In fact, the toplines of our Buzz Report suggest that of 16 different elements "Listening - not staying tuned and responding to what members/customers want quickly" was considered the biggest sin of not building an engaged, collaborative business.
I didn't expect this - I would have thought the measurement advocates, technology gurus or strategy folks would have dominated our poll results. But more than 53% of our panel ranked the seemingly simple act of "listening" the top ingredient for doing well in "social business".
In interviewing a cadre of experts for our book Wikibrands, we've begun to realize the "art and science" of listening perhaps isn't that simple and has many dimensions:
Customer Monitoring - Knowing what people are saying about you - this is perhaps the most obvious one, it involves the least investment of time for the most benefit. Whether it is for marketing, customer service or research motivations, 68% of companies have a system in place to perform this listening function. Whether it's done by UHU glue and masking tape (Technorati, Twitter search, Hootsuite, manual audit and search) or one of the reputable social media monitoring vendors (Radian6, Visible), the call of the "connected age" is just do it.
Customer Culture - Knowing what your customer and influencers are doing - businesses need to meet their customers on their own soil - we no longer can broadcast our messages through the key traditional 6 channels (TV, radio, outdoor, prints, newspaper, direct) - we have to be "every place" and also be well behaved when we get there by understanding the rules and motivations of what people want from us there. It is a mandate that engaged business should be devoting resources for Brailling the culture of their marketplace (see Community Manager role)
Customer Centricity - Customers recognize you are actively listening - it's not enough just to know the social environment of your product and customer universe, you need to participate...and show your customers that you are listening. Consider the majority of Whole Food's social media activity is responding to customers nationally, on an interest and local-specific basis. The fact thatthey are the 52nd most popular Twitter page (ahead of Paris Hilton at #55) and you'll realize that is no coincidence. You need to provide the real genuine face and ear of your company to the community at large to fully recognize the benefits of listening.
Customer-Driven - Customers recognize you are changing based on feedback -so you're happy that you are listening and participating, your customers are happy that they feel listened to, what more could there be? Showing them you've changed, that's what. Any community, no matter how solidly entrenched, will get bored over time, if they don't feel their contributions to your business are causing things to change. You must change based on customer feedback, highlight the credit to your audience and communicate to others that they too can change the colossus that is your business.