Local Resolutions Part 27 of 29
This is the twenty-seventh in a series of 29 ways to help your local community online in 2010. If you missed it, you may wish to read the introductory post.
In this post, I suggest that listening and conversing online is a great way to help strengthen your community from behind the comfort of your keyboard. This series has included recent posts about creating a Google map tour, displaying a local-pride bumper sticker, and sharing the link love.
It may surprise you that this simple but powerful suggestion is only now appearing in this series, third from the end.
Frankly, it surprises me, too. I outlined all twenty-nine resolutions before I announced the series, and each day I have chosen the one I most feel like writing about. There have been so many cool tools and shiny toys, so many theories and ideas, that kept me from this fundamental resolution until today.
Today’s resolution goes like this: Listen to other members of your community online. And talk to them.
That’s it. Today’s resolution is conversation.
Broadcasting isn’t enough
As many, many others have said, online media are not one-way. They’re not even two-way. Communication online is many-to-many, the first time in human history we’ve had the ability for the masses to talk to the masses.
Good social media consultants advise their clients to begin by listening. But that doesn’t just go for businesses. It goes for citizens as well.
To me, the greatest power of a medium like Twitter is its ability to serve as a finely-tuned ear to the ground. It’s like sitting around a dozen proverbial cracker barrels throughout your town. You can catch up on what’s happening and what’s on people’s minds, just by overhearing.
If you really care about your local community and want to make it better, that means you care about the people in your community and want the best for them. The most fundamental way of caring for (indeed of loving) other people is by hearing them and seeing them. You can’t love what you don’t know. To put it the opposite way, to know is to love.
So get online and pay attention.
Passively listening isn’t enough
And yet, care and concern without action is inadequate. It’s vital to precede action with listening, because otherwise all you’re doing is imposing your own plans and ideas on others. It is just as vital, though, to follow listening with action.
Many times, responding with words is action enough. Many of you reading this have more than once given me the gift of encouragement, of laughter, of sympathy, of imagination, and of appreciation through what you have said to me online—here in the comments on my blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, by instant message, and through e-mail.
If you hear that I’m struggling because I’m overwhelmed with housework, sure, you could come over and do laundry for me. In addition to being highly unlikely, it is often unnecessary. Encouraging me to take it one step at a time, to put less pressure on myself, or to find something to laugh about may be enough to get me through.
Another example of responding to people online is to answer when someone asks for feedback. Twitter and Facebook are packed with people who live in our area asking what you think of their latest idea, requesting help with a computer problem, and seeking recommendations of where to look for a specific product. Answering them is helping members of your community. Helping members of your community is serving your community, whether you’re doing so online or off.
When the Web first took hold, we thought its potential was in its ability to eliminate vast distances of geography. New York could now stay in touch with Syndney, Shanghai, and Moscow constantly, in real time. It turns out that we under-appreciated the Internet’s ability to eliminate (in some senses) much smaller distances of geography. With most of us in an office all day, it has become a chore to keep up with the community outside. The conversations the Internet allows are making that a lot easier. All we have to do is listen to one another and, when appropriate, respond.