Our “Social Media for Social Good” class this week is on the two-way communications paradigm that is at the heart of social media. There’s no greater way to bring that discussion to bear than the Cluetrain Manifesto. This epic book captures social media’s essence in a bottle, and is often passed over by communicators, and even more so by non-profit communicators. And what a tragedy that really is. They need to understand the principles behind the Cluetrain’s declaration of, “No. We Will Be Heard.”
I wrote about the importance of this book and it’s seminal line “There’s no market for messages” two months ago (students please read that post, too). And while that post really captures a lot of the marketing aspects that Cluetrain brought to bear, it did not get to the heart of the matter. We as communicators must listen.
In a media environment where people talk back, and expect to be listened to, simply talking won’t work. It won’t. Social media is relational, it’s two-way! If donors, volunteers and tax payers want messages, they’ll read your brochure, watch your educational video, etc. Not here. We want to talk. That’s why we’ve forsaken our roles as simple consumers of media and engaged in this vibrant online world, a veritable bazaar of ideas, conversations and yes, even products.
Consider what the old way of communicating did. Perhaps Chistopher Locke’s words in Chapter 1: Internet Apocalypso said it best:
We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate. And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human. But companies don’t like us human. They leverage our longing for their own ends… Our role is to consume.
Nonprofit and government communicators may object and say, “Well, we are cause based, we are the essence of heart in life. We are bettering society.” But are you? Or do you just want to increase donations? Or “educate” the masses? Perhaps garner votes for your platform? Or even spread the word about your cause, movement or political reform?
Mass communications vehicles have lost a great deal of their strength and trust. Here on the social web those things live again. But to achieve them we must listen. That’s why so many organizational blogs fail. They talk first, and may never listen or let other voices be heard. In reality, it should be the other way around.
The Voices Will Be Heard
Back to Locke:
The Internet became a place where people could talk to other people without constraint. Without filters or censorship or official sanction — and perhaps most significantly, without advertising. Another, noncommercial culture began forming across this out-of-the-way collection of computer networks.
And so if organizations really want to participate in social web efforts, they need to engage in two-way — without filters, censors and punitive measures. That’s one of the big issues with the government 2. 0 movement. So much talk about the tools, and the technology. A sales pitch really. But what about letting taxpayers be heard? Do you think today’s social media government 2.0 conversation understands the difference between a new government policy/action inspired by our collective opinion, or just the same government only now more visible with social tools? I don’t.
That’s why burying criticism is so bad. It matters not that you agree with the points as an organization. People are going to say what they think of you anyway… It’s just a question of whether or not you choose to be a part of that real conversation on the social web. People need to be heard. Your filtering of that feedback is separate, but whatever you do, don’t stymie it.
Back to the social cause. Voices (did you know social cause network Care2 has surpassed 10 million members).. A group of donors who want to voice their opinion. Volunteers who want to conduct their own kind of activism. Many stakeholders who want to see what the organization is doing and how, all who want to move that cause, affect that change together. They just want to talk about it, and yes, participate.
Let Them Be Heard. Begin your conversation with listening.
All we need to do is what most of us who’ve discovered this medium are already doing: Using it to connect with each other, not as representatives of corporations or market segments, but simply as who we are.