Hold on loosely, but don't let go
If you cling to tightly, you're gonna lose control
There's a ton to try to post about what we all learned there, and others are doing it much faster and with better articulation than I. But if I were to summarize my biggest takeaway, it's the same as the lines from those wild-eyed Southern boys above. If you're going to succeed in today's PR environment -- really do good work -- you're going to have to get comfortable with who's in charge. And it ain't you.
Before, your company was in the middle, sending messages outward. "Command and control," as it's known. There was no Internet, no technology as a field for lightning-fast information and impression sharing. Today, you have exactly that -- and your "targets" use it to talk with one another about you and your product.
That scares most practitioners, and it should, a little. The idea of ceding a position of control is uncomfortable. Here's the hitch: You're not in control any more. The customers are. Go ahead and be a little apprehensive, but don't be scared -- this is an opportunity, as well.
Why? Because in addition to each other, they're trying to talk to you, too. Don't fret, it's not all going to be bad -- if you don't take it personally, the customer will lead you closer to the promised land than you've ever been if you'll only listen. How? By telling you exactly what they want. By virtue of talking with you, they're already saying: "I think you can probably solve my pain. Here's what I want. If you get to work and treat me with some respect, I'll come buy it from you."
Always the case? Of course not. Predominantly the case? Probably. Certainly this is the trend in marketing communication today.
If you don't engage, you're going to look slow, dull and stupid. Think Jeff Jarvis and Dell. If you do engage, you look nimble, smart and sharp. Think Howard Dean before he went off the deep end.
In a very good presentation, Elizabeth pointed out very astutely again what we've been hearing for a while: Trust in institutions is weak. Consumer experience teaches this -- often we're treated poorly by the company itself. Consumers trust messages from each other more. That means they're looking to each other as the authority on the product, not the company -- so if you're in the company's shoes, you have to give up some message control, close your mouth on occasion, open your ears, and have an actual back-and-forth.
If you do that, honestly and with authenticity (oh, and you actually have a kick-ass product), the customers will speak with the authority you need for validation. And sales. This is the new direction of marketing. And it's a lot of fun.
Other huge benefit: Meeting so many great people (and that's just a few of them) interested in contributing to the success of others. Trading ideas, telling client stories, learning from one another, laughing and enjoying a collaborative atmosphere.