Storytelling Success = Emotion + Drama + Visuals

Uniting an emotion with an ideaPeople love stories. They warm hearts and bring content to life in a way dry data and left-brained arguments cannot. The Web 2.0 stories they love most unite a positive emotion with dramatic narrative and strong visuals, encouraging people to share and act:

Of course, facts are facts, and you have to have data to back up your stories. But how you tell your stories—according to your objectives and your audiences’ interests—is perfectly malleable per the above formula for success.

ICT Success = People First and Technologies Last

Does my recent rave review about xPotomac’s innovations mean I think all conferences should feature mind maps and tweets instead of PowerPoints?

I hope it goes without saying “of course not!” Why?

Due to POST, which I’ve written about before briefly. POST is a useful acronym coined by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, the authors of Groundswell. It stands for People, Objectives, Strategy, and Technologies.

The acronym is a reminder to always start information and communications technology (ICT) communications planning by considering the capabilities, interests, and needs of your audience—not the hot technological tool of the day. If you are targeting social media influencers who own handhelds and live in the United States, that does enable leveraging their connections to get your message out in real time. If your audience is rural cell phone users in India, however, consider using speech, graphics, and touch interaction apps that work on old fashioned “feature phones.” If you’re reaching out to business travelers, focus on the ratings and review websites they frequent.

Once you have defined what makes the most sense for your audience, then set your objectives based on what you are trying to do. Inform? Energize? Resolve customer complaints? Foster collaboration? Crowdsource? Connect?

Your objectives will then determine your strategy. Imagine you succeed. How will things be different afterwards? Imagine the endpoint to determine what audience behaviors you harnessed, influenced, or changed. As I explained in my recent xPotomac post and an earlier post on encouraging social media engagement, this typically means much more than merely raising awareness.

The last step is picking specific appropriate technologies, the opposite approach of attempting to replicate xPotomac’s innovations with a reluctant audience or client and different objectives. That’s because ignoring POST, falling victim to shiny object syndrome (otherwise known as fondling the hammer), and mindlessly copying tactics is often the recipe for activity without accomplishment—not innovation and ICT success.

xPotomac, the Next ‘Big Thing’ and Behavior Change

xPotomac and mind mapsYesterday I attended xPotomac, a conference on the most influential media technologies most likely to impact businesses and marketers in the immediate future. Both the conference’s content and its organization showcased disrupted shifts in recognizing and harnessing change.

Its organization you ask?

What I found interesting was the fact that none of the speakers used extemporaneous PowerPoints. Instead, they used handhelds with colorful mind maps to remind them where they were in their talk (kudos to Kathryn Garrett for first pointing this out via Twitter). The result was more eye contact and audience interaction than you typically get when speakers are stuck in a pre-personal computer = overhead transparencies paradigm.

The conference room did, however, have a big screen. It was filled with the top tweets and Twitter influencers using the #xPotomac14 hashtag. The result was crowdsourced speaker notes not only perfectly calibrated to audience interests in real time, but also short and sweet enough (due to Twitter’s 140-character limit) to be able to be read quickly without tuning out the speaker. If you have ever developed a PowerPoint, you know it’s hard and time consuming to get buy-in for appropriately concise and readable slides.

This brings me back to a frequent topic, the need to focus many public outreach efforts on mitigating or encouraging specific and pre-determined behaviors appropriate for your audience—not simply raising awareness.

Think about it.

Spreading the word about how great xPotomac’s crowdsourced speaker notes worked is unlikely to result in its replication at conferences outside of tech circles. Touting the benefits of mind maps would be similarly ineffective at invoking change.


xPotomac and mind mapsBecause sitting at a conference tweeting on your computer, tablet, or phone is not considered socially acceptable in most venues. Further, most people still are not on Twitter, so the crowdsourced speaker notes would be a flop in most places. Most importantly, the majority of people simply expect to see overhead slides and for audience members to keep their eyes on the speaker or overheads—not their computer, tablet, or phone.

The only way an organization could replicate xPotomac’s success is by encouraging Twitter adoption and demonstrating influencers (i.e., bosses and clients in a professional setting) are on board—for both behavior changes.

In other words, to position ourselves and our organizations to compete in the future, it’s not enough to have a few innovators see the potential of the next big thing. It’s a question of reimagining how and why we do things and then ensuring the requisite behaviors are in place, have social support, and are culturally acceptable enough to harness and benefit from the efficiencies of technological change.

That is my main take-away from xPotomac, at least from my strategic communications perspective.

Crowd Accelerated Innovation and the War of Ideas

David BaileyOne of my posts from 2010 was about a TED video on “Crowd Accelerated Innovation.” The video is about how the Internet is connecting people all around the world, enabling people who otherwise would never meet to share ideas and fuel and perfect innovation.

I recently connected with David Bailey of The Military Social Media Blog after writing my recent series of posts about the lack of sound communications strategy plaguing the U.S. military in the very places sound strategy is needed most to curb Islamist extremism. David, a former officer in the British Army, is a “digital whisperer” who has been involved in British military influence activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.

In the video below, David is interviewing me for a vlog post about how knowledge management could help the military, particularly in the United States, overcome many of the obstacles it faces and adapt to a war of ideas in the Web 2.0 age. In another recent video, David interviewed his associate Nicole Matejic, the #SocialFirefighter™ out of Australia, on how newsjacking can do the same.

I’m honored to be asked to contribute to military learning and be a part of David’s effort to tap “Crowd Accelerated Innovation” to fuel understanding and learning and win the war of ideas.  As the 2010 TED video shows, amazing things are possible when people around the world connect to share and innovate. Fingers crossed David’s efforts make a difference! Thanks David!

The ‘Knowledge Management’ Cure?

Operation PLATEAU (2005 Pakistan Earthquake)A potential cure exists for the lack of sound communications strategy plaguing the U.S. military in the very places sound strategy is needed most to curb Islamist extremism.  As I’ve blogged about before, it’s mindboggling that the suggested reason for obvious blunders is large contractors hoping to make an easy buck pushing sales/ marketing/attitudinal communications to enact change versus the more effective behavioral/ strategic communications approach.

The potential cure? Combining  behavioral/strategic communications with “knowledge management” to force/empower behavioral/strategic communications contractors and personnel to capture, develop, share, and effectively use knowledge.  I use the term force/empower because another possible reason for a lack of sound strategy can be government officials hesitant to approve spending time or money on research, especially in the face of budget cuts, sequestration, etc.

When contracts merge behavioral/strategic communications and “knowledge management,” the result is:

  • A literature review of lessons learned and best practices from previous attempts to change a behavior
  • Stakeholder mapping to identify the networks and organizations influencing the behavior as well as their “influenceability”
  • An inventory of information sources and influencers target audiences turn to for information and social norms for the behavior
  • A target audience needs assessment covering information flow, use, storage, and sharing; appropriate technologies; and triggers that will effectively and measurably change the audience’s behavior
  • Facilitation techniques, such as Open Space, World Café, Peer Assist, and After Action Reviews, that encourage people with expertise in the behavior to work together and share their experiential knowledge for the purposes of peer-to-peer learning, problem-solving, and strategic planning

Knowledge management, done right, also can result in outcome vs. output performance measures and improved processes, policies, and procedures organization-wide. More importantly, done right, it facilitates swift learning from mistakes and swift adjustments to disruptive technological change.

To visualize more fully the possibilities, skim the Global Health eLearning Center’s free Knowledge Management course, particularly the Malawi Case Study, and imagine Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan collaborating to apply the model to opium poppy cultivation. For example, the target audience needs assessment might have revealed farmers prefer working with opium traffickers because they provide advance credit and quick and lucrative payment. Such an assessment would not have resulted in billboards claiming opium damages the Pashtun’s house, country, community, and future generations. Rather, it would have resulted in harnessing appropriate information and communications technologies (ICTs), such as mobile payments for alternative crops, to reduce the economic incentive to grow poppy combined with other social marketing methods (e.g., barriers eliminationinfluencer messaging, promptsnorm appeals, financial incentives and disincentives, commitments, etc.).

While the sound communications strategy case study I blogged about from Colombia does not appear to have had a knowledge management component, the kind of excellence it illustrates would certainly more likely stem from such a combined approach than one likening the complex fight against Islamist extremism or poppy cultivation to convincing people who already brush their teeth to switch to a different brand of tooth paste. Just starting out the gate, it changes the requisite qualifications of the contractors brought on board.