Back in September, I asked several professionals I respect and read regularly if they'd be willing to write guest posts at Conversation Agent. What resulted was the most amazing collections of ideas and voices I could have dreamed of. In presenting the guest post series, I promised I would show you how those ideas and people were connected with me and with each other.
When Things go Wrong by Geoff Livingston opened the series with an important statement - Crisis demands superior, thoughtful communications. Though we love to talk social media, in a crisis these principles hold true regardless of medium. Because great communications involve people, one to one, one to many, but always factual with a commitment to resolving problems or simply acknowledging them in a real and authentic way.
I met Geoff in this space, when he asked me to do an interview with him at The Buzz Bin. He's since been an agent provocateur for me, someone who challenges my assumptions with ideas and stories. He invited me to keynote last year's DMA conference in Washington, DC. And talking about story, if you're looking for corporate video narrative, Director Tom is your man. He puts more people at ease in front of a camera than anyone else I've met - and he does so with passion.
Life is not perfect and neither is a company. A corporate video story should reflect some of the realities we all face in life. That means leaving behind the “perfect world” and entering the “real world.” Think about it: isn’t a story interesting because of the tension, conflict, or challenge of a situation? An interesting company video story is no different. Tom Clifford, Director Tom, in Will Your Corporate Video Fail? gives us 5 Simple Steps for Success with Stories.
Tom and I met face to face at Blogger Social this past April. While my conversations with Adele started on Twitter, they continued during a dinner and a nice walk in her current hometown of Montreal. When she shared her story, I learned that Adele honed her community building skills in the retail world - that's quite some training! Catch up with her on Twitter. And talking about stories...
... sometimes the best story is the one we can tell when we put passion into it. Putting Your Passion to Work by Adele McAlear is a true story that teaches us that - it’s easy to use the words open, listening and conversation in digital terms, scrolling through your feedback channels looking for clues and openings to engage with people. But, as you go about your day-to-day business, traveling from one place to another, do you really take time to be open to the people around you, to allow for the possibility of great moments? A conversation holds the potential to change lives.
Meeting people on Twitter and talking to each other's avatars may be fun. What's more interesting is when those connections bridge over to collaborations off line. Michael and I met at a Social Media Club event organized by the fantastic Annie Heckenberger a couple of months ago. Michael is a writer who got his start in radio, perhaps that is why he's got such an easy way on Twitter. Here's what he's thinking about micro impressions.
What is the truth? Asks Michael Leis in The Truth is 140 Characters - There are a lot of people out there writing about the strategy and tactics of companies entering social media as difficult because they feel as though companies need to be “authentic,” “real,” or “transparent.” This is a great idea, and I hope it comes true. But it is dangerous to trust or expect.
Michael and I will be part of a workshop on social media for the Philadelphia Chapter of the Direct Marketing Association in November. Then there are those encounters you make off line, which bridge back online. I met Dion at a MIMA event in Minneapolis last March. During a conversation over dinner, I suggested that his stories, good sense of humor, and presentation would be a welcome addition to the blogosphere. He decided to take me up on it and joined.
What happens to brands that are participating in social media? It's time to give more serious thought to brands as members of society, says Dion Hughes in Is Your Brand the Life of the Party? - recognize that going with the flow doesn’t mean accepting lower-quality, off-the-cuff solutions. The most winning presence in the marketplace today is surprising, true, witty, human AND perfectly present.
You may recall that Dion also put together a proposed panel for SxSW on Brand Manners. The northern regions are filled with social media treasures. Both Karen and Tony who I present next ail from Toronto. I met Karen when she linked to one of my posts. I have enjoyed so much her writing and thinking around brand narrative and storytelling, that I asked her to share it here.
Brand Stories Define Us, writes Karen Hegmann - In a sense, we are the story of the brands we use. A brand is a reflection of how we want to be perceived by the world. It sums up our hopes and expectations as to how we want to interact with the world. Just as interactive media is able to engage us through its ability to provide ongoing narrative, so too can a good story make us feel as if we’re willing participants during each stage of a brand’s lifecycle.
Branding is also a topic favored by Tony who I met when he was guest posting at ProBlogger. During one of our conversations, Tony asked me to contribute to The Blog Herald, where I posted on branding and marketing for more than one year. I am curious as to how he manages to keep up with technology news and social media-related conversations, given his chosen profession.
What's Twitter's Role in Brand Management? Tony Hung tells us - At the end of the day, every conversation about your name, service, products, or brand, should be treated as an opportunity to engage people -- in real time -- with their experiences, and no matter how good it is, try and make it better, in the way that the ideal brand experience ought to be. Using Twitter this way is not for the lazy, uninterested, or the disempowered. It necessitates a melding of great customer service and the knowledge of what the brand is, how it ought to be, and the integrity to realize that there are always going to be shortcomings.
Kat and I met in intra-blogs conversations. Her style is similar to mine, although I tend to make things more complicated, I think. By now you can probably tell that there is definitely a thread on storytelling and brands here.
In the language of programmers, story is the compiler code, writes Kat French in Story, Social Media and the Intersection between Experience and Meaning - 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.
The conversation would have not been complete without challenging the premise itself that we are having one. Connie is a fresh voice in that department and she has quickly risen to show me how every dot connects in social media. She participates in one of the country's most active Social Media Clubs in Austin.
The authentic experience comes from being present as a contributor to the conversation. Are You Conversationally Tone-Deaf? Asks Connie Reece - some people are naturally gifted at conversation; others gradually acquire the skills that allow them to engage in enjoyable and effective back-and-forth exchanges; while others seem genetically incapable of picking up verbal or written cues that keep the conversation flowing.
Those of you who've read my rants on the agency's role, will appreciate that I needed to invite someone who could speak from a place of authority - he's doing it and gets it. Jason got interested in connecting with me when reading my very first post on how I see connections through the metaphor of Karate.
Where do agencies fit in the conversation? What Does the Future of Social Media and the Agency Hold? For Jason Falls - social media will be revealed as a communications mechanism. Thus, communications professionals will claim responsibility for it. Agencies will begin to own more and more responsibility for those communications because the good ones will see it as a way to survive in a world where traditional media, and thus traditional advertising and public relations, aren’t reliable places to hang your hat. Customer service will migrate its way to the forefront of social media strategies and become the primary focus of these efforts.
It got more personal with Christine. She was my PR agency account manager - a good listener, an excellent practitioner, someone you could truly trust to represent you, and I don't say those things lightly. She got more involved in social media after listening to my stories. Today, she authors a blog, Propelling Brands, with her husband Adam. Catch her also on Twitter. Christine has become a colleague on the corporate side. There was no better person that she to tell us the viewpoint on PR and conversation from the agency seat.
Some on the agency side will need to become more comfortable with direct participation. Christine Needles says "You Know, I Just Work for the Agency..." and Other Forms of PR Self-Doubt -How often are PR people encouraged to have their own opinion? We are counselors, skilled at developing messages and talking points our clients will deliver. Can we have our own opinions? Do clients want their agency PR team out talking about them? Does this create a new liability concern for agency management? Do bloggers want to hear from PR people (outside of the many conversations about our own industry)? Of course, there are many very talented PR pros out there who are ahead of the curve.
There are those rare moments of Zen, when you discover a voice that really hits your sweet spot and comes so close to home. Gianluca did both for me. After reading his blog for a couple of years and discovering he lives and works (in corporate Italia) in the neighborhood back in Italy, we met face to face last month. If you ever learn Italian, his blog on marketing is a must read. A must is also customer conversation.
So why wouldn't you want to Show Customer Reviews on Your Site? Gianluca Diegoli - we either truly believe that our customers are so stupid as to decide to make a purchase just after reading only what we write on our site and accepting it without seeking other opinions, in which case we are the ones to be deceived - because in reality they will look for “independent” opinions elsewhere, poor us, or we ourselves don’t believe what we write.
Becky is the champion on customer service. Her blog, Customers Rock! is a source of good tips and interesting stories. Becky is frequently invited to speak about customer service and I hope that one day, we might share the floor in the same conference.
The invisible is very important when it's customer service, writes Becky Carroll - The best place to begin this journey past the invisible is with customer conversation. Listen to what your customers are saying to you and to each other. Start to interact with them in the places where they are already congregating (online and offline). If you aren’t sure of something, ask! Customers are usually very interested in working with a company that is interested in them.
Here's another lady, a fellow communicators, who I hope to meet in person in the not too distant future. Lauren has a remarkable point of view and a personality to match it. When we talk about content online, she has what it takes to give advice.
Stop Lazy Content Creation, Go Old School with George Orwell, says Lauren Vargas - As social media becomes more mainstream, so does the content.It is increasingly difficult to be heard in the noise. How do you stand out? Go beyond lazy content. Choose your words wisely. Ask yourself: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
What seems like million years ago, Chris was writing a blog called More Minimal, where I stumbled upon several posts that peaked my interest. He's a veteran of the online space - he published Paperfrog in the early days. He is now a full-fledged editor of a portfolio of green publications and knows a thing or two about sustainability.
Even with the right content strategy, It Ain't Easy Being a Green Marketer, states Chris Baskind - Green marketing is more than pretty rain forest images and simplistic claims. Do your homework. Make very specific and verifiable claims. If there is reputable green certification in your field, get with the program. Engage in the green conversation. Be in it for the long haul.
Stephen and I share many interests - one of which is the painter Caravaggio, my absolute favorite. What I love most about Caravaggio paintings is the point of view as expressed in the eyes of one of the characters (usually) on canvas. Stephen has point of view in spades at Note to CMO. His posts cut through a situation to show us lessons learned. His guest post drives it home, or should I say flies...?
And to show that there is a Difference Between What Hip Looks Like and What Hip Is in brands, Stephen Denny illustrates with a situation from daily life - a walk through Baltimore-Washington International Airport TSA security line at the ungodly hour of 5:30AM with his son. Understanding the "why" is more important than parroting the "what," and this point is usually the one most often missed by marketers looking to capture what others before them have discovered.
I met Paul in Minneapolis also and later learned he's originally from Colorado, a state gifted with many breath-taking destinations. How can we look at things differently? Can we challenge what (used to) work?
In the end, What's Old is New Again, and Again, and Again... says Paul Isakson - it's time to stop approaching everything exactly as we have because that's what we know and are comfortable with. I think it's time we took a hard look at the way our marketing departments and agencies are structured and what skill sets we've been recruiting for and consider new ways to work based on the way people are communicating and discovering information. I think it's time we stop interrupting people's lives with annoying messages and start helping them make their lives just a little bit better and a little bit easier.
A heartfelt thank you to you, dear readers, for welcoming my friends to the conversation and to you, dear friends, for writing such insightful material.