Yes, Stefan, They ARE Storytellers

“My philosophy has always been that I believe that art is not an elitist gift for a few select people. Art is for everyone.” — Richard Attenborough

Recently, Juxtapoz featured a video by Stefan Sagmeister in which he proudly proclaimed, “No fuckhead, you are not a storyteller” to, well essentially anyone who isn’t a novel writer or a feature film director.

(The tl:dr version of this post? “Yes, Stefan. People are storytellers. And despite making some good points, you’re an idiot.”)

Stefan (can I call you Stefan? I mean, after watching your video and tearing it apart so many times, I feel there’s a certain kinship here) makes some interesting points, some of which even make sense. I understand the need to say outrageous things. After all, if you don’t then how will you convince people to show up to your next TED talk, or get picked up by Juxtapoz?

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When “Rallying Your Support” Goes So, So Wrong

“I love it when a plan comes together.” – John “Hannibal” Smith (George Peppard), The A-Team

“I love it more when it falls apart.” – Yours Truly.

The poor Washington NFL Team. Yesterday, someone at the Washington NFL team’s public relations office apparently decided that rallying the team’s fans against Senator Harry Reid and the U.S. Senate was a good idea. For those of you who aren’t aware, many people consider the Washington NFL team’s nickname to be a tad… racially insensitive.

They decided to send out this little gem.

This was destined to go wrong as soon as they hit “Tweet.”

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When “The Best Camera” You Have Needs to be Better

(With a huge tip of the hat to Geoff Livingston’s kick ass post from about a month ago looking at the same topic, it was a huge inspiration for me to finally finish and hit publish on this post. I don’t want to take anything away from Geoff, you should read his post first then come back. I’ll wait.)

A few years back, award-winning photographer/videographer/creative genius Chase Jarvis created a project called “The Best Camera is the One You Have With You.” It wasn’t just a project, it became a movement. In addition to the creative photography Jarvis showcased, it spawned a book and an iPhone app encouraging people to discover their own love of photography, and not be limited by the gear they did (or did not) have.

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Why Do You Need a “Chief of Staff?”

“I’ve gotta keep the knucklehead stuff off of his desk, and this is worse. This is actual hot-button knucklehead. This could be a thing.”
John Spencer as Leo McGarry
“The West Wing”

Sometimes starting out at a new leadership position can feel like this!
(Image courtesy U.S. Government archives)

Congratulations! You’re now a CEO. The leader of an organization. (Large or small, nonprofit or for profit. It doesn’t matter)

But your time seems to be taken up with decisions that aren’t worth your time. Your calendar is full of meeting with department heads, other executives, maybe the media, and community leaders, but by 9:30 or 10 a.m. it’s been blown to hell with “crises” and problems that other C-Suite or director level positions can’t handle, or people who demand to speak to you “right now.”  It’s the classic argument of what’s “important” to you as a leader, and what’s “urgent,” jumping up and down demanding attention.
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Making Your Community Relations Play

Community relations needs to be a large part of any overall communication campaign, whether you’re working in politics, corporate PR, nonprofit or association communications.

If you’re going to be serious about community relations, you have to be involved in your community (online or offline) long before you actually need them. You’re working to build up community capital that you can cash in later when you need your community to back your proposal. If you’re a local civic leader, you can even beat back the threat of being fired with enough community support.

But like anything worth doing it takes time and hard work.

Community relations isn’t like a spigot – you can’t just turn it on and have goodwill come flooding out. It takes time – venturing out to meet with members of your community, and not just your immediate community, but across a geographical and demographic layer beyond your comfort zone. You have to go to their local summer BBQ’s, shaking hands and kissing babies, much like the best politicians.

You have to be involved in local governmental affairs. You can’t imagine the importance of good relations with local officials when you are trying to work on your university’s master plan, or building support for a Bond Campaign.

If you work at a school, college or university, your job is supposed to be easier. You should have departments dedicated to building bridges to communities. Parent Associations. Alumni Departments. PTAs for K-12. School Spirit Organizations. They are out there. You have to give them reasons to support you. Involving yourself with them matters.

How do you do this?

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Everything I know about social media I learned in Powerlifting

I want to share a secret with you – many years, and about 65 pounds ago, I had been a devotee of something with a much greater pull than even social media and its allure.

That’s right, I had been a quasi-athlete (not a great one, but just one), well I was a rugby player – define that as you will. As part of being an athlete, I really got into powerlifting, it was a better way to get into shape – not as monotonous as running or cycling. (I wasn’t great at powerlifting either, just ask my workout partners 😉 )

I had flirted with the idea of being a strength coach, because I enjoyed working out and studying exercise physiology, but as my instructor used to say, he couldn’t advise that we complete four years of college in order to earn $25,000 a year as a strength coach.  So I ended up in PR, where a four-year degree earned me just a little more per year. 😉

And recently, while two torn up knees and a bum ankle are keeping me off of the rugby pitch, I’ve been getting back into powerlifting more and more.  So as I’ve jumped back into powerlifting I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between this sport and social media. I quickly grabbed the laptop and started jotting down as many notes as I could keep trapped in my mind. I’ve included a list of this baker’s dozen below.

  1. Practice, practice, practice!
    1. It’s not only how you get to Carnegie Hall, or hit that new record bench press, it’s how you hone your social media chops – and learn what works for you (whether it’s video, audio, blogging, etc.)
  2. Form is important.
    1. As everyone who hits the weights knows, you have to perform each exercise correctly. If you don’t learn how to do each exercise correctly then you run the risk of injuring yourself later.
    2. In social media, you have to look at this as focusing on the narrative you want to tell, the stories about your organization that are important.
  3. You won’t hit every lift, it’s OK.
    1. Whether you are working out or at a powerlifting meet, you’re not going to perform every lift perfectly, sometimes you will fail to get the weight back up – it was called “bottoming out” when I lifted – and that’s OK.
    2. In social media, every post isn’t going to be perfect, or totally make sense to your target audience, or tell the story you want it to tell. No worries, you’ll get it next time. And maybe you can learn something from what you might consider a “failing post” that you can use in a few weeks.
  4. Build your posts to an “event”
    1. In strength training, there’s a philosophy called “periodization” – where you prepare a workout schedule that fluctuates from light workouts to hard workouts and back to medium – which turns into the new “light workout.” As you progress along this program, you will gain more strength, step by step. Usually you plan your workouts back from a scheduled event (the start of a sports season or a powerlifting meet).
    2. Why not do the same thing for social media? Plan on having a meetup/tweetup, or another social event or giveaway several months down the line and start creating a schedule of posts, videos, etc that you want to use to build up to this event.
  5. Start easy at first – don’t overstress yourself.
    1. Until you feel comfortable with your “social media workout,” don’t push yourself to do too much – too quickly. In powerlifting and social media it can lead to burnout and abandonment of your new plan. Remember, follow your schedule, and don’t frontload it with too much work until you are prepared for it.
  6. Mix up your “workout”
    1. Doing the same kind of workout, or creating the same kind of content, over and over starts to get stale.
    2. In strength training, this leads to boredom and your workout gains start to stall.
    3. In social media, this can lead to boring posts, losing readership, and eventually you might give up on creating new content.
    4. Just mix things up, don’t always do the same kinds of posts, or create the same content in your social media plan – some days do a podcast, or a quick video, or take a little time off (see below)
  7. More is not always better
    1. In strength training, as in social media, your first inclination might be to jump in with both feet and overdo everything.
    2. If you need to take a little time off, do it. While social media, and powerlifting, are very cool and a lot of fun, it can start to wear on you. But don’t take too much time off, or you might not return again – it’s the difference between a quick break and quitting for good. In strength training it means you’re going to get out of shape again, in social media it means giving up on your content, when you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough piece.
    3. If you’re at a company, see if you can find a couple of people to stand in for you for a while to continue building your audience.
  8. Don’t neglect your “core training”
    1. In strength training, you have to develop your foundation, your core muscles (the abdominals, lower back, upper back, shoulder girdle and legs) in order to get stronger.
    2. In business and social media communications training, you have to look at your organization’s core competencies and ask “what are our communications goals?”
    3. How are you going to achieve those goals? How will your narratives, the stories you share about your organization, help you reach your goals?
  9. Speaking of goals, set realistic goals.
    1. If you’re starting out in powerlifting, you’re probably not going to hit a 400 pound bench press overnight, or for quite a while. But you can add 20-30 pounds in a few months.
    2. If you’re creating social media content, blogging and videocasting, you’re not going to reach Bob Lutz, Geoff Livingston and Chris Brogan reader numbers overnight – and that’s OK. Keep your measurements realistic, if you impact a handful of people that’s still wonderful, in fact they might even get back to you and let you know about that impact.
  10. Everyone is unique – in strength training and content creation.
    1. Not everyone will feel comfortable sitting in front of a video camera, or audio podcasting. They might be better at connecting with people via social networking tools (which are different from social media).
    2. Go with what works for you – and include this in your social media “periodization plan”
  11. Have the right equipment for your needs.
    1. And know how to use it. In strength training, doing deadlifts wearing sandals might leave you injured – trust me I know.
    2. In social media, you need to have the proper equipment – it doesn’t have to be too expensive, but instead of getting a flip camera (which seems to be the rage among communicators) look at something that allows you to get decent audio (a much overlooked piece of the YouTube puzzle) as well as audio.
    3. Use this equipment in your practice sessions, knowing how to use your equipment ahead of time makes your life much easier, whether it’s in powerlifting or social media.
  12. Get a trainer
    1. When you start working out, it pays to invest a little bit of money in working with a personal trainer. They help start you down the path to a healthier life, or a stronger body. They give you the tools to move on, only needing to check in with them periodically when you need something new to add to your workout.
    2. It’s the same thing in social media. If you are new to this, you can start off by reading a few books and trying to get some “book learnin’” and try to piece this together. This isn’t a bad idea, but you can avoid some of the “bad form” you might learn from reading various tomes if you hire a social media communicator to help train you, to show you what might or might not work for you and then let you loose on the InterWebs to see how this works. Then you can bring them back from time to time to teach you something new or change your routine a little bit.
  13. Finally, and more importantly, at the end of the day you have to do this yourself.
    1. No one can work out for you. You can’t have someone from outside your body lift the weights for you. You have to sit down at the bench and start pressing the weights on your own.
    2. When you are creating content for your social media outlet, you can hire someone to come into your company and write for you, or you can have an employee do it on behalf of the company, but leaving this in the hands of an agency instead of learning how to do it yourself can be dangerous – because it leaves your communications goals vulnerable to an outside organization that only has your best interests at heart as long as the checks don’t bounce.
    3. You need to take the lessons learned from all of the above points, and what your social media trainer has taught you and either do it yourself or bring someone in to your organization who can “lift the weight” for your organization.

Organizational Evangelism, or “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0”

Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”

Recently I’ve been talking with my friends about an idea that business guru Guy Kawasaki has been at the forefront of for many years, the idea of “product evangelism” or utilizing your biggest supporters to positively promote a product or organization (i.e. Apple’s iCabal).

Following up on this thought, you should look at how to develop your company’s/industry’s supporters into a cohesive “pack” (for lack of a better word) that is willing to support and defend your company.  Non-profit coalitions have been doing this for quite a while, and businesses can learn quite a bit from these organizations.  Many non-profits, if not almost all of them, have spent decades doing more with less when it comes to communications and coalition-building.  What these groups lacked in financial strength, they made up for in passion, perseverance, strategy and volunteerism.

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