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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.
It seems to me that there are always a few things going on in such a session and that sometimes these things are in conflict with each other. Initially I got narked about the use of “questions in threes” but I think there’s more to it than that.
So one way to pull it apart is to look at the motivations of each player. Who’s there? In any panel session let’s say there’s a moderator, a bunch of panelists and audience members – there are different kinds of audience members too – those who want to contribute, those who want to only listen – also perhaps those who are part of the organisation holding the event and those who are from “outside”.
Moderator – The moderator opens up, introduces the speakers and manages any question and answer process. What do they want? A smooth running event, which people remember. Presumably they also want people to remember that the moderator was really good and maybe they might like to hire them to do something else. They want to please as many people in the audience as possible by giving them the opportunity to ask loads of questions or have lots of questions answered.
Panelists – usually have something to sell, maybe it’s a book, or strategic advice, or consulting services or maybe they’re looking for more speaking gigs. They want to show off their erudition and quick wittedness by answering questions eruditely and wittily. They want to be right.
The audience – want to learn something, want to be seen by their peers, want to see who else has come, want other people to hear what they have to say on the subject, want to be associated with the panellists, or disassociated from them. If they are part of the host organisation, they may want to impress their boss and other colleagues or else push the company line. If they are from the outside they may want to impress prospective clients or intimidate competitors with their superior intellect. They might just want to hear an intelligent, flowing conversation about the subject and make their own minds up about things. They might have come to collect ideas for a blog post or something else that they’re writing.
We all (well most of us, in this country) like to pretend that we’re not selling ourselves all the time, but the reality is that we are, especially those of us who are freelance, whether we’re doing it consciously or explicitly or not.
Questions in threes is a technique where the moderator takes three (sometimes more!) questions and lets the panelists answer them all together. It’s presented as a way to get more questions in and to give panelists more time to think about their answer, but it actually only serves the moderator’s desire to look good by letting lots of people in and getting things done quickly. Patrick Hadfield summed it up in a tweet to me this afternoon:
“…all that happens is that the first question gets ignored, or if it is answered, the rest of the audience has forgotten it!”
Exactly that happened in the session today. The panelist is also panicking because they’ve got another random question coming at them while they’re still thinking about the first one. And the audience is not sure which question is being answered. The moderator however is achieving the goal of getting through lots of q&a swiftly without any regard to whether the questions are being answered sensibly.
I’m getting tired, and I’ve written more than I initially intended, so I’m probably wrong. Let me know in the morning.