Why do we preach authenticity and transparency? What’s all this really about?

Tiger hugging a person
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All this talk about Twitter and Facebook engagement, how you need to be authentic and transparent, let people behind the scenes, tell stories.  This is all well and good, and enough (some might say too much) has been written about the what and the how.

We should talk more about the why.  Not the why in the “so we can help make you money” sense (I would file that squarely in the ‘results of efforts’ column, on the other side of the equals sign).  The why in the “what are the bigger forces we are aligning ourselves with by taking your advice on communications” sense.

Here’s why (I think).  We are all working to dissolve adversarial relationships between people.

We realize that working together toward a common goal is more powerful than any positioning based on “what do I have to give you so that you do what I want”.

We notice this every day in our lives, when we reach out for help, or give a hug to a friend or a smile on the street or put a dollar in a homeless person’s hand, or tell our kids that we love them.

Many of us don’t think that this kind of interaction doesn’t scale to the world of business, where people inside the company are responsible for doing whatever is necessary to get people outside of the company to part with their money.

This is crap.  Not only is it adversarial, but it’s bad business.  People know when your intent is not pure, even subconsciously.  The more strategic you come off, the more adversarial the relationship between you and not-you becomes.

There are so many examples lately of companies and industries that find themselves in a spiral of adversity-based business decisions (see: music business).  Just today I was reading on the elevator (thanks captivate.com) that airlines are beginning to charge for seats with leg room.  My reptile brain takes this to mean that this airline doesn’t want anyone to have a good experience flying with them unless we’re willing to pay extra for it.

So why do we say ‘be authentic and transparent’?  Because when we dissolve the ‘us vs them’ mentality, we can get down to the business of creating and awesome experience for everyone who interacts with us.  If you’re in a business situation, the perception around the exchange of funds shifts from ‘I guess I can part with my money because I need or want this” to “I’m excited to be a part of what this purchase makes possible”.   If you’re in a personal situation, you get that good feeling that connecting can bring.  You make a new friend, or lover, or contact.

This is the position we’re in.  Our job isn’t really to recommend a digital strategy for people.  That’s just a trojan horse.  Our jobs, our passion as communicators (whether we’re conscious of it or not) is dissolving adversity, one communication point at a time.

It’s the most important thing we can do as people, for the health of the world.

Are we going about this whole communications thing backward?

(Inspired by Justin Kownacki’s post “I Tweet, Therefore I Am Empty“)

Theres an increasing backlash against Social Media as shiny object lately, and rightfully so. The concept of communicating online to meet business goals, when wrapped around this aura of Next Big Thing can easily mutate into the “Get me a Facebook account!” nightmare that haunts our dreams.

Every time we recommend a channel plan in place of re-learning basic communication skills and applying them to the betterment of the audience, we do everyone a disservice. It turns out that companies (and people) that are bad communicators are bad communicators, regardless of whether they’re communicating on Twitter, in person, via an ad campaign.

As those who are ‘in the know’ and focused on improving communications as much as we know how, should we be focused less on providing a friction-free way for the people within organizations to map their bad habits on to new channels (surely not a recipe for success)?

Or are we going about it backward? Should we instead be focused more on swaying people’s hearts and minds toward investigation and communication styles that we know to be more effective, even if it is technically ‘outside the scope’ of what we are officially responsible for?

How far up and back does our responsibility to influence the process and the mindset go?

An intervention, for my Corporate Marketing friends

Intervention (TV series)
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It’s time for an intervention. We ‘ve been worried about you. You’ve been spending an awful lot of time at marketing conferences, talking about marketing with other marketing people on Twitter and Facebook, reading newsletters from Chris Brogan, CC Chapman and the WOMMA team. Maybe you’ve even taken it upon yourself to write a blog post or two about the importance of “Joining the Conversation”.

You proudly proclaim that you “get it”. Out with the old, in with the new. Community, collaboration, crowdsourcing. Empowering the consumer. Push vs pull.

Let me share with you how your experiences have affected us.

  • We don’t feel connected with you anymore. You proclaim you know what’s good for the amorphous mass known as consumers, wholly excluding yourself and what you know to be true about how you want to interact with companies, instead choosing to focus on statistics, anecdotal stories shared by others with similar worldviews, and what Google Analytics’ home page tells you.
  • For someone so focused on the power of others, you sure do spend an awful lot of time talking about what you’re up to.  Your Facebook pages (and those of your clients) have the unmistakable tone of “Look at what we can do for you! Aren’t we great?” We think you may be missing the point a little.  When you say “It’s not about us anymore,” and then twitter about your new launch party, people may come to the conclusion that you and your clients may be a bit insecure and overcompensating by talking about yourself. You know, the whole “Enough about me, what do you think about me?” thing.
  • Relax! We like you! That’s why we followed you on Twitter, fanned you on Facebook, checked out your blog, maybe even subscribed to your newsletter.  You don’t have to tell us how cool you and your company are all the time.  Just be cool, and show some interest in what’s going on with us.  You know, like an actual conversation, rather than something one of you came up with to sell books.
  • When your company’s communications are about how many units you’ve sold or how popular you are? Yeah, we don’t care.  We also don’t care about awards you’ve won, chart positions within your industry, or how innovative you are, or how much you’re pushing the envelope.  It’s great for you that your company is meeting its financial goals, but for us, it comes off more like “look at how much money you guys are giving us!”
  • We think you might be forgetting that we are the reason your company has those sales numbers, and the reason we are the reason is that you’ve done something to make our lives easier, more fulfilling, more fun.  The monetary transaction is a result of us weighing the pro’s of giving you our money vs the con’s of not getting access to your product or service. That is what drives us to invest time and money in your company, not your company’s sales, awards, or the pretty new website that your web team worked so hard on.
  • This is kind of awkward, but… You know when you talk, blog or tweet about meeting your business goals publicly? We’re a little embarrassed for you.  See, the thing is, we don’t care about your business goals, unless we do.  We know this is complicated to understand, but think of it this way: If you get some great news from a friend, you congratulate them.  If some guy from your high school that ignored you the entire time you were there is in the paper talking about how he’s now a millionaire and marrying the prom queen? Yeah…not so much.  We care about your success when its our success too.  You making money is not our success, it’s a reminder of our money that your company is now spending to send out a press release about all the money its making.
  • We’ve noticed you’ve taken to calling us  advocates, audiences, influencers, milennials, and talking about our psychographics and our clickstreams.  Can you see how this could make us feel like less than people, and how we might think we’re not that important to you?  We know, on some level, that you need to aggregate how we interact with you in order to best serve us in the future (that is what you’re doing, right?), but we don’t need to know how the sausages are made.

So, we hope that you will take these in the spirit in which they were intended.  We really do care about you, and we want whats best for you. We recognize that maybe you don’t see how what you’ve been doing has affected you and the people around you, so we wanted to gather together and let you know, for your own good.

With love

-People on the internet

The Music Of Conversation

I had the great fortune of attending the Web2Open (the unconference portion of Web2.0Expo, organized by the incomparable Whitney Hoffman) this past week. Sharing space with some of the smartest and loveliest people I know (and some that I just met) is a rare treat.  Being able to interact with people who share passions and are totally supportive of each other is one of the true soul-nourishing activities in life.

Taking a moment to sit back and appreciate the situation got me thinking about how any great conversation amongst engaged people, regardless of the subject or the context, has a musical quality to it.  It ebbs and flows, gets louder and quieter, sometimes there’s silence and sometimes there’s cacophony.

You can recognize aspects of certain genres of music within every communication.  Sometimes the bombast of opera rules, sometimes the polite and delicate nature of baroque, sometimes the high-energy groove of AC/DC.  Of all the options, the style that provides the most joy by far (for me at least) is jazz. Let me explain.

Jazz Trio

A solid jazz trio can anticipate what their band mates are going to do before they do it and are able to dance around the melody without ever losing it.  Each member brings something different to the equation.  The percussion holds the group together rhythmically, bass provides the foundation of the song, and the lead instrument provides the melody and variations. They each come to a song with their own point of view, and each contribution is essential for the success of the whole.  The original song is treated with care, but lightly.  There is freedom within the structure.

The jazz of interplay  is something that may be most apparent in person, but is certainly not limited to conferences. The freedom to riff and build up connection is fundamental to all communication, be it in-person conversation, chatting on IM, posting on Facebook or any other Social Media tool, on a messageboard, through dance, acting, kissing, or even sitting quietly on a park bench with no words at all.

I am eternally humbled, grateful and very thankful for the opportunity to meet, interact and be inspired by these remarkable fellow humans who create so much music with every word.

Great communication is jazz.

Come play.