conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘social media

Talk With Those Who Talk With You (DGtC#25)

leave a comment »

Humans just want to connect

Social media, like sales, seeks an ever-expanding public. All tweeters want more followers. All bloggers—same thing. Just like the TV networks of yore, where Nielsen Media Research rated efficacy by numbers (and types) of viewers they brought in. Which just happened to coincide with increasing amounts of cash they could wring out of a sponsor for a 30 second span of monologue.

How to measure audience (and collect cash) continues in today’s social media world as various metrics are embraced and/or disgraced: clicks, views, comments, engagement, time spent on a site.

But real humans in earnest conversation don’t care about size of audience. They care about connecting with a person to tell the important thing they have to say or to hear the important thing a friend or colleague has to say. They want to remark on what is remarkable.

aConversation-10152014

Call me a mystic (please!), but I still embrace the notion that the people peppered through our lives are there for reasons beyond our understanding. And those talking to you—today, right now—have something you need to hear and they need to say. Those people right beside you are worth attending to. For their sake. And for yours.

It’s not wrong to widen your audience.

Just don’t lose sight of this moment with those right before you.

Also see:

 

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

A Tale of Two Meetings

with 3 comments

Collaboration in person and on paper

Meeting #1: The entire department was gathered at tables shaped into a horseshoe, to facilitate discussion. Twenty to thirty of us waiting for the director to come in and explain his vision. And his vision was that the creatives needed to become analysts. Art directors, designers, copywriters, production personnel—everyone an analyst. Everyone focused on metrics. Give away the creative to outside agencies.

The director talked for 30 minutes and then asked for questions.

Not a single question.

Meeting #2: The entire group was gathered at tables shaped into a horseshoe, to facilitate discussion. Twenty to thirty of us waiting for a series of speakers to come in and explain their vision. Speaker after speaker explained their vision, the metrics they used to decode that vision, and the outcomes they experienced.

Each of the seven speakers spoke for a few minutes and then paused and waited for responses. Then they spoke again and waited. The entire group learned quickly that each speaker truly sought interaction.

Every pause elicited questions. Tangents were followed despite time constraints. After all, the point was the responses.

TwoTrees-10092014

In my social media marketing class we spend time talking about how to get interaction and comments from the communities we are building. At first it is discouraging for the students, their work feels like shouting treasured thoughts into a hillbilly hollering convention. Nearly impossible to be heard.

But gradually a few people show up at each student’s attempts. And we learned to treat comments from these few with great care: responding immediately. Thanking those who show up for reading. Engaging the thoughts of the people who showed up. Then the students learned to go visit others building similar communities and listen and comment. And soon they found their community growing (in the social world, people follow back those who show up). And they learned not just to put questions at the end of diatribe but to design pauses in the middle of their thoughts so people could respond. And they learned to break up a lecture into a series of engaging posts. And they learned to let their thoughts be shaped by what the people who showed up said.

Those two meetings had key differences: In Meeting #1 each audience member reported to the director so there was very little debate. Debate in that particular firm seemed not too far from mutiny. But in Meeting #2 (same company, oddly enough), the audience was composed of potential customers. And as each speaker spoke, they did their best work with verbal and body language to engage the audience. And each of the potential customers spoke freely, calling “BS” when they heard it, disagreeing vocally, undaunted by executive titles.

Our verbal collaborations point to our literate collaborations. Pauses in copy, short copy, even shorter copy, copy that talks about what people are interested in—all of these allow collaboration. But the key is how you think about the audience: do you really want their response? People are not stupid: they know when someone is lecturing. And lecturing is a sure-fire way to shut down collaboration.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How Buzzwords Prey on the Unsuspecting (DGtC#24)

with one comment

Speak up to reclaim your humanity

They’re there. Circling overhead in the hallways between C-suites.

They move in a dense cloud between boardrooms and conference rooms.

They are those words of the moment that seem scalpel-sharp. But when you stop to define them, meaning vanishes. These are the words Dilbert makes fun of most every day.

That is the way of buzzwords and lingo of the moment. Whether you are a business or a church (wait—what’s the difference?) or a university or a think tank: you have a set of words insiders use to show they are insiders. And especially in our early meetings with new clients or the new VP, we trot out these words to show we really, frankly, know our stuff.

The problem with buzzwords is how easily they come to mind. Just like any cliché, buzzwords pop to mind free of conscious thought. And to your conversation partner those words give the appearance of a genuine thoughtful reaction. But any SEO specialist will tell you that tossing a buzzword into a headline ups your clicks. Same with conversations: say the thing you heard the CEO say and, presto, you are in the club.

Do buzzwords make you less human? No. They just make you sound robotic.

Please point us back toward connection

Please point us back toward connection

Frequent talks with clients move toward “dumbing-down” versus “simplifying.” Those are not equivalent concepts. Dumbing-down takes out gradation and difference and nuance to present a black-and-white version of something. Simplifying hints at gradation and difference and nuance to make a piece of the complex easier to grasp. Mark Twain simplified complex stuff and generations talked about it.

Dumbing-down does not respect the audience. Simplifying recognizes that smart people are smart in different disciplines. And smart people can understand all sorts of stuff.

Buzzwords are a kind of dumbing-down that takes concepts off the table by hinting that we all know this so it is beyond discussion. Because of buzzwords many useful conversations never happen.

What if we consciously worked toward vulnerability in our business interactions? It’s scary, this notion of revealing you have no clue what the boss just said, but could she explain it again using words like other humans use?

Be the thorn in the side today, the vulnerable fool who insists on clarity.

It’s a way of ordering the chaos of your workplace.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Collaborate is the New Black

with 2 comments

Listening looks good on you

Work often looks like a flavor-of-the-month shop. Depending on which consultants get the ear of those with a budget for adjusting corporate culture, we could be talking about mindfulness, or total quality commitment or getting the right people on the bus—there is no end to the analogies and training seminars and tightly-packed sessions to buy.

Always these programs promise change. Sometimes they deliver.

Here's why you should care.

Here’s why you should care.

But the constant impetus behind these attempts is employee engagement. The days of just showing up to stand on an assembly line or sit in a cubicle are long gone. Putting in hours is not enough—was it ever enough?

Engagement is tricky, of course. Employees work with BS filters set on high, which is why suggestion boxes rarely worked. Everyone knew putting a well-reasoned argument on a slip of paper and dropping it in a box went exactly nowhere.

No—the will to listen, which is near the heart of collaboration—must come from within rather than without. There must be a kernel of mission that speaks to listening to the good people you’ve brought in. The trick is to find that kernel. Engaged employees have done that work, usually on their own time.

I’m excited about a particular client of mine with a compelling, collaborative mission. They’ve invested millions in a particular process that is doing something brand new in the world. My client is lining up eager collaborators from industry and from academia. They are just now setting up systems to deepen their collaboration with researchers across the globe.

But how far are they willing to go with collaboration?

Working and learning together is the stated center of their mission—and this organization lives it out in countless ways. But are they willing to make messages that reach out and pull people in—even with ongoing research? Are they willing to set themselves apart as leaders willing to share knowledge in endlessly accessible research bites that are media and social media ready? After all, my client is partnering with an industry known for its secrecy, so what will collaboration and the inevitable transparency look like with these steely customers?

All that remains to be seen.

But one thing is certain: the will and gifts and curiosity of engaged, collaborative partners and employees is the only thing that will help this move forward.

###

Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 7, 2014 at 9:37 am

I love the smell of failure in the morning

with 5 comments

Fail faster!

Reading student critiques of their social media experience is a highlight for me.

Everyone fails.

It’s impossible not to.

No one achieves the thing they set out to do, mostly because what they set out to do was so vaguely defined as to be well, impossible.

Which is perfect.

The class succeeds exactly because everyone fails. Not failing grades (mind you), but failure at achieving some vague world-altering purpose. It’s safe, convenient and inexpensive to fail in this class.

And worth every penny.

Because the lessons learned from trying something and hearing a target audience respond (or not, silence teaches many lessons as well) are entirely applicable to most any job these students will look for post-graduation. By trying and failing, they’ve learned lessons about specificity in word choice, the need to set a realistic purpose for engaging an audience, that social technologies can be fun and frustrating and that those tools require guidance and vigilance. They’ve learned a bit about what it takes to get heard in a crowded room and they’ve each had the joy of getting a response from out of the blue. Which, of course, makes a writer’s heart sing.

We’re coming away from failure quite optimistic, because we’ve counted the cost (to quote the biggest failure who succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams) of influence and we know the tools and all of us have a sense of exactly how we’ll pick up those tools next time. We’re also coming away optimistic because we’ve exercised our passion in putting words around ideas that make us hum. And that is thrilling stuff.

To recap: fail faster so you can begin setting realistic steps to tackle your world-changing proclivities.

###

 

What Would a Thick Startup Conversation Look Like?

leave a comment »

Collaboration from the Get-Go

We’ve been tracing social technologies back to where they hit command and control cultures. But what if a startup determined from early on to fold in their customers—not just as buying machines but in limited partnership? A tweet from Sherry Reynolds (@Cascadia) captured a poignant plea for healthcare startups to be truly collaborative. I am eager for the same thing.

Entrepreneurs who avoid collaboration may find themselves shunted off to the side.

A recent conversation with an agricultural/big data startup is a great example: they already have the Ph.D’s, the science and the published research papers in their pocket. That part is done. What they don’t have (yet) is the conversations with customers. Traditional marketing efforts might focus attention first on raising awareness, highlighting the problem farmers face and the benefit provided by the startup. That goal would be to get farmers to plunk down the cash for the startup solution.

But what if this startup began with thick conversations that pulled potential customers toward them? Certainly economic motivators would be part of the conversation. But a first-phase of talking and listening and talking and listening (typical conversation stuff) may grow the audience as well as provide clues as to the next steps for the startup. I think we routinely underestimate the power of being heard and the vision of building something together. Of course, this startup will need to decide just how far they will go in terms of partnering with conversational customers.

Their use of Facebook will be all about stimulating conversations. Only it will be for real—not a guise for just shouting marketing messages. Facebook would be the major communication vehicle for the short term. And movement would be powered by conversation.

What else would help a startup be collaborative from the get-go?

###

 

Why You Must Tinker with Your Social Media “Why?”

leave a comment »

Strategy is a fuse. You must light the fuse.

Say you’re writing a blog.

Any blog. Maybe…a blog where you want to get people to tell their stories (purely hypothetical example). Or this: maybe you are running a blog aimed at pulling in people looking for insights about what our national obsessions say about us, as told through the press. Again: pure theory. Just making this up. Both blog examples sound a bit vague—but that’s the groovy deal with social media: you try something and see what happens.

So, say you try stuff.

Say you fail.

But…you learn stuff. And you tune it up.

You go back to your original strategy document and realize: Oh! Our stories must be more than just well-told (though that is certainly the beginning point). They must pull people in with tight surprises or well-crafted morals. Or something. Because these stories are competing with Angry Birds and Facebook and actual paid work—all manner of distractions that keep people from reading our blog. So those stories gotta be good. They’ve got to be better in a way we’ve not quite yet devised.

And so your strategy evolves.

Congratulations: this is what forward movement looks like.

These are the questions any brand faces, with the added goal of trying not to devolve into a selling spiel. This social media world is no static, set-it-and-forget-it deal. It’s more like a living, breathing conversation in a room full of people constantly walking in and out. And for your brand to be heard, for your blog to be recognized, for your insights to be caught, you must continue to tighten the focus on who you are trying to reach and get better at laying out the right content for your target audience to feed on.

And this: there is an aspirational part to providing strategic content. I like how Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach says it in Content Strategy for the Web:

Aspirational: it’s a stretch for the organization, focusing on what you want to become ideally (not what you can feasibly do).

Content must paint a picture of who we are that is slightly in the future and slightly a wish list. Brands do this constantly, of course, which is why people buy BMW or Coke or Apple. They buy into the vision as they purchase the product.

How can we do that for the community we want to build with our blog content? It starts and continues with focused attention on what this audience needs, today, tomorrow and the next day. Our content must paint a picture of we can be at our best.

This will always be a moving target.

###

 

Let’s Infect Ourselves: The Logical Conclusions of Social Media

with 4 comments

Just Walk the Opportunity Backwards and You’ll See

It’s easy to love the tools of social media and become all enamored by what they do and the sorts of connections they make. Brand new connections you would never have made before. But connecting takes a lot of energy and frankly, lots of vigilance. One must keep atop one’s game. And if you stop (connecting), well, you lose it all.

In this ever-connecting world there is a growing sense that the old marketing monologue, the one we used to interrupt and hypnotize potential customers, is being boxed and shelved. Over at Clarity Coverdale Fury they talk a lot about the characteristics of the Conscious Consumer, how purchasing choices are coming from a more thoughtful place. And students in my Social Media Marketing class confirm that the threshold for seeking information on even common purchases is getting lower and lower. Why not get a review on a cup of coffee before you buy? It’s too easy.

Some smart folks will gather to discuss what employee collaboration looks like in companies today. Deep collaboration seems a logical conclusion of connecting, especially as we pivot away from command and control styles of leadership. I’m curious to hear how the innate rewards of being a boss and being in charge fit with the goal of bringing out the collaborative best in people. So I signed up to attend the breakfast. My experience is that those intent on ascending the corporate ladder have neither the same desires nor the skill sets as those who enable collaboration. Of course, they are not always mutually exclusive

But this is where we are going: Deeper employee collaboration. Deeper collaboration between customers and companies, where customers have a voice not just for getting support but now for product development.

This is the logical conclusion of connecting.

It is written.

###

 

Do The Dumb Things I Gotta Do (They Might Be Giants)

leave a comment »

Memo to Myself: I cannot control what others think01212014-50498_300

Tell me again: why did we think we could?

Maybe you are a fan of They Might Be Giants (TMBG). Maybe you are not. I’ve just stumbled onto a wiki that attempts to decode the (typically) obscure lyrics of the two Johns.

Songs by TMBG should never substitute as sacred texts but, “Put your hand inside the Puppet Head” has something to say to those would begin to organize a community. That’s the task we’re starting this week in our social media marketing class and I’m trying to help us understand the old command and control ways of marketing have fallen by the wayside. By the way, it’s those old command and control notions that led to the monologues that made us think whatever we said was also what people heard. That has actually never been true—people will always hear my words in the context of their lives, which means mostly hearing what they want to hear.

In short, there is no puppet head. In this social media world there are transparent people who write from passion and experience. People who build communities because they want to. People who invite others in—but never force others in (a phrase that is almost nonsense today). What we can do is to assemble a clear picture of the people we want to join our party. And we can have an image of how these people interact, where they show up on the web, how active or inactive they might be in their webby habits. And from that we can begin to sort how our social media contributions might serve them and pull them toward this community we want to build. That’s the task today: Who are these people and what do they need?

By the way, there certainly are social media puppets out there: people without transparency who bark out some corporate message or ideological pap. But the blogosphere is not kind to them, because nobody out here likes being the victim of a drive-by monologue.

01212014-il_570xN.541003235_gktdTransparency gets heard and gets a toe-hold in people’s psyches. We’re shooting for transparency and the credibility it builds.

###

Image credits: TMBG via Vimeo, Button via UnrehearsedKickline

What is Remarkable—in Your Industry?

with one comment

Connect the Dots for Your Clients and their Customers

tumblr_mdl72y52mw1r21i5xo1_500-12072012Over at the Same Rowdy Crowd, Joe Loveland wrote about the best and worst of the Blogosphere. One of the points Loveland made is that the blogosphere is less about creating and more about aggregating. Nothing new there: we’re all curators today. But in aggregating, we are also connecting the dots for ourselves and for each other. This actually is a value-add: because I get to see how you are thinking about life today. Which also points to the ephemeral side of social media. Like tweets, blog posts are mostly of the moment. Meant to be read and discarded, much like verbal conversation: as we announce something, it is gone. That is the nature of sound.

Blogging and tweeting (and etc.) are simply tools of remarking. My working definition of “remarkable” is that a thing is remarkable when I choose to tell someone about it. Bear with me: there’s more to this. If I remark on something to someone, I think they’ll care. And I think they will find it interesting. I won’t remark on something to a friend if I think they’ll not care or if I think they will find it boring (like my 10-year-old friend thought me yesterday).

So the work of social media, in many ways, is that of connecting the dots by remarking on things we think people—our audiences—will find interesting. And along the way we show our expertise (or reveal our shallowness) even as we invite our audiences to think with us about one slivery facet of a topic. One small thing. One small thing that is of today.

It is this one small thing, this one slivery particular that has the power to pull in the outsider. This is because we can become fascinated by the inner workings of someone else’s world. It is the momentary pulling aside of the curtain that both reveals what is inside and draws others in.

Over at Clarity Coverdale Fury they are running a series of posts on the conscious consumer. Rob Rankin remarked about how his wife rented a dress for a Christmas party rather than buying one. He called the organization she used the “Netflix of fashion” and went on to hint at how this model of commerce will intrude into yet another industry. That is interesting and remarkable and a nice connection for most any audience.

One challenge of communication today has to do with finding those remarkable things you can share with insiders—and industry outsiders—which they will find interesting. It’s a language challenge. And a focus challenge. But since the days of monologue and the bully pulpit are long gone, this is our invitation.

###

Image credit: via Frank T. Zumbachs Mysterious World

Written by kirkistan

December 7, 2012 at 7:54 am

%d bloggers like this: