Finding the Soul in Social

The heart of every social media campaign is its content. Increasingly, audiences are tuning out what doesn’t ring true to them or strike a personal chord. Key resonators for people—writing style , entertainment value, and emotional connection—are crucial to every aspect of online material.

At one of last week’s Social Media workshops that ran throughout DC, Rohit Bhargava, the author of “Likenomics,” said content creators should emulate screenwriters. “Read every word you write out loud,” he advised. Do the words sound true? Do you hear a person talking and not a jargoned sales pitch? Try
it out. Plain English and a conversational approach “inject more humanity” into your communications and this builds trust, Rohit said.

And curators of social media content are “king,” according to Rohit. Like traditional magazine or news editors, their talent in selecting, refining, and packaging material for specific audiences becomes more critical as everyone’s time for consuming content continues to shrink.

I think one of the most creative curators today is Maria Popova, the publisher of BrainPickings She weaves together stimulating excerpts—words and images— from art, history, literature and philosophy. Her carefully selected morsels are the kind you want to savor with a good cup of coffee, or maybe a 12-year-old single malt. As our time becomes more scarce and valuable, will we gravitate towards meaningful collections like this blog?

Another way to capture and distribute good content is through podcasts. Richard Harrington is an expert podcast producer. He led a workshop at the National Press Club’s “Get It Online” series the closing day of Social Media Week.

Podcasting is a 15-year-old technology that hasn’t changed in 10 years, Richard said. That makes it stable, well tested, and reliable.

Richard’s company, Rhed Pixel, helps organizations produce podcasts, which can be video or simply audio, like a radio show. As the use of mobile devices has skyrocketed, podcasts are making a comeback. Think about airplanes, the gym, the metro…places where internet connections are not reliable. Podcasts are the perfect medium for how-tos and longer format audio and video programs.

I love NPR’s Fresh Air, but when I can’t listen at its usual air time, which is 99% of the time, I know the archived shows are available as podcasts. One of my favorite Fresh Air broadcasts was Terry Gross’ interview with Maurice Sendak. A wonderful exchange, filled with words of wisdom that will be with us forever.

The elevation of content and curation as the most important elements in social media is good news for our industry. Most of us were drawn to communications because of the connection we felt with words, photography, design—the pleasure of presenting information in a way that would draw people in and keep them coming back. Thoughtful time was taken in the way we brought everything together as content producers.

One of my favorite songwriters, Stevie Wonder, talks about his album, “A Time to Love” in this NPR podcast. He says to composers, “take responsibility for your lyrics,” because their meaning can change the world. Let’s say the same for our messages online. Take good care of your content, it’s the soul of social media.

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Dannielle Blumenthal

“Do you hear a person talking and not a jargoned sales pitch? Try it out. Plain English and a conversational approach “inject more humanity” into your communications and this builds trust, Rohit said.”

Personally I don’t think people have trouble speaking clearly or writing plainly when they are free to express themselves. So the problem is not a lack of technical writing skill.

I do think the problem, in government and elsewhere, is the number and kind of formal and informal restrictions on communication. By the time you put normal English through the mill it often sounds like an odd, tortured form of the language we speak.

Formal restrictions concern written laws, rules, regulations and policy regarding what may be expressed and how.

Informal restrictions include unwritten but generally known preferred phrasings or jargon, or cultural sensitivities.

There is also the matter of coordinated communication – because of course the more people involved in the message the less “human” it sounds and the more strained and calculated.

Whatever the kind of organization one is talking about, whether you’re selling Domino’s Pizza or preparing the public for inclement weather, communication is decided by people with different orientations. All of those people have some say. The conversational types think in terms of how the public thinks – they just want to give a simple straight answer. The subject matter experts think in terms of the complexity of the answer – usually things are difficult to spell out in a single sentence or two. The lawyer thinks in terms of the legal implications of the response. So on and so on.

That is why the whole issue of social media in government is really beside the point no matter how much or how well an agency does it. The crux of the matter is whether the primary communication to the public is clear, comprehensive and credible; whether the issues people want to hear about are being addressed; and whether all communication from the agency is aligned and consistent both internally and where necessary with the rest of the government.

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