Do you have the right to be heard?

I'm not talking about the ability to be heard… we solved that problem a few years ago. It used to be logistically impossible to make it easy for the masses to speak up and to sort and respond to the feedback. Now, though, that part is easy.

I'm wondering whether marketers, politicians and leaders have an obligation to treat everyone's input equally. Sure, you have the right to speak, but what does it take to be listened to?

Does the CEO of HP have the obligation to listen to a loony one-share shareholder with the same attention he focuses on a significant investor? Does a consulting firm have an obligation to study every RFP that comes along?

In most situations, I'd argue, you earn the right to be heard. If there's a sick person on the plane, the doctor in 3b has the right to speak up, the hysterical person behind her does not.

So, here's a quick list of a few ways to earn that right:

  • Be informed
  • Be rational
  • Pay your dues
  • Have a platform where a lot of people can hear you
  • Be an impacted constituent, not a gadfly
  • Represent a tribe of people with similar concerns
  • You've been right before
  • You're not anonymous
  • You have a previous relationship and permission to interrupt
  • Listening to you earns something of value

On a tangential point for the recipients of this incoming flood of noise, you are not a punching bag. Some people will become your customer (or a prospect) merely because it gives them the power to complain. To be heard. To be paid attention to. I'm not sure you need customers like that.