20130807-140842.jpg Speaking at ACLEA in Baltimore this week, I asked the audience how many of them were using some form of social media for their organizations. Over 90%

I then asked how many used Feedly, Zite, Flipboard, or another listening tool so as to follow subjects and sources. Less than 10%.

As someone told me afterwards, no one told them that listening was more important than producing or sharing content when it comes to social media. She, and another attendee, explained that most professionals in ACLEA used social media to spread the word about their organizations and their events or to gain “brand awareness.”

That’s the bullhorn approach to social media. When you’re shouting at people, listening is not altogether important.

Other than acting strategically, listening is the most important aspect of social media. More important than content. More important than sharing. More important than likes and comments. And much more important than traffic.

Social media for professionals is all about joining a conversation among thought leaders. As you join the conversation you’ll come to be viewed as a thought leader. Your clients, prospective clients, referral sources, and business associates will see you as the thought leader you are.

You’ll grow your network among leaders. A network which will grow your influence and increase your knowledge. You’ll become better and better at what you do and attract better clients in areas you are passionate about.

But try joining this conversation without listening. Enter with a bullhorn. Here’s my content. Come see me. Follow me.

At best you’ll be as ineffective in your use of social media as most other legal professionals. At worst, you’ll be perceived placing yourself before others.

This is one of my few blog posts where I am not referencing one or two things I have just read in my feeds. I don’t know know what I am going to blog until I see what is being discussed.

By discussed I mean written in blogs, newspapers, and periodicals. I receive this content because I subscribe to particular sources (blogs, news sites) or subjects (key phrases or words such as Facebook, social media, or company names). I have identified these sources and subjects strategically.

My practice of listening first has worked well for me. I have built and nurtured countless relationships, spoke on panels around the country with people I perceive as real leaders in our profession, and I have been blessed with building a reputation of being a trusted and reliable authority in my field.

I am not alone in my practice, other leaders in business do the same in their use of social media. Makes sense. Listening has been recognized as critical for business development since far before we had the Internet. When someone describes someone as being a good listener, it’s viewed as a complement.

Listening tools are fun to use. My ACLEA presentation was no different than others in that people came up afterwards and told me they downloaded Zite or Flipboard during my talk and that they find them “really cool.”

Try listening. It’s a fun way of learning, building relationships, and growing your reputation. It’s the only way of effectively using social media.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Eric Bennett.