://www.fastcompany.com/user/douglas-crets

    • http://www.sallyduros.com Sally

      Hi Doug — I think what Sree is discussing is similar to the idea of Chief Cultural Officer that Gary Vaynerchuk put forward in his book, ” The Thank You Economy.” It is very much a stance of active listening.