Recently, my husband arrived at our nephew’s bar mitzvah before me. He settled himself at a table with his 85-year-0ld father and one of his brothers, both of whom need a little prodding to engage in prolonged conversation. Three women sat directly opposite. I think he might have panicked a little at first. I know he wished I was there.
Here’s the problem. I am very social; I like to talk and ask questions. My husband really isn’t anti-social, but he is very proper: polite, but not overly aggressive. I, on the other hand, will walk up to a stranger in a crowd (as I did one night last week and introduced myself to nearby runners at the Corporate Challenge). His decorum extends to the types of questions he’ll ask. Certain things are off limits. (“You asked them what?!” he’ll say, aghast, when I mention how much a neighbor paid for a newly installed patio.) Consequently, it’s usually up to me to get the conversation going. Otherwise, we don’t get much further than first names.
“I was you,” he proudly said to me later. “I asked their names, found out where they lived, where they worked, and how they knew (our sister-in-law).”
And he did more: he shared. He told them where I was, why I was late, all about our children; so that when I sat down, to my surprise (and some disappointment, as I also enjoy storytelling and, ahem, being the center of attention), they already knew me.
Such sharing of experience, background and knowledge is also a critical skill at work. Employees that are willing to open up and socialize in the office tend to gather information that helps them do their jobs better. Organizations that make collaboration easy either through technology or culture can turn the wisdom of crowds into competitive advantage.
At Dow Jones, two of my colleagues – Daniela Barbosa and Greg Merkle – collaborated with social media pioneers, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel on an ebook about social networking and collaboration in the enterprise. The Conversational Corporation looks at the impact of social media and Gen O (the online generation, also known as digital natives) on corporate social networking programs. It also offers some tips for developing a more conversational corporation.
So, how social is your organization? Does it make collaboration easy? Are employees banned from FaceBook and Twitter (this will change; remember when companies banned employees from the Internet? Medieval times, they were). Does your organization encourage conversations via social media tools both inside and outside the organization?
Here’s my favorite anecdote from the ebook:
There is yet another reason that we feel Gen O is the killer app for social media adoption. Companies that do not embrace social media will be hard-pressed to attract the best and brightest new employees. Ethan Bodnar, a Cornell-bound high school junior and an Eagle Scout, was interviewed by Shel for the SAP survey. Shel asked him if he would ever work for an employer who prohibits blogging.
“Why would I work for company that doesn’t trust me enough to let me talk about my job?” Bodnar asked. Shel had no answer.
For those of us in PR, the answer to the last is tricky. Our CEOs are definitely jittery, wondering where in the socialsphere the next reputational disaster will hit. And who wouldn’t be? How many kids are out there with a Flip camera, a wicked sense of humor, and a limited appreciation for the potential consequences of their actions? Yeah. No wonder the PR profession is holding steady in these economic times.
My PR friends have been telling me that they need to monitor everything – mainstream media, blogs, boards, Twitter, FaceBook, digg, YouTube, and on and on. Listening strategically is what will help us pinpoint the next brand disruption. Engaging regularly in conversation both internally and externally is what will help us avoid the risk. But it’s on us – the PR team – to make sure the external conversation is distilled and delivered inside to key executives as well. That’s how reputational disaster is avoided.
Speaking of internal conversations, I have good news: Earlier this month, the PRSA NJ Chapter recognized my ebook, “Talk to Me: 10 Tips for Translating PR Results into the Language of Business,” with a Pyramid award. Thanks so much to the chapter for this. The ebook is based on my research as a grad student at Syracuse’s Newhouse School. With so many disruptive technologies and behaviors challenging our profession – not to mention the economic crisis and some profound changes in journalism – I think it’s more relevant today than when I completed the study three years ago.
So, now I’m interested to see if my husband’s newly found disruptive behavior will continue. I plan to test him out this weekend at Trenton’s Art All Night.