I’m doing a presentation in April to marketing directors with professional services firms. One of the topics the group wanted addressed was how firms could use social media for broad dissemination of their content.

I wanted no part of that topic. Pushing content at people is not what social media or the Internet, for that matter, is all about.

Imagine a law firm passing out handbills at an industry event. It would lead to a broader dissemination of the firm’s content. You could even hire college students at minimum wage to pass them out. It would be cheap — kind of how law firms view the cost of social media compared to advertising and public relations.

Of course a law firm would never do that. It would be be unseemly and inappropriate.

Now you know how a law firm is seen by others when the firm ‘pushes out’ content through social media. They look lame and their behavior is viewed as inappropriate — at least by those who know common social media etiquette.

Social media is about real authentic engagement with the people you know and the people you’d like to get to know better. The type of engagement which builds relationships and enhances one’s word of mouth reputation.

Sure, content plays a part in social media. Just like words play a part in conversation and text plays a part in correspondence.

But more important than content and words is listening. Not just listening to the noise going on around the world, but listening to your target audience. A target audience comprised of relevant sources and people.

Only after listening do you engage your audience in a real, authentic, and meaningful conversation. Kind of like conversing at a cocktail party or a get together after your kids little league game.

That’s social media — at least the type that won’t embarrass you and that will lead to business development opportunities.

Sure, there are lots of tactics to master and mediums you need to learn to use in order to listen and engage. But those are details compared to first understanding that social media is not about distributing content.

Image courtesy of Flickr by elizalO.