How a good one-liner beats a superlist of tips

I’m currently researching barriers to the adoption of social media for a book, and at the same time working on a couple of jobs helping organisations think through how to use online tools for membership services and other projects. It reminds me that while I may think this blog-wiki-Twitter stuff is wonderfully useful, empowering, energising and so on, it is still a minority enthusiasm for social activists, nonprofits and public servants. How to explain, what to suggest?

My collection of bookmarks is growing, and I keep coming across not just lists – Ten Common Objections to Social Media Adoption and How you Can Respond –  but also superlists – HOW TO Sell Social Media to Cynics, Skeptics & Luddites – Tips, Resources & Advice.

The Canadian Secret Underground Guide to Social Media in Large Organisations reads well with advice from UK Government webbies like Steph Gray, and Jeremy Gould – who has now left Whitehall in some frustration. Jeremy’s earlier advice on adoption very usefully covered Do nothing, Listen, Reflect, Converse, Experiment, Embed.

Excellent though these resources are, most are intended for the evangelist rather than the doubter. I know that the best way to understand social media is to try it, but telling someone they won’t really have a clue until they do so (while suppressing a smug smile) can be counter-productive. Still, seems to be true

Ian Hughes works for IBM, evangelising the potential of social technologies. We met up at Chain Reaction. When Ian gets asked how to help organisations use social media, he finds people assume someone will come and install lots of tools and get everyone blogging and sharing. Instead, he says …

“I need you, the person who has asked the question, to experience this stuff. Go to, create a simple blog – anonymously if you want – and start blogging … about what you had for dinner, about a fishing trip, just so you felt what it’s like when you pressed that button, published to the world, and shared what you are doing”.

If you are a public speaker, you know what it is to craft a speech and stand up in front of people. If not, you don’t.

If you haven’t experienced social media you may think it is about sharing information … “but it is not, it is about sharing who you are and what you do and what you are interested in, because that’s what connects people. People connect with people. The technology is merely a way to facilitate that. Social media is not the answer – people are”.

When I was at the Amplified08 event I met up with Ken Thompson, who is a specialist in network communication and collaboration, drawing on lessons from the biological world. He is using his Swarmteams approach in engagement marketing, as you can see here.

I asked Ken how best to engage people, and whether you could sell them social media – knowing you can’t really. Ken gave me this brilliant analogy:

I go back to my experience of learning to fly a light aircraft and sitting in the cockpit with the instructor,  hoping at the start that by watching the instructor I could pick up the skills and then realising, no, I have to start taking some risks and get my hands dirty

So I’ve now got a great one-liner, maybe more useful than super-lists for the beginner: you can’t learn to fly by watching the pilot. I followed up by asking Ken what he would suggest:

Create a safe play environment. For example, sending me up in an aircraft by myself and telling me to learn it is not a safe environment – start someone off, you be their fingers at the start, make it safe, make it so they can’t be embarrassed.

Ken went on to talk about lessons from the biological world, including the role of collective rather than individual leadership, and the importance of lots of short messages. That’s how you produce useful action. Documents aren’t the only way to build consensus. He added:

More and more the leader role today is the talent scout. The bee queen has no idea what is happening in the colony – they just keep promoting it. The most important leadership role is not the micro-manager but somebody who spots talent, gets it into the organisation and keeps it happening.

Helen Milner, managing director of UK online centres, made the same point about hands-learning of social media when we met the other day, but I think Helen is unusual in being prepared to tweet.  Who’s got some tips for leading the boss to blogging?


  • February 12, 2009 - 11:21 am | Permalink

    A tracked through here from Ken’s page.

    When we are in the middle of the project, as I am know, it is easy to cast the problem and the question as how to get people to try out #So.ME.

    The reality is that #So.ME is just a technique that should serve a purpose.

    When we ask how can we persuade, we ask the wrong question. We need to take a few steps back and ask what we have learned about the needs of our customers.

    And having said that, I need to do just that! Thanks. Maybe see you on Tuesday 24th at #amp09. We have a big day earlier on my project – Pancake Race at!

  • June 15, 2009 - 4:43 am | Permalink

    I agree that an oneliner captures attention than paragraphs. But it’s the hardest to write 🙂

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