How often do you witness behavior that makes you ask yourself, “Who the hell does he think he is?!?”

Though I’ve just come off writing three guest posts for Mark W. Schaefer’s eight-part series about measuring social media impact, this post is the first of a five-part series about giving yourself (and your company!) a social media reality check. Today’s topic is HUMILITY.

Just to be sure we’re all on the same page, I’m not talking about humiliation. Though that’s often an element of social media, it’s a whole different can of worms which I’ll save for a personal blog post. What I’m talking about is humility, or simply – being humble.

Social media tools have opened the way to a new type of relationship between companies and consumers. We have dozens of new ways to push information out into the marketplace. From blogs and twitter to eBooks, viral video, and beyond; the array of options can make even a seasoned marketer a bit giddy.

As we all mature in our understanding of how to operate successfully in the social media arena, strategic concepts like “listen first” are becoming givens instead of epiphanies. More and more companies are accepting the fact that they need to hear what’s being said around the Web before they attempt to initiate any engagement.

That’s great, but – like many girlfriends have said to their boyfriends – there’s a difference between hearing and listening.

Hearing is the physical act of auditory perception. Listening is the active process of focusing with intention on what you’re hearing so that you can respond appropriately instead of just saying, “Uh-huh.” Hearing someone is a start, but it’s how you listen that really matters. Listening requires a great deal of humility because you have to do something that most people find extremely difficult – you have to prioritize someone else’s thoughts over yours.

Next time you’re engaged in a conversation with someone, consciously keep track of what your brain is doing while you’re supposedly listening to the other person. I’m willing to bet that, if you’re honest, you’ll find that 90% of the time your brain is simply processing what its hearing as quickly as possible so that it can move on to formulating what you’re going to say next. This is not listening.

To make the most of social media efforts, you need to be willing to develop true listening skills. This means learning how to avoid pitfalls like projecting your own preconceptions and assumptions onto what you’re hearing. This means making the commitment to react only after you’ve heard the other party out completely instead of trying to manipulate their points to meet your own agenda. This means getting off your high horse and letting someone else – your customers – take the reins.

What do you think? Are you really listening, or just hearing?

Image by shyuhan.

Oh – and in case you’re curious, here’s an Associated Content page about the origins of the saying “get off your high horse.”

Here’s the rest of the “Social Media Reality Check” series.