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Sitting in groups of traditional marketers or comms people I often groan. The most likely trigger is hearing words like: “Social media is just another channel”
Yes, you can see social media as a channel, but if you treat it like the other “channels” that you’ve had in the past (TV, radio, press) you’re missing out on the secret magic.
What’s importantly different about social media is that they encourage many-to-many connections rather than one-to-one or one-to-many connections. The counting that goes on is all 1:1 or 1:M – how many followers do you have, how many people saw this tweet/ad/page/article/video. But what really counts, what really makes a difference is relationship, including the relationships that you foster with your media but aren’t part of yourself. This is social object territory – make stuff that other people use to connect with each other. Most traditional comms efforts are still focused on creating a relationship between the creator and their audience whereas the real value for the community as a whole is the potential for connection between members of the audience and that’s what the internet and social media unlock.
This is the magic of unconferences and #tuttle-like meetings too. They are designed to create connections between participants rather than building a dependent relationship between participants and the organiser. Traditional conferences want you to sit and listen and know how brilliant the organisers are so that you will buy subscriptions to their publication or pony up to come to the next event. They grudgingly give you more networking time because you are connected people who understand the value of having many, diverse, connections and you understand the power of conversation. But there’s a payoff in this for organisers – they want you to have just enough networking time to have your conversation-hunger satisfied, but not so much that you start to think that you can do without them and omniscience.
At an unconference or #tuttle though the whole point is about making connections and building relationships. Most newbies, when you ask them, think that they’re coming for information, but by the end, most know (even if they can’t articulate it) that what they really got was the benefit of conversation with fellow human beings and the potential for new actions that arise from the new connection.
Just quickly a bit of maths – In any group, the number of potential pairings is n(n-1)/2
(check it if you’re not used to this sort of numberwork – If I’m in a room containing n people, I can make n-1 pairs with others and there are n of us who can all do that. My pairing with, say, @danslee is the same as @danslee’s pairing with me, so divide by two)
At #commscamp13 there were 135 people – in traditional terms this would be quite a small gathering because we’d only be able to get our message to 135 people. But by focusing on connections and the relationships that result from that, we get (135 x 134)/2 = 9,045 – nine thousand potential connections being nurtured feels a lot more valuable than 135 people receiving the message through the channel, doesn’t it? Is it surprising that from those nine thousand pairs some amazing conversations happened? And that’s not even taking into account the three-way or four-way conversations that could have happened too.
That’s why I spend my time creating spaces where people can connect without being told what to talk about or when to talk and when to listen.
What’s all this about then? Well it’s becoming clear to me that there are two things that I need to do that I’m not doing enough of. First is that I should be writing more publicly about what I’m doing and how. But also that the connections between seemingly different bits need to be articulated too.
Wait. There’s something else we need to sort out first. This isn’t about me. I mean obviously it all is but that’s not because I think what I’m doing or thinking is particularly important or even interesting but because it’s the material that’s closest to hand.
I am interested in how stories get told on the internet and the rest of the world, and how storylines can move between the two. How narratives can carry over from blogs to films to games to comic-strips to conversations down the pub to a picture on the wall. That’s what transmedia storytelling is to me. Many definitions of transmedia include the word “fictional”. I think it’s valuable to operate at a higher level of abstraction and include elements that might be fictional or might be factual or maybe predominantly factual but include elements that are wholly and explicitly subjective interpretations of the “facts”.
And social art field trips like Tuttle2Texas are non-fictional transmedia experiences. And I know that it’s sometimes difficult to explain or understand what they’re for. They’re not *for* anything. They’re not a means to an end. They are deliberately at such a level of abstraction that their primary purpose is to help illustrate how stories (fictional or otherwise) might be co-created and told, because we don’t know that well enough yet – and if we operate only at lower levels of abstraction it’s much harder to learn what works and to transfer that learning between domains of interest.
So what I’m trying to here before my brain explodes is to shift up yet another level and say OK, if you take #tuttle as an element and #tuttle2texas as an element and that consulting work we did last year as an element, how do they all fit together?
Not “How can we find the common thread so that we can present a coherent marketing pitch?” But rather, given that this stuff is as coherent and congruent as anything else, what connections need to be articulated to help you suspend your disbelief? What needs to be explained? How wide and empty can the gutter be? What might I fill the gutter up with to help you across? What backstory is useful that helps you get to the beginning. And what is the beginning? Where do you start? Because when you’re telling this kind of a story, each element may have a beginning, middle and an end, but the great thing about having near infinite capacity to co-create and store stuff is that we can stretch the story out as long as our patience and interest and attention can last.
And if we can work it out at this level (and I’ll only do that by doing it) then perhaps there are valuable lessons that are more generally applicable.