I’ve often thought it was a bit cumbersome to begin introductions with the question “What do you do?”
If you give an answer that is accurate, it’s almost certainly going to be complex (and lengthy!)
If you give a predictable, company-and-job-title answer, you’ll probably be giving them a not terribly accurate (and not terribly interesting) answer to the question.
That is a shame. When someone is trying to get to know who you are, deflecting him or her with the corporate equivalent of “name, rank and serial number” seems a bit callous and insensitive.
A third alternative is to give a short but unexpected answer—in the language of web 2.0, to “tag” yourself in an unexpected way. I sometimes answer “I’m an internet bard.” To me, it’s a short phrase that encapsulates almost all of the work I do, and it does three things.
- It creates an emotional response (usually surprise, sometimes laughter, almost always curiosity).
- It also begs further questions, while giving the asker the opportunity to beg off if they were only looking for company-and-job-title.
- It’s also much more memorable than a lengthy description of my responsibilities, or my job title.
I find that telling people I’m an internet bard is a sort of white rabbit. You can ignore it, or you can pursue it. It’s an invitation to hear an unexpected, possibly entertaining, story.
In the language of programmers, story is the compiler code. It’s what enables people to translate the “machine language” of personal experiences into the “programming language” of meaning and belief, and vice versa. Experiences create beliefs and values, and beliefs and values drive action (and thus, additional experiences). In between, though, the story of “what happened” helps us process “what it meant in the context of my life.”
Smart brands create a story that infuses the experience of doing business with them with meaning and personal context.
Smart teachers use stories as a “carrier wave of meaning” to convert facts into understanding for their students.
Smart individuals use stories as a connecting point of shared experiences to create empathy with others and gain influence.
People who’ve experienced trauma tell themselves the story of what happened repeatedly. The repetition serves to both to dull the intense emotions around the event by creating a sort of psychic callus, and also to assign meaning to what may have been an otherwise meaningless trauma so that it can be filed away. Telling the story allows them to “close the book” on the trauma.
Social media is where we share our stories online. The need to share stories is universal. It’s not limited to big organizations and brands, and it’s not limited to individuals, either. In a very real sense, the last few decades’ onslaught of traditional marketing and advertising have created a false veneer over reality and authentic experience. Deep down, a sort of angry dissonance hums that nothing is true and nothing is trustworthy because of this veneer.
People want to measure social media, set an official ROI for corporate use of it, and then decide if it matters. If at its best, corporate use of social media chips away at that veneer, and lets the authentic story come through, I think it’s safe to say that it matters. It may not be a quantifiable kind of mattering.
Most things that are invaluable are unquantifiable.
Kat French is a gen-x wife, mom, social media manager, writer, and general all-purpose geek. I'm currently social media manager at Doe Anderson, where I work with Jason Falls. I blog with Jason at Social Media Explorer, and on my own blog, Internet Bard. I consider myself an "internet bard," a role I see as the evolution of web copywriting, interactive storytelling, content strategy, social media expertise, and the ability to effectively interact with, influence, or even lead online communities.