In 2000 the Cluetrain Manifesto stated, “Companies need to listen carefully to their employees and their market.  Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.”

To participate and engage in that conversation we have listen, learn from the conversations we listen to, and based on what we’ve learned, respond appropriately.

It’s taken ten years for us to get the message that we should be listening. Will it take us another ten to move to the Learn and Respond phase?

Tearing those walls down completely and engaging in meaningful conversations with our stakeholders and interested communities can be painful, but those who have done it recognize the truth of the Cluetrain prediction: the new conversation is definitely worth it. The Engagement db study shows that the companies that are really engaging with their audiences are reaping financial benefits, even through the recessionary period. On average these companies grew 18% in a year when most businesses were struggling to maintain revenues.

Listening is one thing, analyzing the data and learning from the market is another. Data mining and deep analysis is a new skill for PR, but it is one we absolutely have to master.  There is no point in spending time and money listening to these conversations if we don’t dig in and figure out what it all means, and use the insights to help the company improve the bottom line.

Social media intelligence is going to become one of the most valuable skills PR can offer. We know how to listen.  There are tools that can gather the data.  Content analysis is something PR people have done for the past 100 years.  Now we have to learn how to apply that skill to the wealth of data available online.

Without the learn part in the middle you can’t respond appropriately. So it is the most vital part of the equation.

This is something that PR can own.  If we master this skill and offer the insights that lead to responding in ways that improve revenue, perhaps it will give us that seat at the table we’ve been after for so long.