When people talk about social media, they tend to throw around words like “amplify” and “broadcast.”

This makes sense; one of the major benefits of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., is how simple they make communicating your message to large groups.

But a better way to consider social media is as a conversation.

And like you probably learned in Kindergarten, good conversations start with listening.

I post content to my social networks all the time! That’s enough, right?

You may think of social media as a handy megaphone that, when used properly, ensures that everyone in your audience can hear what you’re trying to say.

But like Spiderman said, with great power comes great responsibility: If you wield your power carelessly — i.e., by talking at your audience, instead of with them — you’ll lose their attention. Luckily, we can boil down what you need to do into two major points:

a) Share content and messages that are relevant to your audience
b) Have conversations, not monologues

After all, everyone’s seen the guy or gal with the megaphone yammer on, enjoying the sound of their voice while their message goes unheard. Showing your fans and followers you’re listening helps them feel acknowledged and valued; in turn, they become more engaged, loyal customers.

Plus, by taking note of the topics your fans are posting on your wall or tweeting to you, you can adjust your content to serve their interests and keep them coming back.

How do you show fans you’re listening?

  • Respond to comments and questions. When a fan posts on your wall, be sure to respond. Even if the post isn’t asking a specific question or otherwise requires an answer, your fans and followers appreciate your effort to answer and acknowledge them. No need to write a long response — a simple “thank you” for sharing their point of view does the job.
  • Take the conversation further. When you can, following your fans’ comments with questions that extend the conversation shows you value their opinion.
  • Use photos and videos. Responding with your own comments is the straightforward approach, but don’t hesitate to get creative. Why not use rich media (i.e., photos and videos) to let fans see you, and let them know you hear what they’re saying? If a fan had a suggestion for your storefront, take a picture of you putting their idea to work. Or, collect questions from fans on your Facebook Page or on Twitter and answer them in a video that you can post to your networks.

Look how Honda showed it was listening

Honda made a big push recently to acknowledge and delight customers with its ‘We’re Fans of You Too” week on Facebook.

It took stock of cool things fans had done to show they loved the brand — carving the Honda logo into their lawn or even their hair — and took the same action with their fan’s name. So one lucky fan got his name carved into the lawn at headquarters. Another fan got their name buzzed into a Honda employee’s haircut.

All of this was photographed and posted on Honda’s Facebook Page. It was a fun, unexpected way to let fans know they noticed and appreciated their fans’ efforts to show their loyalty to Honda.

Here’s how it recently worked for us

One of our Facebook fans recently posted on our wall, asking for a Pinterest button in our Email Marketing product. (Pinterest is a fast-growing social network with more than 13 million users, where you can create “pinboards” of images you’ve found around the web.)

As it turns out, we’re currently working to add a Pinterest button to the social icons offered in Email Marketing. But in the meantime, our social media manager wrote a blog post not long after so our customers could learn more about the site.

All of these efforts got a great response. Once we knew what are customers were looking for, it was easy to provide them with content they were interested in — in this case, Pinterest.

Tools to help you juggle your conversation

Once you’ve  got an active, engaged community, you might be worried that while you’re taking care of business, you may be missing some crucial feedback on your social networks.

Use a tool like HootSuite to help you juggle your conversations and insure you won’t miss a thing.

The bottom line?

Showing your customers you hear what they’re saying on your social media networks lets them feel valued and acknowledged — and you get the benefit of feedback and insight from the people who know your business best: your customers.

What content ideas have you received from your Facebook fans? Share your examples with us in the comments field below.