Say what? How social media platforms affect what you say ... and how you say it.

"Save it for the judge, kid."

"Save it for the judge, kid."

You already know that your audience influences what you say and how you say it when you’re telling a story. (That googly-eyed baby talk that entertains your girlfriend will get you tazed if you use it on a cop.)

But did you know that where you tell your story is just as important as whom* you’re telling it to?** Think about how the following venues affect what you say and how you say it:

VENUE: Your favorite noisy pub

APPROACH: Loud, off-color comments that you practically spit in your friend’s ear.

VENUE: Sunday Mass

APPROACH: Fidgety whispering about how bored you are, accompanied by crude illustrations drawn with those bowling-alley pencils on the back of the church bulletin.

VENUE: Elevator

APPROACH: Vapid comments about the weather directed to the top of your shoes.

VENUE: Men’s room

APPROACH: There is no approach. The first rule of “Men’s Room” is you DO NOT talk in the men’s room.

The same is true with social media venues. You wouldn’t post a video of a shark-cat riding a Roomba on LinkedIn would you? Of course not. Different venues require different approaches.

To help you navigate the rocky waters of social-media etiquette, the good folks at My Clever Agency created an infographic to help you “Create The Perfect Pinterest, Google+, Facebook & Twitter posts.”***

Check it out.

*Full disclosure: I don’t often use “whom,” even when I know I should. Just as I don’t say, “It is I,” when asked “who is it?” But my sister-in-law occasionally reads these posts, and she’s a stickler for proper grammar, so I figured I’d go all highfalutin for her this one time.

**But don't come after me for ending a sentence with a preposition.

***Relax. It's a quote. They capitalize, I capitalize.

Channeling your inner sewer monster to connect with your audiences

"Two words ... sewer monsters." My experience with sewers goes back to my early childhood when I got stuck in a debris catch basin about 20 yards into a sewer pipe near our house in Camp Lejeune. I was only stuck there for 10 minutes, but I spent every second desperately trying to hoist myself up out of the trap. The wall was just a little too high for me to escape, so all I managed to do was waterboard myself. That experience has left me terrified of the sight and sound of water rushing through culverts. True story.

Years later, we hoodlums would line up empty Knickerbocker Natural beer bottles on the sewer grate near Marius Overhand's house and throw rocks at them until the cops drove by, which usually gave us about five minutes of bottle-smashing time.

The most hilarious sewer-moment of my life actually involved Marius. After a night of drinking (a lot of) Knickerbocker Natch', we convinced ourselves that all of the coins we had dropped down the holes in the manhole cover on Bayberry Lane were still there and that it only made sense to get a crowbar, lift the manhole cover, and scoop up the loot.

Once we lifted the cover, Marius jumped in and climbed down. To our great disappointment, there wasn't any money down there. To Marius' greater disappointment ... well, I'd better let him tell the story. But remember, we had drunk a LOT of Knickerbocker Natural.

But I've matured some since then and am now putting sewers to a far greater use--as the centerpiece of a lesson on how to connect with your audiences. You can check out the video here.

If you haven't already, check out the Knickerbocker Natural link above. It takes you to a bizarre--yet strikingly accurate--Super-8 portrayal of young men being idiots in the early 70's. It made me a little verklempt, not gonna lie.

Also, if you have any sewer-related tales, share them with the class in the comments section.

Internet Killed the Hollywood Star: Why being a star is not enough in the Interactive Age

To be a success in the 20th century was to be a star. Whether a movie star, a rock star, or an NBA All Star, your job was to shine brightly and be worshiped by “the little people” below you. Feedback from the masses was next to impossible and that was OK by you.

Many stellar Fortune 500 corporations operated in much the same way, preferring target demographic marketing over actually engaging with their customers.

Then the Internet—which abhors one-way communication—snuffed out many of the 20th century stars and gave birth to a new celestial model of success: the quasar.

Unlike a star, which only radiates, a quasar has an enormous black hole at its core that sucks matter and energy in while shining light out--more light, in fact, than any star in the universe. This two-way flow of energy is the foundation of successful communication in the Interactive Age. Dictatorial monologues are out; thoughtful and empathetic dialogues are in.

As it happens, “QuASAR” is also an acronym for the five-step process that can teach you how to become a thoughtful and empathetic communicator yourself. QuASAR stands for Quest, Audience, Stories, Action, and Results.

Quest—Most meaningful communication begins with a quest. Unlike a mission—which is a directive from an external source, usually a framed piece of paper nailed to the break room wall—a quest is driven by a passion that comes from within to achieve a purpose that you hold dear. By discovering your quest, you will attract people who share your goal and your passion.

Audience—Until very recently, an audience’s primary function was to serve as a barometer of success. They were counted, not consulted. Today, however, the audience you attract will actually give you invaluable insight and helpful advice as you share stories during—and about—your mutual quest. You cannot overstate the importance of your audience. They are no longer passive observers of your communication “campaigns.” They are your new partners and active participants in your quest.

Stories—Press releases, official statements, and talking points don’t initiate conversations; they kill them. To engage in a dialogue you need to share stories. In fact, now that you’re on a quest with new friends who share your objective, it would be almost impossible not to.

Action—Woody Allen famously said “80% of success is showing up.” In the Interactive Age, it’s closer to 100%. You need to take the time and energy you’re spending on quarterly magazines, monthly newsletters, and staged press events and spend it on developing organic, ongoing dialogues with your audiences. As Jay Baer, best-selling author of The Now Revolution, said, “Focus on how to be social, not on how to do social.”

Results—Success used to be measured by the number of clips your press release generated. But that metric (and most press releases) are far less important in the Interactive Age. Successful communication isn’t measured in “hits,” it's measured by your audience's reaction.

Take Molly Katchpole. Ms. Katchpole was a part-time nanny in 2012 when she decided that she didn’t want to pay Bank of America $5 every month just to use her debit card. So she started an online petition opposing the surcharge that generated more than 200,000 signatures in one week. It’s a safe bet that BofA’s media team reached tens of millions of people that week, but that wasn’t enough to keep bank CEO Brian Moynihan from crying “Uncle” and dropping the $5 fee.

Interaction is the currency of the Interactive Age. After years of talking at your targeted audience, you and countless others are going to have to adjust to talking with both your targeted audiences and with the many new people and communities you will meet as you venture on your quest.

It will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If Daniel Pink can learn how to draw a passable self-portrait by using his right brain, you can learn how to mechanize the magic of meaningful and effective communication through the QuASAR process.


7 rules to help you survive your imminent cultural disruption

"I suspect I'll be just fine. They gimme a guitar and taught me how to box." Learning how to tweet to prepare for the Interactive Age is like learning how to box to prepare for war. It might come in handy but it won’t keep you alive.

That’s not to say that mastering Twitter and other social media tools isn’t important. It’s critical, which is why the American Society of Association Executives will feature such breakout sessions as “Tweet Like a Pro,” “Link Up with LinkedIn,” and “Hot Trends in Association Social Tools” at its annual convention in Nashville next month. In fact, nearly one in four of ASAE’s 136 “Learning Labs” is dedicated to social media issues.

This is significant. ASAE is the voice of the association profession. The fact that they are allocating so much bandwidth to social media shows just how much of an impact the Internet is having on that industry.

But among the positive breakout sessions there are several others that examine how social media is threatening to upset the industry’s decades-old model, specifically

  • “[T]he top disruptive trends with major implications for associations,”
  • “[E]merging trends … that challenge the traditional notion of associations as the knowledge gatekeepers of their industry,”
  • The fact that “disruptive innovations abound—and some are fundamentally changing the way [associations] do business.”

The trade association industry, it seems, may well be the next sector of the 20th century information-industrial complex to be critically disrupted by the Internet.

To survive this impending disruption, association execs need more than just Internet-weapons training. They need to understand how thoroughly social media has transformed the way we communicate and interact with each other. And they need to integrate the customs and mores of this brave new world into every facet of their organization.

To get that process started, we've compiled the Seven Rules of the Internet Age that all organizations should follow if they hope to benefit from—or simply survive—the cultural tectonic-plate shifts that the Internet has triggered.

Collaborate. Don’t dominate. If the 20th century was a winner-take-all poker game played with a stacked deck, the Interactive Age is parachute day in gym class. You only “win” if everyone plays together to achieve shared goals.

You’ve got to give to receive. In the 20th century, nobody but bakery shop owners and drug dealers gave away samples of their best products. But in the Interactive Age, giving is the first step in relationship building. The information you once sold is now shared. Its value—and your organization’s—will increase only as that information is, in turn, shared with others.

Authority is earned, not bought. Nobody takes their lead from four-out-of-five-dentists anymore. The days of advertising your way to “expert” status are gone. That honorific can only be earned … and that process starts when you give away that useful information.

The reach of your message is trumped by the reaction to your message. Getting a sound bite on NPR will always be a treat. But if it doesn’t ignite a reaction among the communities that care about your issues then it has no value … except maybe to your mother. (And she could be lying, too.) Smaller passionate audiences beat massive docile audiences every time.

Be transparent. With all due respect to New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner, “on the Internet, everybody knows you’re a dog.” The Internet has made it damned near impossible to get away with deception. Act accordingly. You can still lie, cheat, and deceive. You just can’t do all that and expect stay in business.

Flatten the org chart. Your organization is linked to countless vibrant communities that care about your issues and it is bursting with the social media expertise needed to capitalize on those connections. But those resources are locked in the minds and cell phones of staff members whose names you sometimes remember. Unlock the social-media power of your entire team.

Be empathetic. The audience now determines which content has value and which gets deleted. To capture the attention and win the approval of your audiences, you must replace proclamations in press releases with sincere engagement in the form of comments, dialogue, info-sharing, and genuine receptivity to their thoughts and opinions.

It’s a safe bet that ASAE’s breakout sessions on social media will be informative and thought-provoking. But one session—“Are You Ready to Build a Digital Engagement Team?"—promises to be particularly enlightening, if the promo is any indication:

“Most associations have traditional departments of technology, marketing, and communications … Within five years these teams as we know them today will be obsolete. … Your organization has to be agile and responsive like never before. Are you ready?”

An excellent question.

How to Survive Stage-Floor Brain Lock

Brain lock during public speaking If you took any delight in movie director Michael Bay’s recent key-note meltdown you’ve probably never experienced the pain and humiliation of stage-floor brain lock.

Brain lock is a rare and debilitating disorder that occurs when one’s train of thought is completely derailed by an unexpected turn in the tracks, usually in middle of a speech. It is not to be confused with the awkward moment of silence that follows a teleprompter malfunction, clinically known as the Obama-mum phenomenon.

In fact, rather than being rendered speechless by a lack of an original thought, brain-lock sufferers are actually bombarded by countless thoughts shoving and bouncing off each other in a futile effort to become the first words out of the mouth. In Bay’s case, this neurological logjam set off a system-wide alarm that triggered, among many other reactions, the deployment of the automated “charm offensive” and a mustering of the crew on the fight-or-flight deck.

Ordinarily, these two self-preservation systems aren’t activated simultaneously. (There’s actually a locking mechanism built into newer brains that makes this virtually impossible.) But in those rare instances that it does happen, the dissonance between these two very different survival mechanisms actually affects the host body. Once this happens, recovery is extremely unlikely and total, system-wide humiliation is almost a certainty.

You can actually see it happen to Bay. His charm offensive is immediately hampered by a voice tremor, involuntary deep breathing, and a rapidly drying mouth. Meanwhile his flight off the stage is literally thrown into a tail spin as the back—in a selfless effort to save the face—struggles to turn itself to the audience while the legs remain locked facing the audience, hell bent on completing the charm offensive.

Ultimately Bay’s head literally dragged his body off the stage, while his automated charm offensive repeated “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” in a monotone not unlike that of the dying HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was not pretty.

How do I know he went through all this? Because it happened to me.

Just as I was finishing up speech recently, I realized I was coming in for a landing way ahead of schedule. Like Michael Bay, I tried to ad lib some charming dialogue to chew up the clock, but my voice had other plans.

Meanwhile, my brain had gone into full escape mode, desperately shaking the door knobs of every possible escape route. (Do I fake a seizure as I have occasionally asked my daughters to do to get us out of church? Can I set off the fire alarm without anyone noticing? How about a coughing fit?)

By then it was too late; my body was starting to deconstruct. Like clockwork, blood rushed to my face to signal to the other primates in the room that I was, indeed, quite embarrassed. This rush of blood pushed every rational thought out of my head and every drop of saliva out of my mouth, sending most of it to my armpits where it poured out as flop sweat. Sensing that we were in full-blown flight mode, my bladder was about to release its cargo when I was finally able to get myself back the pilot’s seat.

And it was then that I learned the cure to this horrible situation: I stopped everything, took off my jacket, loosened my tie, started rolling up my sleeves and said to the audience, “Sorry folks, but I just started having a panic attack. Let me tell you why …”

And they listened, and they nodded, and they silently thanked God it was me and not them. It’s interesting to note that my brush with reputational death actually brought us closer to each other. While it certainly wasn’t my best speech, a lot of people came up to me, grasped my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “I enjoyed your presentation,” while their eyes were saying, “Damn, I thought we lost you there, boy. Good to have you back.”

So tuck this helpful tip in your back pocket. But remember: as with any effective prophylactic, you only want to use it once.


Motivational Tweaking: Why motive matters when telling your story

"Why are you tryin' to harsh my mellow, bra? The dude was a lawyer! From New Jersey!!" You can commit treason, rob a corporation of billions in potential revenue, and even try to beat a man to death with a hatchet and the public will still love you … as long as they think your motives are pure—or pure as they define it. But God help you if the public thinks you misled them. Consider:

Caleb “Kai” McGillvary became an Internet celebrity after he stopped a crazed maniac from killing some guy by smashing a hatchet into his skull. (“Smash, smash, suh-MASH,” as Kai recalled it.) But when he was arrested and charged with beating a New Jersey lawyer—this time to death—the fickle public quickly stopped the clock on Kai's 15 minutes of fame.

When Edward Snowden figuratively outed ol’ Uncle Sam as a crazed creeper who had naked pictures of every one of us hidden in his underwear drawer, many hailed him as a hero and a patriot. Ironically, his halo lost its shine when he revealed his egomaniacal messiah complex with such quotes as, “I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

And now comes the fall of the evad3rs, a merry band of hackers who gained Robin Hood-like cult status last January when they released a “jailbreak” code that allowed iPhone and iPad owners to override Apple’s many security features and buy apps somewhere other than Apple’s iTunes store.

But the Huzzahs! turned into “hand me that pitchfork” last month when people downloaded evad3rs’ latest jailbreak and found that it automatically uploaded a Chinese app store onto their devices. Worse still, this digital Walmart known only as Taig sold pirated software. The fact that this auto-upload only happened on devices preset with the Chinese language did nothing to calm the enraged mob.

Rumors that Taig paid evad3rs to be bundled into their hackware forced the assiduously low-profile hackers to come up out of their mom’s basement and post not one, but two strikingly unconvincing letters explaining how they had gotten themselves into this mess.

Now consider Ducks Unlimited. The sportsmen’s group boasts of being “the world's leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation,” which is true. And, as a result, “Ducks Unlimited does more than any other organization to put ducks in the sky,” which is also true. But they also shoot more ducks out of the sky than any other organization.

There are relatively few organizations that are going to publicly support an organization dedicated to blasting birds out of the sky. But a number of groups—from environmental activists to bird-watching societies—find the quest to preserve wetlands and waterfowl appealing and worthy of support.

So what can we learn from all this? It’s fine to have a self-serving motive tucked just behind your public-facing motive as long as it is palatable to the public … and you’re candid about it.


And here's what happened right after the President took the selfie ...

selfie (Upper left) President Obama shares a laugh with Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. (Upper right)The president and prime minister pose for a selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron. (Lower left) Thorning-Schmidt appears rattled after First Lady Michelle Obama tells them to “stop fidgeting and pay attention or so help me God …” (Lower right) Unable to settle them down, the First Lady makes the President switch seats with her while Thorning-Schmidt texts to her besties about “what a bee-otch the FLOTUS is.”

The End of the Public: Interactive Age Storytelling

The following is an excerpt from our upcoming book, The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization’s Story. In the Information Age, we were (generally) able to share a set of cultural norms and experiences to create a (generally) mutual understanding of morality and reality. The Interactive Age signifies the end of any opportunity to “teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.” Instead, the Internet has given everyone the opportunity to apply their own, highly fluid set of beliefs and experiences to their entertainment and information choices, which ultimately determine what information they consume and who they share it with.

These beliefs and experiences bring people together in online tribes—some large, some small. Some long-lasting, some just short bursts of communal energy—but all of which are constantly in flux.

This creates a distinct challenge for organizations trying to tell their story or communicate a consistent brand image: different people will interpret and react to these efforts in different ways and at different times.

For instance, compare the norms of earlier days to those of today. Ads that might have drawn a giggle or a wink in 1963 could cause you physical harm today.

And because there is no “sunset provision” for information in the Interactive Age, you have to be mindful of how your messages today play in the not too distant future. You are communicating with a spectrum of generations, beliefs, knowledge bases, etc. every time you post online.

One of the better ways to facilitate communication among very different communities is to spell out the assumptions and beliefs that are behind a given conclusion.

With organizational storytelling, this translates into considering your organization as a new world for your audience. Like a TV show, it may have many similarities to the world that some of these individuals inhabit, but interaction is aided by repeatedly citing the core tenets on which your communications are based.

And I'll take The Washington Post, too. No, the entire publishing enterprise. To go.

  "Marcus is running late. He said he'll meet us there."

Back in January of 2012, we lamented that 20th century thinking among The Washington Post's leadership was going to crater the paper. Turns out we were right. The lesson: You must embrace online communication and socialize on social media, lest you get scooped up by your own Bezos-bub.

January 2012

Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth emailed her year-end thank-you memo to a bunch of WaPo swells on New Year’s Eve (her first mistake). Before the electrons were even dry, the must-read posted her email in its entirety with the breaker that Weymouth blew air kisses to almost everyone at the Post—except executive editor Marcus Brauchli.

A C-Suite semaphore? Perhaps. But the real news wasn’t the errant Post Toasties. The real news was the unintentional candor with which Weymouth described how she is driving the paper straight into a digital tar pit.

If you care a whit about real journalism (in any medium), this memo will irk you, and not because of the grammar issues. 

I can overlook the dozen or so typos—it was New Year’s Eve, after all. And I can ignore the “they’re-their” slip-up. Spell check doesn’t always catch that one. I can even see past the occasional subject-verb-agreement lapse.

No. No, actually, I can't. She's the publisher of The Washington Freakin' Post, fer chrissake! Doesn't she have people to catch that??

But what really makes my eyes bulge is watching the Sacagawea of the Fourth Estate tell John Smith and the guys to press on after they've reached the Pacific.

The Internet asteroid has hit the Earth, threatening to bring an end to the Guttenberg Period of the Paleozoic Era. The time has come to challenge the talented WaPo team to innovate in the face this of pension-decimating upheaval. So what does Weymouth do? She instructs Wallace Hartley to keep playing the old favorites. 

Three examples:

Celebrating Attrition: Unless Weymouth is employing the “Zeno’s dichotomy paradox marketing strategy, there is no reason to celebrate “a rate of decline that is about half of what it was last year.”

Suffering from Polaris-is: The customer has always been considered the North Star in successful communications, even before the Internet demanded it. But Weymouth, apparently, is just coming around to that quaint notion.

“We set ourselves five priorities in the beginning of the year … 5) become more customer centric, by focusing on how we get our stories to people, how we package and promote them, how we can enlighten, engage, amuse and move readers.”

Worse, by Weymouth’s own admission, customer focus has only eked into the “top five priorities” in 2011.

“Customer focus has always been a priority at The Washington Post. By naming it one of our five priorities for the year, I wanted to push us to get even better and more disciplined.”

And even with that recent promotion, customer focus is still an also-ran.

“We are in the process of evolving to a company which uses data and our expertise to provide customers with more and more compelling consumer experiences. The most successful companies, from Southwest airlines, to Apple, to Walmart, have demonstrated, time and again, that a relentless focus on the customer always wins.”

"Strike up 'Nearer, My God, to Thee,' would you please, Mr. Hartley." 

Investing in the past: It is a given that shredding trees into pulp, spraying the dried mess with ink, wrapping it in plastic bags, and tossing those bags onto doorsteps across America is a fairly antiquated way to communicate a message.   

But when you're the Top Dog of this enterprise, it's your job to shine a hopeful, promising light on the looming overhaul of this 20th-century story factory. It is incumbent upon you to give hope to the ink-stained wretches who actually write, print and deliver the daily paper. "[W]e will continue to invest in our newspaper as long as their (sic) are customers who demand it," has kind of a Little Big Horn ring to it, don't you think?

To her credit, Weymouth does address, briefly, how the Post is embracing new technology.

"We are telling stories using the tools available to bring our stories to life in new ways, through pictures, video, text and graphics."

But I figured being the niece of Tina Weymouth, the bass-thumping founding member of the Talking Heads, Katharine would have realized before the rest of us that "talking heads" are, in fact, the future of news, and that she would have already developed a plan to drive The Post to that bright future.

The photo of Tina's niece is from Vanity Fair --

The Sacawagea image is from

The Taste of Kent

"Move along, folks. No one can see here." Item: The former police officer who pepper-sprayed students during an Occupy protest at the University of California, Davis is appealing for worker's compensation, claiming he suffered psychiatric injury from the 2011 confrontation. …

Online videos of [Officer John Pike] and another officer casually dousing demonstrators with pepper spray went viral, sparking outrage at UC Davis leaders. The images became a rallying symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

--  Huffington Post, July 26, 2013

Nothing helps a story more than an iconic visual—that photo or video clip that distills your complex narrative into one inspiring, defining visual.

  • The lone man who stopped a column of Chinese tanks armed with nothing more than two shopping bags symbolized the courage of the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.
  • "Native American" Iron Eyes Cody (played by Italian American actor Expera Oscar de Corti) launched the environmental movement of the early 1970's with a single tear.
  • More realistically, the anguish of the 1960's anti-war movement was captured by the Pulitzer-winning photo of the Kent State student who had just been gunned down by a National Guardsman.

Last year, the Occupy Wall Street movement was having a heck of a time capturing its multifaceted temper tantrum in a single complaint, let alone an iconic image--until fate stepped in  to lend a hand.

Meet Lt. John Pike, a.k.a. Sgt. Pepper. Little did Pike know when he was lacing up his boots that morning that by day's end he was going to be the star of the meme heard 'round the world.

Apparently, when the protesters refused to "respect his authoritah," Pike's pique got the better of him, and he began pepper-spraying them like weeds.

The video and photo spread across the globe in seconds. Minutes later, memes of the photo were popping up all over the Internet. There were even memes of memes. (You have to check this out.) In a mere 24 hours, the National TV had warmed up and the Red and Blue Networks were spinning the story ... out of control, in some cases.

FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly described pepper spray to "a food product, essentially," inspiring her own meme-thology. Meanwhile, closeted one-percenter Michael Moore, on MSNBC, compared the pepper spray incident to the defiant act of the tank man in Tiananmen Square.

Whether you believe the students were inconvenienced by a condiment or assaulted by an AK-Jalapeno, Moore was right about one thing: this was "an iconic moment in this Occupy Wall Street movement."

The lesson: Iconic images aren't just for protests anymore. The competition for the nation's limited mental bandwidth is fierce. If you want to reach their hearts and minds, you've gotta catch their eyes.