Conference booth
I can hardly wait for your free lanyard.
My, how things have changed. I attended my first education conference in 2004 as a sales representative with a big publishing company. It was my job to cajole teachers to stop at our booth (or lure them in with a big bowl of chocolate bars), and give them a 5 minute elevator pitch on some groundbreaking yadayadayada, then invite them to enter a draw for which they’d only be selected winner if deemed influential enough.

These, my friends, were the days before random winner generators, online entries, and the power of quiet influencers with more followers than the Pied Piper using social tools to share their expertise. Biggest school in Ontario? Pssssssshhhhh. How about the elementary teacher from Armpit, SK, who has built a digital program for her students that gives them reach for their ideas that they’ll benefit from for years to come, and tweets her experience to 5000 like-minded followers? I’d rather learn about the platform that makes that notion of global collaboration possible for kids, as opposed to who’s bought (and wasted the most money on) the biggest gargantua of a conference booth (check out the eco footprint too, yo).

But at SXSWedu, there was no vendor showcase. Companies had to be sneaky and infuse their sessions with clever product pitches, sessionbomb by planting product-focused operatives during question time, or be not so sneaky and incur the deserved wrath (Hi, I’m a #conferencehashtag. People use me.) Teachers are getting much better about standing up to the disruption of their learning. They pay out of pocket to come to these things. It’s not cheap. Don’t invite them to a session about innovations in critical thinking applications and pitch your app.
Amway called. They want their strategy back. Ugh. (more…)

Celebrating with the amazing Glyn Moore

Monday was Community Manager Appreciation Day (follow #CMAD on Twitter). I celebrated by eating half a jar of Nutella with a butter knife. We know how to party around here.

I wanted to post on the day, but being a busy Community Manager myself, I didn’t have time because I was busy connecting, advocating, researching, promoting, listening, and responding!

All self-congratulatory binging aside, it’s a great week to consider what a Community Manager can do for your organization, and how the role has evolved with the maturity of many social networks, and the growing understanding of the importance of online outreach and participation. Community Managers bridge many roles, but:

  • the Community Manager is not a marketing specialist
  • the Community Manager is not tech support
  • the Community Manager is not customer service

Rather, the Community Manager plays a tune that’s a bit like a one man band (a good one man band). The Community Manager:

  • manages the editorial content of your initiatives, ensuring that content is appropriate, engaging, and available through all channels through appropriate messaging
  • knows your website and message as well as they know their own sibling
  • connects people, be they “influencers”, “squeaky wheels”, or your run of the mill evangelist, and connects them to the information they need or to others who can help them advance their interests
  • manages the “voice” through social media channels and monitors them effectively, responding to Tweets, Facebook comments, comments posted on external blogs, and all other social networks
  • listens with ears wide open for opportunities to thank and connect with engaged online audiences, and to solve problems, slay trolls, and monitor sentiment

It’s an evolving, but critical role, and the list of responsibilities above is not exhaustive. Non-profit Community Managers will experience a much different day-to-day than their big brand counterparts. Community Managers in the middle of a move from beta to big time won’t mirror the work that goes on in an established initiative.

I’ve compiled some of my favourite Community Management reading out there. Have suggestions? Put ‘em in the comments, friend!

12 Steps to Hiring a Social Media Manager

What your Community Manager Should Be Doing

Fire Your Marketing Manager and Hire A Community Manager

15 Essential Articles for Online Community Managers

…aaaaand the Community Roundtable is chock full of nutritious advice for Community Managers. Check it out.

We can turn you off. we can hide you. Look at the fate of many of your Facebook Farmville friends, Spammy McSpammerston.
And cross-posters. I connected with you on Facebook because we have that personal thing. Maybe we made out a few times. Maybe we co-lamented under the migraine inducing fluorescent lighting of that office. Maybe we’re related.
In the social of all social networks, we tend to allow our friends a bit of leeway when it comes to promoting their businesses and interests. After all, what’s the purpose of the network platform if we all don’t compulsively share?
There is an etiquette, however, and it becomes even more important as marketing more obviously invades our precious social sites. We can’t be sure that ‘suggestions’ are organic. Look at the suggested ads that run down the side of your profile. Everything’s in public honey.

Back to etiquette.

Don’t junk up my morning scroll through Facebook with incessant tweets, hashtags, and the like. It’s like you’re throwing crumbs at me. Use Twitter to connect with the networks that bring meaning and value through that particular channel.
Use someone’s name in your status update if it refers to them. Voyeurs as we all are, we like to see what you’ve deemed share-worthy from and for someone else. If you share a link, add some context by telling us why we should care. If you can describe something in 140 characters in the hope of being retweeted, surely you can spare the time to bring some ‘so what’ to your Facebook posts.

Don’t abuse the LIKE. Creating a company page and asking everyone you know to Like it is akin to ringing my doorbell every 10 minutes, and then running away. What’s there to like? Links to content that I might find useful? A contest that will make me salivate with desire? Don’t forget that Big Brother is watching my likes – and will advertise to me accordingly. Be responsible.

Take this into consideration: a post this week from Social Web School looks at a growing trend for companies launching or re-launching on the web. An interactive, custom-designed Facebook page is emerging as the platform of choice for many brands, instead of an independently-housed site of their own. Why? Well, since it’s Facebook, you’ve got the social built in. You’ve got access to the social graph. You’ve got the usability that is now almost second nature – since most of us on the planet are already there – and Facebook’s ability to target pages based on your love of Nickelback (ugh), or root beer, or knitting.

We love (and hate, sometimes) Facebook for it’s tentacled hold on our social and digital lives. Are we ready for it’s explosion into our consumer lives? My bet is on companies who can create an experience that flows seamlessly with the social functions we already use. And then our friends can act like friends, instead of telemarketers.

Congratulations! You’ve wheedled and schmoozed your way through the mire of convincing your CEO, Executive Director, or Honcho of Another Official Stripe to launch a blog on your dazzling new, 2.0 enabled website. Or maybe you’re the Honcho, and you have realized that blogging is a great way to increase awareness about your company/initiative/life’s work and connect with your audience. Great job – you’ve come to the right place! With some careful and deliberate planning and consideration, the corporate blog can be a place of content worth sharing. Here are some tips on how to make it so.

1. Identify a coach. Somewhere within your organization is a person who reads blogs. Who blogs themselves. Who knows a little bit about the blogging process. This person can help you. Find them. Whether it’s by providing motivation, giving quick editorial feedback, feeding and checking links, or just showing up on “post day” with a helium balloon, the blog coach can be an essential tool in getting thoughts posted.

2. Commit. That means signing off, in blood, to the promise that your new blog won’t wither on the vine within 3 weeks, or 3 months. You’re in it for the long haul, and blogging needs to be seen as another product or extension of your products.

3. Plan an editorial calendar with natural opportunities to share information. There are several editorial calendar plug-ins with which to augment the back end of your site. A calendar can be an effective tool for planning posts aligning with strategic activities and events, planned press releases, or reactions to industry news. If a plug-in is too fancy, then get thyself to Google Calendar and plot it out there.

4. Comments are good. You might never get a comment, and that might be because your content is boring. It also might be because your readership are lower on the Ladder of Engagement than in other sectors. And it might be because you aren’t asking questions that readers can respond to. Don’t sweat it. Use the challenge as an opportunity to tweak your writing. Try new things. Increase the amount of links in your posts. And if all else fails (and it will unless you do this) – start commenting on other people’s blogs. Quid pro quo. But please, please, do not make visitors who want to comment go through an extensive registration process. Remove the barriers, and people will share.

5. Get up close and personal. Be yourself. Develop your voice.

6. Use the discovery process. If you’re the author of the blog, have your “coach” interview you. An interview is a great way to draw out motivations, inspirations, and opinions that can translate to an engaging read for site visitors.

7. Integrate in other conversations and channels. In order to be read, you must be found. A blog is not an island, and selective integration with other social media channels is paramount to drawing traffic and inserting yourself into the world of online conversations. Ensure that your posts are tweeted (and Twitter is a whole other essential ballgame). Link your blog to relevant industry directories. Mention it on your company or organization’s home page, and certainly in your newsletter and any other communications. Have your coach ensure that relevant keywords are tagged, and that includes images. Link those to a Flickr account that links back to your blog.

8. Interview someone else. Struggling to come up with content and ideas to blog about? Interviewing someone else in your industry is a great way to share knowledge and extend relationships. Is there a leader in your organization who deserves to have their story shared? An employee who’s done something amazing? An interview post can be short and sweet, and rewarding to everyone involved.

9. Edit with kindness. This one’s for you, coach. Remember that we’re striving for an authentic voice, not an overly sanitized sales pitch. Don’t let the copy editors loose. Copy editors are lovely, smashing people, but over-editing a post will destroy any sense of the authentic, natural flow that makes a blog a blog.

10. Make it fun. Blogging should be an expressive act that happens to be good for business. As soon as it becomes a slog, the quality of the posts diminishes, the time between posts increases, and eventually your blog rests in the Graveyard of Abandoned Corporate Communications.

11. Use Evernote to catch and catalog inspiration. Evernote lets you capture content you find online, and save it for when you need it. It’s great for remembering things that might inspire a post of your own, including photos, text, videos, and sites. It’s free, so you have no excuse not to try it. Filing cabinet, be damned. The 21st century is here and you can save it all! Whee!

Got additional tips and experience to share? Here’s the place!

Sometimes it’s easier to think about Twitter in terms of what it shouldn’t be:

  • a place for robots (or people acting like robots) to blast out sales shizzle
  • a place where the gormless stars of The Hills brag about spray tans
  • a place for  faceless companies to spew mission statements
  • a place to be a twat

Twitter is a conversation. It’s a place that facilitates worldwide communication within the tricky parameters of 140 characters. And 140 characters means a very small window of opportunity to get one’s point across. Twitter is as search-y as Google, but in real time, and related to conversations actually happening. Twitter’s usability has morphed and improved with the development of third party applications, particularly for business. Users can experiment with clients such as HootSuite, TweetDeck and CoTweet to manage multiple accounts and access numerous search fields and conversation strands. The ability to stream followers and friends into lists (public and private) is an amazing organizing tool.
In order to be followed on Twitter, a company or individual  (and preferably, an individual from a company) must follow others and initiate conversations, share valued content, conform to the Twitter “rules”, such as giving credit when a link is shared, and respond to mentions and direct messages in a reasonably timely fashion.  Not once a week during scheduled “social media time”.  Surefire techniques for not being followed would be to not follow back (here again is a fine line, since automated following is hugely frowned upon), to blast out scheduled content directed at everybody (but really nobody), and to be unresponsive. All interactions are public on Twitter (except for Direct Mentions, which work like email), so it is easy for anyone to look at a Tweeter’s history and see a gaping absence of real connection. Like any social network, it takes time to build community. But the time to start is now.

Tweeting as a company is a hugely difficult exercise unless one has the brand awareness of a Dell or an Apple, a government agency, or a specifically web-based customer service function (like FlipVideo, FreshBooks, Prezi). Since companies aren’t typically good at making their messages personal and directed at individuals (whether within an existing Twitter channel or a conference related backchannel), they can come across as unwelcome, noisy advertising reps. Companies that Tweet successfully allow the personal and human qualities of their Tweeters shine through. They prove themselves not to be robots by being real, multifaceted, and genuine. They use real photographs, instead of company logos. They indicate which company they work for, but describe themselves in authentic, natural ways.

The consistent use of hashtags (the act of putting a # in front of a term, thus making it searchable for all others and creating a de facto “theme”), makes it relatively easy to follow discussions, events, and topics.  Even the act of monitoring these discussions is useful, because despite their frenetic appearance, many individual issues are being addressed. Most chats are archived for those who miss a week. Lists and groups of participants are available on third party sites like TweepML. Think of these chats as a place to hold a virtual focus group with real, live, online customers. It’s a great opportunity to start connecting and build trust.

Tweeting through events provides a valuable backchannel for attendees and virtual observers alike. Most conferences now assign themselves a hashtag, so that anyone following the event can participate or “watch” by following that particular meme. Examples include #BlogHer, #ISTE2010, and any TED or TEDx event.
If a company is sponsoring a speaker, they might assign someone to tweet from the audience, mentioning that speaker’s key points, external resources, plans for later (TweetUps etc), links mentioned, and manage questions for the speaker from the audience. Presenters might agree to be online to answer questions post workshop. Displayers might offer promotions and contests through the backchannel. Twitter users at conferences often organize their own events, or TweetUps, to make IRL (in real life) connections. Participation or sponsorship of these events can show potential customers that the backchannel is valued, and that companies are listening and participating, and facilitating the IRL holy grail. Because it’s great to meet people. Unless they’re twats.

Tweeting content that people want to share is important, and can include articles, blog posts, free access to desirable content, and promotions on websites. The best way to gauge whether content is valued can be through the number of retweets (RTs) a message earns. But if nobody is following, then nobody benefits. If a tree falls in the forest….  However, the best, most authentic, and only sustainable content worth sharing is interaction. Entering conversations. Asking questions (real ones). Promoting others. Sharing research, within a loop that allows those who access the content to share it, comment, and add their thoughts.
Twitter is full of content, great articles, posts, videos, and discussions. By tapping into what people are talking about, it’s possible to understand what they value. What they share with each other, and the topics that resound.  For organizations, developing an “editorial calendar” can help for planning time spent nurturing and creating relationships on Twitter. Each month of the year presents opportunities to focus on specific content, as well as the more traditional areas of interest.  For example,  September and October offer a variety of opportunities to talk about heading back to school. Hosting a Tweet Up (where Twitterers shed their keyboards and meet up in real life) can be paired with promotions, launches, and bringing people together, eliciting a favourable emotional response from existing and potential customers.

Be real. Be human.  You can’t automate it. You can’t manufacture trust. But get out there. The early bird catches the worm, and poops on the twat.


A caveman can do it, and so can you.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, or for a company that let you reside blissfully unaware and underground, you may have noticed the importance of developing a digital profile. I hate to be a harbinger, but nobody’s safe. You could be liberated tomorrow. Your company could disappear down an earth splitting crevasse. Or you might feel compelled to quit.
And then, on your personal journey of change, you’ll probably realize that you can’t afford to hire your own PR company.
And after you get tired of licking stamps and churning out the same bs cover letter over and over (and meanwhile becoming more and more paranoid about your skills and achievements)….

Let’s think about this.

Would you hire a marketing person who had never established a presence on Twitter? In 2010? Really? Who didn’t understand Facebook Connect because they “don’t do Facebook?” Really? Who couldn’t tell you what blogs they read? If you couldn’t find a shred of evidence of their professional existence on Google?

Danny Brown’s recent post, Not Right Now, takes on what it means to be a company reluctant to embrace the undeniable reality of social media. His thoughts inspired this post, but I’d like to take it to the individual level.

And this gem from Rocket Watcher’s April Dunford also cuts to the chase about a digital profile being a virtual non-negotiable in this day and age. I really, really like the way she puts it. Awareness is not the same as proficiency, and you can only fool some of the people some of the time.

Whether you’re job hunting, or just exploring the idea that you need to be out there, here are 5 tips for building a digital profile:

1. It’s who you know. If you haven’t begun to develop and cultivate the limitless networking possibilities of LinkedIn, it’s time to give it a try. You can search for friends, colleagues and connections under all of your former employers, your places of education, and through endless group interest areas. On LinkedIn, you are searchable. Think of an online CV, a networking party, a hiring fair, and a judging panel all rolled into one. Your LinkedIn profile (which you must painstakingly craft, and yes, it takes time) can become the hub of your online portfolio, as it can integrate with your website, blogs, Twitter stream and Facebook updates. If you’ve ever created a presentation, you can upload it. Read for professional development? You can list the books you’ve read and intend to read. And much, much more. Just don’t be a big phony faker. Call a spade a spade, and don’t call yourself a dentist unless you’ve pulled a tooth.

2. And speaking of online CVs, it is now unbelievably easy to create a free website for the purpose of promoting yourself and your experience. Yes, a website all about you. Drop and drag chunks of information to create a cohesive story. Add photos, start crafting your thoughts into a blog, and purchase your domain name. I like Weebly, Moonfruit, and Magntize. Be google-able.

3. Try Twitter. Tweets and profiles rank high in search. If you haven’t established a profile because you’re not sure that it makes sense, don’t worry – it will. You can search Twitter for people and topics you’re interested in. And the people who tweet about those topics are your new community, and your potential connections. You have to follow to be followed back, and you have to tweet content that will interest your community. Using HootSuite or Tweetdeck (among many others) can help you organize your areas of interest and passion.

4. Build a trail of breadcrumbs, like Hansel and Gretel. Start commenting on blogs. Don’t be anonymous. Leave your contact email, link your website, and start making connections with the leaders in your industry.

5. Ask for help. Read, read, read. Develop an understanding of how the web has changed business, and how it impacts your particular area of interest. Discover what you like and try to emulate it. Be confident that your experience fits in somewhere, even if the online space is new to you. And don’t be intimidated by anyone who tells you that you’re late to the party. Better late than never, and better to have examined others’ mistakes and learned from them than never taking your first steps.

*UPDATE* I came across, an online resume builder. Serendipity-doo?


Ok, now I'm hungry.

First, a disclaimer. I freakin’ love Twitter.  It has been, for me, a goddess-send of networking, a maelstrom of market research, and information value.  It took a fair amount of experimentation to figure out what a Twitter best-practice scenario would be for me, and it has varied with different positions, clients, products, and strat plans.  I use Tweetdeck:  a third-party application to actually “use” Twitter.  It lets me monitor simultaneous accounts and discussions, and links up to my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.  But there are others, and you may like them better. HootSuite. CoTweet. Seesmic.  Tweetie, Echofon or OpenBeak for your handset.  Twitter, for me, serves very specific business purposes, and it serves them extremely well.  Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Still, I encounter a lot of resistance about Twitter. (Twesistance?)
“Why should we?”
“Twitter is just a bunch of noise about people eating lunch.”
“Our customers aren’t online.”
“We already have a website.”
Sound familiar?  There are plenty of reasons to avoid Twitter, and other social media, it seems.  It is true that there are a zillion time-wasting testimonials out there, and a plethora of pundits sharing little, if any, value to organizations and the causes they represent.
I worked for a non-profit think tank. Tiny, but smart.  With limited human resources, we had to constantly punch above our weight and consider smarter ways of doing things. Our limited communications budget meant that we couldn’t pay a PR firm.  And doing things was our goal, of course – we wanted direct action from our efforts, we wanted to measure efficacy, and we wanted people to talk about us. To each other.  Twitter made sense.
The vast array of tools at our fingertips has really changed the way we make things happen, and the speed at which technology solutions keep us competitive, relevant, and always on our proverbial toes.   Management and growth of our brand can’t happen without the alignment of our website to our communications strategy, and we are constantly reiterating, changing, improving, and updating so that our “hub” is a plugged-in place where constituents can connect with us and with each other.  Building in a blog brings us recency and relevancy and improved our search ratings, but it also gives us an op/ed channel that is oft-tweeted and commented on.    A simple share bar allows our visitors to take our content outside of the site and extend its’ life – to remash it, remix it, and use it as they see fit.  Without social media, we’d  be a lot less nimble, and a lot less relevant.

So here’s how I attempt to convince a curmudgeon (phrase borrowed from Charlene Li) or a hater (phrase borrowed from Mary J. Blige), should I encounter one.  The great thing about curmudgeons is that they usually hold the purse strings (and tie them in a triple sailor’s knot), and many social media tactics are possible without snatching the purse.  Ever heard that it’s “easier to apologize than to ask for permission”?  Well, sometimes it’s better to frame your argument around “Because if we don’t….”.  Set the Doomsday scenario.  Couch it in 2012 terms if you have to. But avoid Nicolas Cage at all costs.
Here’s a handy script:
“Because if we don’t use Twitter, we cut ourselves off from the following benefits:

1.    To listen to what our community says about the issues we purport to be experts in.
2.    To promote our work within and connect to a wider audience.
3.    To monitor a variety of topics that we are interested in, simultaneously.
4.    To let people share our work with their networks and beyond.
5.    To respond quickly to our audience’s questions.
6.    To participate in discussions involving our strategic focus.”

Sometimes when we just do it, the tacit approval just comes. Because the tools at our disposal often have such great measurement capabilities built in, it is possible to set metrics with realistic expectations of getting that data.  And a curmudgeon loves data, even if s/he doesn’t know what it means. Lather, rinse , repeat.  And, because it’s Friday (#followfriday on Twitter), word to your #mother.


Steve Steigman: Blown Away

It’s a beautiful thing when ideas converge. When connections are made. It makes us believe that we are smart, and that our connective neural pathways are functioning as they should.  Classroom teachers have long known this – that connecting ideas promotes learning. Chemistry relates to biology. Shakespeare relates to Atwood relates to Chomsky. Those connective understandings create a holistic internal management of content, but also link issues and concepts that become meaningful when we can relate them to prior learning or lived experience.
Anyway, one of the SpaceRace reading list choices has hit me like a ton of bricks (but in a good way…maybe chocolate bricks?).  I’ve just finished Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which was an experience a bit like being the person in the old Maxell print ads. Every section inspired an emotional reaction. Drive made me confront my past employment choices/situations, make amends, and commit to moving forward to contributing to the world.  Pink examines traditional theories of motivation and brilliantly contrasts them with groundbreaking research and analysis in psychology and behavioural economics.  Much of this groundbreaking research, it turns out, isn’t new.  It’s just that now, the conditions are ripe for examining a new way of thinking about work.  Institutions are crumbling. The “sure things” got fired. Organizations and managers encounter the retirement of the baby boomers, and the rise of GenY and the millennials.  Our hyper-connected, yet precarious world creates opportunities for collaboration, but also demands collaborators.  Artists. Creators.
Traditional work environments/employers have had a hard time dealing with the likes of collaborators, artists, and creators, who eschew carrots and sticks, incentive pay, algorithmic tasks, bureaucratic layers and shitty management in favour of more intrinsically rewarding activities.  The proof is in the science. Now business needs to catch up.

The solution?  Create work environments that promote Three Elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Reimagine “rewards”, from fair pay to time devoted to projects of passion. Encourage Type 1 behaviour, and intrinsic, deep satisfaction and fulfillment.
Here’s where it gets personal.  And what about schools?
The conditions are also ripe for examining a new way of thinking about education, and Pink’s Three Elements apply in an exceptionally convergent way to imagine schools and learning.
Don’t get me started. OK, I started.  I happen to know that my kid does approximately 5 photocopied worksheets a day.  Endless algorithms. Memorizing vocabulary. Silent reading.  She’s touched a computer twice since the school year started, which was almost 7 months ago.  Each week she has a spelling test, and scribes sentences she’s had to memorize. Sentences seemingly connected to…nothing.  Her progress is reported to me thrice yearly, through a letter grade and a selection of generic comments. The best worksheet she does, and the worst, are photocopied and sent home in a folder the teacher never writes in.  She doesn’t love school.  Yet she comes home and, with her buddies, turns our second floor into a library, complete with a check out, plot synopses, and clever marketing strategies.  She’s 7.
My kid, spending 7 hours a day at school, doesn’t fulfill her daily potential as a collaborator, artist, and creator.
I’ve been keeping a close watch on the research of the McArthur Foundation, and their research on digital learning and participatory culture.  The beautiful convergence with Daniel Pink’s Drive lives here – in the educational research that supports and complements the behavioural and psychological theories highlighted in the book.
From the MacArthur Foundation:

At its simplest, participatory learning refers to young people’s learning that: is intrinsically motivated because it is connected to their interests and passions; is inherently social in nature because it involves interacting, providing feedback, and sharing with others; and typically occurs during tangible, creative activities, that are open and discovery-based, involve tinkering and play and are not highly prescriptive.
Participatory learning is often facilitated by digital media because they significantly lower the barriers to production and distribution, invite social engagement and interaction, promote the possibility of contribution, and challenge traditional notions of authority and expertise.

Sound familiar?  Familiar enough to light a fire under your bum?  This is what’s keeping me up at night, long past the thoroughly enjoyable hours I spent tucked up with Drive.  And Linchpin, but more on that later.


My Tuesday morning round-up of the best of my Tweetdeck turned up a real gem – a revised Ladder of Engagement and subsequent post from the good folks at Forrester (and authors of the seminal lime green tome Groundswell).

Bernoff, Li and company first introduced the concept of a ladder in 2006 to illustrate the emerging “science” of social technographics. Social technographics work much like traditional demographics – it’s about attempting to create profiles of people’s online interactions and assign “rungs” to levels of behaviour, or levels of interaction. Social Technographics can be used to generate insights, to test technologies, and to measure interactions. The 2006 version of the Ladder of Engagement included the following categories, or levels of online participation (from top to bottom):

  • Creators – content generators who maintain a website, write a blog, create videos, podcast etc.
  • Critics – participate in rating/reviewing products, contribute to forums, comment on blogs, wikis etc
  • Collectors – use RSS to “collect” content, bookmark and tag content (like photos), use aggregators such as Google Reader, Netvibes or StumbleUpon (among a zillion others)
  • Joiners – register for social networking sites
  • Spectators – read, watch, and listen but don’t contribute much to the conversation (although they are present)
  • Inactives – none of the above

The ladder is an useful image, since people climb up and down the rungs depending on their motivation to interact, their comfort level with new technologies, and most importantly, their level of engagement. They also shift as our world gets a little more digital, and more brands hop on the social media bandwagon.

Today’s revised ladder includes an important new rung, or category of online participation. The Conversationalist lands just under the Creators, and according to Forrester Research, accounts for 33% of online behaviour. Over half of these are Chatty Cathy’s rather than Chatty Chads, and over two-thirds are over 30. The Conversationalist actively participates in social networking, and updates his or her status at least weekly. Conversationalists are the real users of Facebook (and the reason, we can assume, behind many of the interface changes since its’ launch), and those who Tweet. It’s content, but it isn’t quite Creator content. Although I do have a few Facebook friends whose droll and witty status updates should really be published in a coffee table book of snark.

I started to think about what engages the conversationalist. Why do these prolific status-ticians (made that one up) take the time to use their chosen social platforms? Why do they retweet, but not take the next step into the creator behaviours mentioned above? What does the emergence of the conversationalist mean for brands? The Facebook update, no matter how well thought out, isn’t the same as a meaningful exchange between between a company or organization and its’ customers or clients. On Facebook, the conversations happen between people who have, in whatever level of reality, a human connection. And it’s so easy to take it further, to like or comment on someone else’s life. Tweeters tweet to their followers because someone out there is listening, and someone might respond, or connect based on shared interests. We were all pretty pleased to see Jeff Bridges win a Golden Globe. We were pretty disgusted with our Prime Minister’s recent display of arrogance.

But I digress (see how easy that was?)…..

The intrinsic need to connect paired with an intuitive, “safe”, and personal platform for doing so means that conversationalists can converse without the marketing noize of the internetz. “I ignore the ads, I only read the status updates.”

What’s a wallflower brand to do? Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does your brand successfully replicate the human connection that conversationalists seek? Are there humans at your brand? Or Muppets, at least?
  • What steps can you take to create relationships so that conversationalists draw value from your interactions?
  • Are you listening, but not conversing? (see figure 1)

I’m really hoping for feedback on this one. And now, I’m off to scroll through Facebook to see if anyone has anything droll and witty to say.


The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.