Donovan Group Insights

Social Listening is an Opportunity to Hear Your Stakeholders

You talk to stakeholders all the time. There’s a lot happening in your district, and they need to hear about it! In an effort to keep people informed, district leaders send out news releases, parent letters, e-newsletters and website updates. They try to connect with stakeholders by talking more and more.

What was the last time you listened? In order to truly connect with stakeholders, you have to listen to them speak, too. District leaders can build stronger relationships, communicate more effectively and resolve issues early on by practicing social listening.

What is social listening?

Social listening is what it sounds like—listening to what your community has to say. This practice goes far beyond reading comments under social media posts. In order for district leaders to listen properly, they have to receive feedback, analyze it, then use it to improve communications with their stakeholders. Do more than hear stakeholders—listen to them.

When district leaders practice social listening, they gain valuable insight into stakeholders’ thoughts and feelings. They learn which issues are the most important to them. They learn what stakeholders love about the district and what needs to change. Everyone in your community is impacted by the district’s decisions, whether they’re a student or someone without a direct tie to the schools. Social listening can help you better understand how those decisions affect people.

District leaders can practice social listening in a variety of ways. On social media, you can read people’s comments, start a poll or host a live Q&A session. At board meetings, you can reserve time at the end for stakeholders to come up and ask questions. You can also listen to stakeholders by organizing focus groups or distributing surveys. There are more stakeholders who want to speak up than you might realize. As a district leader, you have to give them platforms on which to speak.

Why should district leaders listen?

Social listening is essential for a happy, thriving community. Stakeholders can tell when district leaders heed their words or not. The simple act of listening fosters positive relationships by showing stakeholders their wants, needs and concerns are top priorities. Your district exists to serve those within it. By listening carefully, you can reassure stakeholders that the district is making decisions with their best interests at heart. Caring for those in your community is a huge step toward developing those all-important relationships.

Listening is also a great way to see if you and your stakeholders are on the same page. Your district’s main priority might not be stakeholders’ main priority. What’s important to you might not be important to them at all. When you make a big decision, you have to ask yourself whether you’re doing what’s best for the people. While you can’t please everyone, stakeholders’ thoughts and opinions should still be taken into consideration. In order to understand what they’re thinking, you have to listen.

Inevitably, you’re going to make a decision that some stakeholders disagree with. Maybe you saw frustrated comments online or heard conversations in the school hallways. One way or another, word got around that your latest decision wasn’t very popular. Being a good listener helps you stay attuned to stakeholder’s reactions, whether they’re in your favor or not. That way, you can address their concerns without being prompted to do so. Stakeholders won’t have to work hard to explain themselves because you’re already aware of their concerns.

What should you listen for?

When you tune into your community, pay attention to comments and feedback that can help your district improve stakeholders’ experiences. See if there are any recurring trends among online comments, Q&A sessions, surveys and focus groups. What are stakeholders talking about the most? What are some of their top priorities? Once you understand what matters to stakeholders, you can take concrete steps to build those priorities into your district’s vision for the future.

Pay extra attention to ideas and perspectives you’ve never considered before. Social listening is incredibly important for your district’s success, as it encourages district leaders and stakeholders to arrive at solutions together. This collaborative approach can also help you make decisions that stakeholders are more likely to be happy with. They can open your mind to ideas you never would have discovered on your own!

It’s worth noting that not all feedback is productive. Every district leader has come across their fair share of stakeholders who express their frustrations without saying what it is they want. You should always listen to people’s thoughts and opinions with a sympathetic ear. However, if you really want to enact positive change, focus on the feedback that will help your district move in the right direction. Engage the stakeholders who want to see your district succeed!

In the interest of improving your district, you might find yourself getting bogged down by all the negative feedback. Don’t forget to acknowledge the positive feedback, too! Positive feedback is just as important. District leaders need to know what’s making stakeholders happy, so they can continue on the right trajectory. Plus, it feels good to know that you’re doing right by your community.

Anticipate before you communicate

One of the main goals behind social listening is to help your district tackle problems more quickly. A lot of the time, district leaders won’t address a problem until stakeholders bring it up. And in some cases, that problem will get brought up over and over without any tangible progress being made. This is called reactive communication. In order to improve the relationships within your community, you have to become more proactive.

Proactive communication involves staying attuned to stakeholders’ thoughts and concerns. If you know what stakeholders are concerned about, you can address those concerns before they even bring them up. This shows that you’re listening, and you care about stakeholders’ needs. Don’t wait until you encounter dozens of online comments or emails from upset stakeholders. Identify problems early on, so you can resolve them early on.

Acknowledging stakeholders’ concerns is the first step toward finding a solution. Stakeholders shouldn’t have to work hard just to be heard. When you listen to stakeholders, you can address their worries right away and set your sights on creating a better future. Forward progress begins with social listening!

Social listening isn’t just helpful for identifying and resolving problems. It’s a critical component for all of your communications. When you speak on a topic, you should already know how various stakeholder groups feel about it. Their thoughts and opinions should inform the language you use in your messages. By listening carefully, you’ll learn how to become a more sympathetic, thoughtful communicator. Understand your audience, so you can better connect with them!

Make social listening a priority

Effective communication goes both ways. District leaders have to listen as much as they speak. Stakeholders have a voice, too, and listening to their feedback can turn your district into a better place—not just for students, but for parents, staff and community members as well. Next time you communicate with stakeholders, ask yourself, “What was the last time I stopped and listened?” You can learn a lot about your community just by listening!

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