lingua franca

Flickr.com/jeremybrooksEver since I started writing this blog, I’ve thought about my role in social media in terms of some of my favorite metaphors, like Translator, Interpreter, and Ambassador.

As time has gone on, I have only become more convinced that this is what I’m really good at, that this is really what I have to offer.

I’m a translator, and, like most translators, I spend my time straddling two different worlds. Hopping from one sphere to another, listening for common themes and for different ways to tell each other’s stories.

Something Chris Brogan wrote in today’s newsletter clarified some of that for me, and extracted a lovely robin’s egg of clarity out of what had become a bit of a bird’s nest of twigs.

Chris wrote part of his newsletter this week on how to talk to the “senior team” about blogging and social media. This is a topic that I care about deeply.

YOU’VE come to accept that blogging and social media are cool. You believe that Facebook has business value, and that Twitter, used correctly, might be the greatest idea in the universe to build customer relationships. But how will you convince the powers that be of all this? Connect to their state of mind, their words, and to your existing practices. (Italics mine)

That’s the key, right there. Connect to their state of mind.

Why should any of us want to spend our precious time learning about accounting, and economics, and finance, and traditional marketing principles?  Isn’t all this new stuff much, much cooler?

So we can speak the language of the decision makers. Honestly. They don’t really have the time of day for us unless we do.

And it’s not enough to just toss around the occasional buzzword or acronym, like ROI or SCR or whatever else people are muttering this week. To get deep, heartfelt buy-in, you need to have a deep understanding of what makes businesses and large organizations RUN. And, perhaps more importantly, what sends them running the other way.

But wait, I work at a nonprofit, right? Things are so much softer and fuzzier in nonprofits, right?

Please.

Get this: instead of only having to convince one CEO of the value of social media, I have a team of — that’s right — THIRTY Board Members (most are VPs or CEOs in banking, insurance, education, finance, real estate, etc.) to win over, on every single newfangled idea of mine.

Thirty. Every single one of them operating from a business point of view. Every single one of them very good at what they do.

So, rather than spend my time and theirs trying to get them to see my side of the story, I’m going to invest some serious time trying to figure out theirs. Because it turns out that their way of seeing things is a lot more common, a lot more pervasive, and in fact holds a lot more water in this world, than mine.

As Chris points out,

Businesses WANT to be innovative, but that costs money, involves risk, and rarely pans out.

Businesses and business leaders aren’t deliberately setting out to be killjoys, after all. They would love to be a step ahead of the field, and to stand out in a positive way. But there’s always that real chance that they might stand out in a bad way as a result of your brilliant social media idea, and that tends to be really very off-putting. And can you blame them? Who really wants to be on the list?

What I love doing more than anything else is teaching. And by teaching I don’t mean that I get to stand up at the front of the room and tell you all what I think is true. It means doing tons of research, digesting it all, finding the patterns, and then talking to a community about it in a way that resonates with THEM.

If I don’t speak your language — and understand your culture in a deep, meaningful way — then I’ve got a pretty slim chance of success.

I already know how I think. It’s how YOU think that interests me.

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4 responses to “lingua franca

  1. That’s it in a nutshell. I saw an angry tweet rush by my screen earlier today from a young man (about 15) who wanted everyone to sign a petition called F–k Rogers, about Rogers the telco up in Canada. The petition, of course, will go nowhere, because it starts on the hostile side.

    Want to change the world? Invade the systems.

    Keep learning, superstar. I need you.

  2. Thanks, Chris! I (obviously) agree about the need for addressing change from within. I’d like to be fluent in the languages and cultures of social media AND business, so I can make connections and build bridges, not just lob pebbles over the fortress walls.

  3. This makes a lot of sense to me, both from an MBA and an MFA experience. Looking back at those two very different programs, I see myself undertaking cultural immersions. I learned a few things about balance sheets at Harvard and about blank verse at Bennington. But the real thing I gained is a sense that I belong, without apology, in any business-related group or any arts-related group. It’s an intangible asset but one I am sure was worth the time and effort it took to get those two degrees.

    On one level, it’s silly that these things matter. A University granting an advanced degree is like the Wizard of Oz giving a heart to the tin man or a brain to the scarecrow. The real power of the degree or the token comes from the work that the individual devotes to the pursuit, the dangers of doubt overcome, the inner strength and talent discovered. In any event, I am sure your pursuit of the MBA is going to bring you full-on into places where your intelligence and creativity will matter and will make things better for a lot of people. It’s very exciting to watch from the sidelines.

  4. Pingback: we are media - thoughts on evangelizing social media « small dots

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