Here are four steps every industry must take to protect itself from succumbing to a cultural shiv.
You may think you’re getting along just fine with your 20th century ways, but Social Media is getting ready to bust through your organization’s front door and beat the crap out of your outdated communications, membership and fundraising programs.
Which is more difficult: persuading a hostage-taker to free his hostages and turn himself in, or developing an online reputation as an engaging and influential expert in your given field? Ending the hostage situation, of course. It is exponentially more difficult. But as vastly different as those two situations are, they do have one thing in common: they both follow a three-step path to success. In fact, hostage negotiators can teach you everything you need to know about successful social media engagement.
The Behavioral Influence Three-step Stairway Model
So how to negotiators build relationships with hostage takers? The process is simple but not easy.
The Behavioral Influence Stairway Model, which is an updated version of the model created by the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, offers a great guide for establishing relationships online (and offline, too). It illustrates how active listening can help move you through the three stages of relationship building: empathy, rapport, and influence.
Active listening is not just the driver in creating relationships in hostage situations—it’s also crucial for social media success. So what does it entail?
It starts with understanding that you need to learn about the other person. Before you can connect, much less influence, another person, you’ve got to get a sense of who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. You can’t assume that they share, like, or even understand your opinions, beliefs, or worldviews. The reverse is also true.
Active listening includes a number of helpful tools for ascertaining these things, whether it’s from behind a barricade or behind a laptop. They include:
- Asking open-ended questions. This can be as simple as changing “Are you happy it’s Friday?” to “How has the week treated you?” Open-ended questions, which can’t be answered with yes/no, give the other person a chance to share more information.
- Paraphrasing. It’s a surprisingly powerful tactic on social media. Regardless of the platform, the ability to restate the gist of another’s argument is a great way to show understanding—for instance, paraphrasing the main thrust of another’s blog post before sharing a link to it.
- Emotional labeling. Putting a name to another’s emotional state demonstrates understanding and, when done properly, can reduce the intensity of their emotion simply by providing a name for it.
For a more complete list of active listening tools (some of which aren’t appropriate for online communications), check out Eric Barker’s Time piece here.
Ironically, the first sign that you are succeeding in your quest to use active listening to build a relationship is the emergence of empathy on your part. That’s right, the first step towards a relationship comes from you. Since you’re the one pursuing a relationship, it’s your job to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Empathy is the foundation for all relationships, especially new ones. Social media imposes some barriers to establishing it, since you don’t always see or hear the other person. When that’s the case, more has to be inferred from bios, past posts, etc., so do your homework.
Because empathy is what drives effective communication, connection, and change.
This is a great time to start offering help or advice for problems that you have learned about from your active listening.
Built upon empathy, rapport is a sense of mutual understanding. In this stage, the other person is finally joining you in forming a relationship. Their understanding of your understanding (empathy) is the basis for this common ground.
And your empathy then gives insight into how to best communicate your opinions and goals. You have earned the right to be trusted because you’ve shown understanding of the other person’s point of view and hopefully helped that person solve a problem.
In this context, influence “is the act or power of producing an effect without apparent force or direct authority.” This, for most people, is the goal of social media interaction: to cause behavioral change through the respect and connection that others feel for them.
And it’s tempting, when you reach this stage, to view your job as done. Wrong. If you don’t maintain a constant—though perhaps reduced—flow of empathy and attitude of active listening, you’ll soon find yourself back at the beginning.
If at any point the progression stalls—or if you screw up and start “falling down the stairs”—go back to the previous step.
As you can see from this model, establishing influential relationships takes time and effort. And while you will have it easier than hostage negotiators, it makes sense to focus on a relatively few people at a time when seeking to expand your circle of influence on social media.
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.
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.
Many people are overwhelmed by the prospect of engaging in social media … and are then underwhelmed by the outcome. There are a number of mistakes or missteps that someone can make, but one of the biggest is the emotional approach you take. If you look at social media as a way to raise your profile and share your information, you’ve got a problem. Social media can do those things, but if you approach it as a constellation of free press release distribution systems, don’t be surprised if you don’t get much traction.
Instead, approach it as a number of venues where you can demonstrate your prowess at being a friend. And how do you do that?
- Start with the goals of understanding, supporting, and helping. Your friends “get” you, are there when you need them, and sincerely want to help you. Start asking yourself if you meet these criteria for the people you interact with on social media. If not …
- Listen more. It’s impossible to learn about someone else if you don’t shut up. So pay attention to the problems, questions, and concerns of the online community you’re trying to join.
- Ask questions. This can be intimidating. So imagine yourself trying to get to know a new friend. How would you pose a question? What kind of things would you want to know about them?
- Reflect back. When chatting with a friend, you probably say things like “Oh, I hate it when people cut me off, too. It makes me so mad!” This kind of validation is surprisingly helpful in both in-person and online communication. It conveys understanding and empathy, creating common emotional ground. And who doesn’t want to feel understood and supported?
- Be generous with your support. You probably don’t keep a scorecard of how much you’re giving or receiving from a friend. (At least, I hope not.) Your first instinct is to give help whenever you can. So search out opportunities to do the same online. Don’t worry about the ROI, worry about being a friend.
- Be ready to apologize if you say the wrong thing. Misunderstandings happen. And they happen even more online and with people you don’t know well (or at all). But a genuine apology will go far to addressing these communication gaps and to keep the friendship rolling along.
- Stay in touch. If you’re like me, you’ve lost a number of friends due to neglect. Imagine how much easier it is for your online friends to feel ignored.
Do you agree with this social media philosophy? What elements of being a friend am I missing?
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.
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.
The 20th century was the Golden Age of managed messaging. Media moguls, corporate executives, and elected officials controlled and monopolized virtually every aspect of mass communication. But the Internet flipped that model on its head, and now we—the former “target demographic” of the Information Age—are calling the shots.
The transition from the Information Age to the Interactive Age has been so swift and so decisive that you can almost hear cigars exploding in board rooms around the globe as the former Masters of the Universe frantically apply 20th century solutions to 21st century challenges.
To help you avoid their fate, we’ve gathered a handy list of what’s IN and what’s OUT in the Interactive Age.
The Big Three TV Networks
Watching your favorite show
Stuffing envelopes with newsletters
“It’s about me.”
Limitless free online networks
Producing your favorite show
Pushing the envelope with content
Power of SEO