Be a person-sized learning atom within your own community.

[This post inspired by a post that Rich Millington wrote about Why Most Companies Shouldn’t Try To Create an Online Community]

Most organizations really want a big following, not a community.

A following is an audience that interacts with you. A community is an audience that interacts with each other.

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about in my capacity as a digital strategist is the choices companies make with regard to how they position themselves within the communities they enable.  I think as an industry we may be doing a disservice to the overall success of these communities by not stressing the following point:

Even though you are the creators of the ecosystem, that does not mean you are the most essential part of the discussion.

In fact, taking a stance “above” or “apart” from the rest of the community will only detract from people’s willingness to engage. Nobody likes to feel like ‘big brother’ is there, or that they’re being talked down to.  This is another example of ‘us vs them’ thinking.


Sheridan classroom

Whether people choose to start conversations or not is a function of how you position yourself within the community.  If you are the ‘voice of God’ and ‘the one with all the cool stuff, tips and tricks, and information,’ of coursepeople aren’t going to chat. You’ve made it clear with your tone that you don’t need their help, you can handle it all yourself.  People respond to that by going elsewhere.


Instead, consider become a person-sized atom of your community.  Answer questions, yes.  But also respond to unrelated comments, ask people for advice, take your cues from what people are talking about.

Pretend you’re not the administrator, just be a fellow user who happens to have access to some of your companies resources.  The only special power bestowed upon you as an administrator is control over the technical parameters of the community.  Your voice in the conversation is exactly the same as anyone else.

You will be much more valued as a humble human presence that is there to learn and grow and be inspired by those who choose to spend their time with you than anything you could say as ‘the authoritative voice of your product with all the answers’.

Or you could continue to build a “following” of people who don’t really care all that much.

Up to you.

Conversation is not Community – @MitchJoel’s Six Pixels blog

[Occasionally when commenting on other people’s blogs, I manage to go on enough that the resulting comment is blog-length itself. If I think it may be valuable to you all, I will re-post it here with a link to the official post. For a pretty comprehensive collection of comments I leave on other blogs, have a look at my profile on the ridiculously useful BackTypecom]

Originally posted on TwistImage: Conversation is Not Community

The thing I’m starting to notice, by having conversations with smart people like you and others and looking around, is that a lot of the things that we think are strategy and tactics are actually results.

“Building a community” can be part of a pitch, but I’m not sure if there’s actually anything you can execute specifically in order to get that result. Conversation is one part of it, having a remarkable offering is another part, but is Community something that is on the controllable side of the equals sign? I’m not sure.

Time and time again, communities form in places completely separate from any connection to any related company. Music-related messageboards crop up all the time, but messageboards on label sites languish. I don’t think we as marketers get to decide where a community lives, or even whether one happens or not. We can create as much conversational surface area as we like, but that doesn’t have anything to do with whether anyone says anything about it.

I think something we CAN do, however, is make sure as many nooks and crannies are exposed as possible, whether we’re talking about consumer goods, non-profit, political figures, celebrities. Give people something to sink their teeth into, and don’t focus so much on the ‘where’.

After all, that’s what search engines are for.

So yes, marketing IS going to get harder and harder. But is that such a bad thing? Seth says All Marketers are Liars. Seems like we’ve made more surface area for the truth, so that less Marketing needs to happen. And I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.


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.

Life happens whether you pay attention or not.

People will talk about you, some will say nice things, some will complain.

Life Lessons from Ferris BuellerConversations will happen that you could be a part of, that you could bring value to.

Someone out there wants to hear from you. Someone out there wants to make a connection.

This will happen online and offline, with friends and strangers.

You can choose not to pay attention, but all this will continue regardless, and all you will be is alone and suffering.

Isn’t it better to listen?  Just for a little while?

What’s the best that could happen?

Align Your Intents: Removing Friction in Brand Experiences By Showing Interest In End-Users

TMobile Coffee Shop, Old City, Jerusalemhe infrastructure for global communication has hit a tipping point in the last few years.  New technologies give each of us an exponentially louder voice with which to share stories of exceptional experiences with companies (both positive and negative).  In order to survive, companies must take a look at existing conflicts between end-users intents and their own, in a way that may initially seem quite counter-intuitive. The points where the brands intent and ours are most in conflict lead to the most negatively memorable experiences, which carry a lot of power.  Let me explain.

When interacting with a company, our intent as end-users is rarely, if ever, based on figuring out how to give them money.  Mostly, our interactions are based on getting a need or a want addressed as efficiently as possible.  This is, more often than not, in direct conflict with the implicit (if not explicit) intentions of the companies we are interacting with.  This conflict of intents, historically ‘part of the cost of doing business,’ has become much more of an active topic of conversation online and offline, which is having an ever-increasing impact on our overall perception of companies and our willingness to engage with them (e.g. spend our money with them)

An obvious example of a decision made in conflict is DRM.   The intent of the business (protecting their self-perceived ‘most important assets’ from their customers) was in direct conflict to the customers intent (purchasing music in a manner that gives them ownership of their copy).  Instead of being interested in interacting with their consumers, the entertainment industry defaulted to treating each and every one of us like potential criminals, and attempts to engage were ignored or met with legal action.  Choosing instead for your businesses intent to involve an active and genuine interest in people, communities and behavior, asking questions, and generally being interested leads to much longer term gains and sustainability (something companies that have embraced DRM are struggling with right now).

My friend Amber Naslund recounts a story about how the Jurys Boston Hotel picked up on something she said on Twitter about her experience there and took the time to email to thank her for her mention and (something Amber glossed over a bit but I think is so important) took an interest in her as a person via email, followed up with her to learn more, and set her up to have an awesome experience the next time.  This resulted in the creation of a new and powerful customer evangelist.  In Amber’s words, posted to a block with :

I have a hotel in Boston that feels very much “mine”. Why would I stay somewhere else when I know the people, and feel like they’re genuinely happy when I come back again?

If Jury’s Boston had simply stuck to the ‘be a hotel where people give us money to have somewhere to sleep’ intent, she most likely would have had a perfectly fine time and probably not given it the thought to dedicate the home page of her site to the experience.  By taking the time to listen, learn and reorient their intentions to match (and exceed) hers,  Jury’s Boston created an experience for her that earned both her loyalty, trust and her voice to others.  For this interaction, the intent of the company was to create a great experience for Amber, and to fufill her needs.   Jury’s is, of course, a business, and would have been happy to take her money and move on.  They decided, for this interaction at least, that their intent was to make the interaction more personal.  Total cost to them: One phone call.  Total return:  A fan for life, with incentive to share the experience with her friends, followers, everyone who reads her blog, each of whom now have a hotel in mind to stay at when they’re in Boston.

Companies may look at this concept and respond with trepidation.  “The whole purpose of a company is to increase its own bottom line, otherwise it wouldn’t exist!” is a popular response.  While this underlying statement may be true, the intent of how one reaches profitability is something that is much more flexible than most companies think.  The challenge lies when they have been set up in a way that leaves no room for taking an interest when providing a service or bringing a product to market.  It is not a question of willingness, but actually deciding to take the time and effort to address a lack of room in the workflow for genuine human interest and curiosity.

So, take a look (and, more importantly, a listen) around where you work.  During the course of the day, how much time is spent in your company being interested in customers?  Pay attention to how interactions with end users are phrased.  Are people interested in connecting, or are they more interested in “identifying target audiences” and “demographics and psychographics” to the exclusion of other things.  I think you’ll find the vocabulary very telling.

What bit of information would you like to share with companies that could make for a more compelling engagement with you? Are they giving you a place to tell them?  Are they interested?