conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘social media

Must Your Story Always Be About You?

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Content today: Your story in context.

“Here’s where we show we care about what they care about,” I said. “For sure you get to tell your story. But 75-90% of the time your eye is on what your audience cares about. With social media we take off the loud salesman jacket and relax in an easy chair, ready to talk.”

For years I’ve talked with clients about teeing up conversations rather than selling copy. It’s a matter of committing to topics and copy that meets an audience need, day after day. Only my most forward-thinking clients listened without a glaze covering their eyes.

That’s changing.

One reason is organization-specific content has become a more easily-definable task. Buying content is becoming a bit more like buying advertising—though with a few key differences. You bought advertising with parameters and metrics in place: Buy your media and Bam! Targeted eyeballs and open pocketbooks follow.

At least that’s how we told the old advertising story.

Now we see that advertising model was all about interrupting, catching attention with brand hyperbole and hypnotizing dumb viewers to buy. And pronto.

Which hasn’t really worked for years.

What my clients now see is they can stay in touch with old and new and potential customers by telling what they know in a whimsical way. Not browbeating, but inviting them to think together about a shared interest. Staying in touch means many touch points along the marketing funnel, none of which are a salesman’s pointed jab. This means knowing what customers care about, what their problems are, and naming potential solutions to those problems.Marketing funnel-20160808

Creating content will seem circuitous to the hard-boiled marketing manager in her late 50s. And it is. But it isn’t. Creating content shows leadership and care as it sweeps up the concerns of our target audience and addresses them one by one, parsing out that copy over time so that we seem like we care.

And here’s the crazy thing—by creating content, we find ourselves actually caring.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

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Is it Better to Sound Smart or to Communicate?

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Please stop me before I commit an act of literature.

We had this discussion in class. A literature student was talking about how writing for social media was different than, say, literature. Popular writing—so our discussion went—is aimed at a different audience (here we picked our way around classist terms), and is not as, well, interesting, as literature. All her other classes required a compacting of ideas into sentences that grew rather long. Sentences that required a fair amount of attention. Sentences that required grappling with theologically heavy terms, or the whimsy of philosophers who felt compelled to make up words for their new ideas. Or writers who committed acts of literature in the most tortured fashion.

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I maintain that writing for social media requires that we let go of jargon and the complex sentences that shout “College!” or “Graduate School!” At our best, our writing is nearly transparent: leading right into the topic without stopping to say “Look at me.” Does that mean we use dumbed down ideas and language? I’ve said no to this several times. Erasing our jargon so smart people from different disciplines can understand us is not the same as dumbing down. And, in fact, when we do the work of translating our tribe’s jargon into regular English, we are poised to find a certain elegance and cadence that sounds more human, more fresh and less like the forced and predictable tribal language.

Respecting the reader is central to this project of communication—this bridge-building activity. If you think the reader is an arse, that comes through in your word choice. If you think the reader cannot be trusted, that shows. If you think the reader is intelligent and can handle the topic in words any human would understand, your reader will know.

One irony of the discussion is that many of the writers we celebrate as having written literature were themselves seeking for the simplest way to say things. Countless writers talk about kill your darlings and omit needless words and how nearly anyone can write to confuse. But the real artist takes a meaningful notion and makes it clear to someone else. And this: we are more likely to say something memorable and possibly even elegant the farther we get from our tribe’s insider language.

Will you commit an act of communication today?

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

What is Engagement, Anyway?

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Are Likes Helpful or Corrosive?

The college where I teach is something of a bride-and-groom factory. This [largely unstated] expectation of finding your soul-mate by the time you graduate lurks in the halls and hovers over tables in the cafeteria.

At least that’s what students tell me.

"You like me. You really like me."

“You like me. You really like me.”

I’m sympathetic: there are few times like college for being surrounded by attractive folks of similar age who are also poised to make big life decisions. And, true, that’s where I ran into the beautiful young woman who a few years later became Mrs Kirkistan (lo these 30 years and counting).

In this particular college social construct, if you ask someone for a date, well, that’s kind of like a proposal. If you actually date, well, you might as well be married. To be fair, I’m not close enough to say if it this is entirely accurate. But my few talks with students make me kind of sad that relationships would be so, well. binary.

So it’s not surprising that these folks have an interesting skew on engagement. These are people who grew up with likes and short texts and public Facebook conversations. The quick word carries a lot of weight. For some, the quickness with which a like comes back speaks volumes to their self-esteem. It seems like engagement is an all or nothing deal and social media has the power to amplify that.

This social construct plays into expectations in my class. What do we expect when we think of engaging with the audiences we pursue? Are likes what we seek? Page views? Actual comments? Someone stopping you in the hallway? How does anyone determine if someone else is interested in what they say? Social media experts have all sorts of answers for this and all sorts of complicated metrics, some of which even make sense.

One thing is certain: grooming your personality and language for likes is dangerous. Just as it always has been. Of course we all do this to some extent. Who doesn’t want to be seen as attractive and groovy?

My hope for my class—and for anyone with courage to create anything—is that they create from an interiority that remains integrated and intact. That is: write and create from what drives your passion. Likes and page views are OK, but they should never substitute for your own sense of chasing the thing you simply must say. Yes, you’ll need to sort out how to get attention, but it is even more important to exercise your creativity along the lines you were made for.

In the end, likes may not be all that helpful.

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 8, 2016 at 9:55 am

Drill or Disperse?

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Teachers Know: Why stop to tell what you are doing?

Researchers just want to research. Inborn curiosity drives that desire, though other incentives likely add to curiosity. The research is the key work and the satisfaction of curiosity is its own reward.

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So why would anyone stop to tell about their research? Why not just keep at it? What reward is there in stopping? And if there is financial reward for research, there is even less reason to stop and talk about it.

I’m working on a few thought pieces with a client: small, pointed communication tools that paint a picture of a particular bit of knowledge they are expanding. These smart people have a particular niche and they want to let others know so they can move faster into collaboration with their customers and partners. But the people with the detailed smarts don’t want to stop to communicate because they are busy inventing and satisfying their curiosity. Plus, they are likely paid to invent, not to talk about their inventing.

In a smaller, less acute way, I feel the inventor’s pain. Writing ListenTalk opened new ground for me and answered questions I did not know enough to ask, even as it unearthed entirely new categories of questions. I’m not alone in this: writer friends and artist friends (and wood-working friends and welding friends and mechanic friends) just want to push forward with their projects. Why talk about it when you can do it? You may face this dilemma too: you don’t want to explain what you are doing. You just want to keep at it.DrillOrDisperse-10082015

I get that.

But do we push forward in a slightly new way as we stop to tell others? I wonder. Teachers and professors understand this—especially those teachers and professors who are also practitioners of their art and craft. In stopping to explain, we suddenly realize some brand new thing. We realize something we would never have come up with on our own, sitting at our keyboard/bench/laboratory. It’s the interaction with another that stimulates that.

John Stepper gets this in his notion of Working Out Loud. Social media offers an opportunity for this. It turns out that customers and communities and friends and colleagues and collaborators—even academics—respond to sharing of insights.

What would happen today if you shared an insight or two with someone tuned in to that question? Not present. Not monologue. Not preach–just share it.

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Image & Dumb Sketch credit: Kirk Livingston

A Confederacy of Onces

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What could a national conversation look like?

Once upon a time mom and dad and kids gathered in the evening in front of the television to be entertained. This family, sitting patiently and expectantly, had three channels to choose from. Plus the boring public broadcast channel. Back when everyone watched the same variety show or mini-series or disruptive news special, national conversations occurred. Broadcasts that enraged or engaged would spur citizens to remark to each other. And since everyone watched the same channels, national conversations were born. So we talked about Selma or Vietnam or the moon landing or the most recent episode of “Roots.” Sometimes, not often, we talked about what was happening in Washington.

Before TV, radio did the same. Before that newspapers. Media has a way of spurring national conversations, though the attention lasts only so long, because the job of media is to immediately bring the next new thing. Day after day. That’s their revenue stream and business model.

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When consolidated media ran the news business, it seemed to have more of a black and white/good or bad characteristic. With good guys and bad guys, a much better story emerged. And better stories sell more newspapers or generate better Nielsen ratings.

Social media removes some power from the established media. By hearing from different voices, context can be provided. Or not: Sometimes flame-throwing trolls dominate our inbox, just like on Fox News. The smart ones among us find ways to hear different voices, so we can see different ways to connect the dots. The rest of us relish getting riled with righteous rage by the people in our tribe who serve that function.

Lately for me and others, social media has connected dots and has turned a series of media one-offs into a bona-fide “thing.” Many find themselves paying attention and then cannot help but remark. Topics like the statistics around black deaths with police. It was blogs and tweets that explored nuance and connected the series of “onces” to show there is more—much more—than just a few one-offs. It was social media that kept the topic on the radar, not the established media.

Kerry Miller, on a recent The Daily Circuit, said she doesn’t like to use “national conversation” because it never happens. That is (I think she meant), national conversations never materialize. But I would argue that more and more often people are adding up the “one-offs” and putting them together in ways journalists and authorities had not predicted. It blindsided me that the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina capital would prove a lightning rod. Gay marriage has taken the nation by storm right up to the point where it became the law of the land. And it was the call for statistics to be reported about deaths occurring in police custody. All of these have been explored by social media in detail.

All of this has proven fodder for national conversations. That is, new topics that we may never have dreamed we’d find ourselves talking about are now falling from our lips at the coffee bar or on the drive to work. And here is perhaps where today’s national conversation differs from those conversations mediated only by established media. Social media allows for nuance. It need not be black and white because we’re not selling newspapers here (some are, of course). But the nuanced voices are helping us talk without forcing one way or the other.

I see these conversations developing every day. And they move from online to offline to online again. I also see smart journalists from established media finding ways to bring in nuance at just the right time.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

“6 things I learned after drawing 319 drawings in 4 months and 13 days”

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Especially #6. Buy Why Does #2 Work?

I follow One Drawing Daily in my attempts to produce my own Dumb Sketch Daily. But whether you’ve made it a point to draw or paint or sketch or shoot photos (or write essays or verse or reflections) there are some curious things about developing and sharing daily habits.

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Read One Drawing Daily’s whole post (please!) but I’m particularly interested in #6: “Draw whatever you feel like.” Much of art—like much of life—seems to be about absorbing the sensibilities of the taste-makers among us. Critics, media, famous artists. Famous people who are famous for being famous. There is a subtle pressure to like what they like and do what they do. But uniformity is not the great thing about the human condition. One of the great things about the human condition is that we all have a slightly different take on things. I love seeing different people’s perspectives. And developing your own perspective takes time and attention. But out of the habit of time and attention come a point of view.

And #2 still enthralls me: “Share everything you do!” How is it that the simple act of sharing something can have so much impact? It’s true with writing, true with making dumb sketches. It’s true with our ordinary conversations and when we confess some secret to someone else. It’s true with my clients: as they come to understand the power of sharing expertise and passion, all sorts of things start to happen in their business. It’s still shrouded in mystery for me, this sharing thing, but I’m pretty sure it triggers something in us that simultaneously wakes us up and fine-tunes consciousness.

What habits are you building?

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Image credit: One Drawing Daily

Written by kirkistan

January 22, 2015 at 8:47 am

You Gotta Find Ways to Tell Your Story

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Don’t dumb down. Don’t be boring.

One client is a thought leader in her particular industry. She writes and presents papers around the world. In doing so she thinks brand new thoughts, adds to her credibility and drums up potential clients for her firm. She is disciplined about two timetables:

  1. Timetable #1: Industry Papers. She includes time in her schedule to research and write, which allows her to build out topics of interest to her customers. Those topics also interest editors of professional journals, so she maximizes her research and writing time to open up new venues to be heard as an expert.
  2. Timetable #2: Everyone is a Publisher. My client also understands that she is not just speaking to the industry-folks who crave the details she has synthesized. She is also speaking to a broader group of people—those who have a nominal but urgent interest and may benefit from what she has to say. This second, broader group of people drop their questions into the oracle of Google. My client hopes her investment in social media (her firm’s blog, Twitter, and Instagram accounts) will reach these people. She routinely takes papers she has published and breaks them up into smaller chunks that more easily relate to the rest of life.
We need your annotations.

We need your annotations.

But this second piece is less about research and more a journalistic/writerly function. This part is more about connecting the dots with the work and life and less about laying bare abstract research findings. She understands this second communication need has nothing to do with dumbing the topic down. In fact, just the opposite she employs her best writing to say things as simply as possible without relying on buzzwords and tribal knowledge.

Marketers of consumer products have long focused on Timetable #2. Academics and specialized industries have long focused on Timetable #1. How long before we all use Timetable #2 as the route to Timetable #1?

Remember: we are the gatekeepers now.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

November 17, 2014 at 12:01 pm

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