London sign post

Last week Eaon Pritchard tagged me  (“best practices in social media“), and quite frankly it gave me a bit of writers block. Let me explain. Mitch Joel – Six Pixels of Separation – set the challenge to name one social media marketing best practice. That’s hard. For me it’s doubly hard, as I was looking for a productivity angle – being me and this being WOWNDADI – and pinning it down to just one thing is a big challenge.

The meme has produced some very thoughtful posts. Eaon mentions a post by Liz Strauss: “Watch what people actually do“. And that is what stumped me. Liz has been a great encouragement through my blogging journey, and a pleasure to meet in person, but the reason I pick out Liz’s post is that my first thought was around observing and matching prosody.

Prosody is the linguistic term for bits of speech that aren’t the words – the tone, the rhythm, the intonation. One of the challenges with any form of written media, be it a blog, a wiki or a white paper, is that the prosody of speech is lost. With it goes a much of the information that we use to derive meaning. That means we are left to try and interpret the meaning without that missing information. We read between the lines, based on what we expect. That isn’t a good thing, especially if it is an emotionally charged issue.

In social media, particularly when you represent a business brand, people assume they know you or at least bring assumptions into the communication. Prosody is implicit in Social Media, it comes out of the broader conversation. Not what is being said, but the traditions that have emerged over how and why it is said. It might be too early in the game to nail down best practices, but it is late enough that what constitutes bad practice is already established.

Marketers might want to join the conversation and gently nudge it in the direction they are hoping for. I think it is very hard to do that in a genuine way, and in the blogosphere, a fake will be spotted a few key strokes away. I’m going to agree with Liz, but I’m also going to go a step further. For all the hype, social media is JACM – just another communications medium. That means the first rule of communication still applies:

Seek first to understand. Then to be understood.

As Covey would have it. Do you know what? You’ll be more productive in the long run if you are really able to stop and listen. Really listen. Not leaving a gap in the communication whilst the other person talks. Really listening, with the intent to understand. Go beyond the words, to include the prosody and the intent.

When the whole world is shouting “Listen to me! Listen to me!” the one that gets an audience is the person who says “I’m genuinely listening, and I would like to understand.” Armed with answers, you only need few words to make your point. No backtracking or apologies needed.

Human communication is so complex that it is impossible to reduce it down to a formula or a list. For me, that is one of the amazing things about it. Of course, you could always go with Jeremy Toeman’s slightly less serious “The 20 Commandments of Social Media“. However, I’d like to hear an answer to this question from Steve Lawson, so I’ll tag him….