(Updated in 2020)
10-Point Plan in Action: Living Online and Off
The Cameras Are Always Rolling
Many years ago, I commuted from California to Boston for my job as VP of Product Development for a Publishing Company. I also took several international trips to work with other publishers that had me out of the office for weeks. The travel meant that I often attended executive meetings via teleconference. Basically I was at the office on the phone sitting in the middle of the table.
When I first started attending meetings this way I had no idea how powerful it was to be in lurking inside the telephone during those meetings. Then I started to notice as folks began talking, particularly when they became invested in a conversation, they would forget that I was listening. In essence I was the proverbial fly in the room — they couldn’t see or hear me so I wasn’t there.
But I was.
And I heard everything they said, how they said it, and often when I jumped back in the conversation, they were startled in their seats. My voice had more power than if I had been sitting across the table because they’d lost their sense of what I knew and what and I didn’t because I hadn’t been a visible part of their experience.
And from that unique position, I could often bring a perspective that the people in the room couldn’t see. We all came to value the idea of having an observer — a lurker / listener outside of the room.
Would Your Lurkers and Listeners Advocate for You?
I think about those meetings when I consider the number of people who follow me on Twitter and the number I actually talk to, the number of people who read my blog and the ones I actually see. I think of those listeners and lurkers even more when events happen online that get folks riled up and defending their position on an issue that has more than one side. During those events, it’s easy for us to forget the far larger number of people who follow the story, but hardly ever, maybe never, comment on what they see.
Their silence doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions of our behaviors and our thinking. Their silence doesn’t mean that they won’t remember if they meet us somewhere in another context one in which we might want their support or partnership.
Lurkers and listeners can be powerful advocates, great sources of referrals, and even become customers and clients if we remember them and serve their needs. They can also remember our worst behavior. Here are three things to remember about the Internet and the lurkers, three ways to keep lurkers and listeners on your radar so that they stick around and become your advocates.
- The Internet is the World’s Largest Reality Show. It’s not good to forget that “cameras” are always on. Lurkers and listeners are in the audience watching and thinking about what they see. In the heat of a moment offline we might have the luxury of forgetting our manners or ranting away with emotion on someone else in a private setting. Not so here.
- The Internet might move quickly but it archives everything. I can still find a huge row that occurred in 2005 on a blog that’s been deleted and point you to the bad behavior that took place that day. Everything we do is indexed somewhere. Some of it sits in places we can never reach or erase. Lurkers and listeners now and in the future can find and see it on a distant day. One of those watching might be yourself looking back at yourself in a few years.
- On the Internet it gets easy to tell what you value. Listeners and lurkers can be potential clients. When we make a public mistake or when we react to one, it’s important remember that those silent watchers — the people who might be our next bosses, vendors, partners, or clients — have a better chance to figure out whether they want to work with us than any interview, meeting, presentation, or resume would ever afford them. They if we “forget” that folks are listening — when we rant about a customer on our blog or complain about a client — we don’t know when they leave us without giving us business, thinking they could be our next victim. If you make a huge mistake and try to sweep it under a rug, they won’t be trusting us ever.
A wise man once said behave as if everything you do is going to be published. That pretty much describes the Internet.
That idea can make us better at our business. It can bring us to always align our values with our customers’ values. It can move us to keep the people we serve at the center of everything we do.
On the other hand, it can be what kills us. If we have a fatal flaw, if we forget that people like to be treated like people, some will find a way of reminding us we’re serving only ourselves. And the lurkers and listeners who decide that we’re self-serving will unsubscribe, click away, and never say a word – to us. That doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions that they share other ways.
Loyalty is a relationship with all the people we serve, not just the one who sing our praises. Lurkers and listeners are watching and perhaps deciding whether they want a relationship with us. How do we make sure the lurkers and listeners stay clearly on our radar? What can we do to serve them better so that lurkers and listeners are advocates too?
–ME “Liz” Strauss