Independent Thinking Blog

Who Controls The Conversation?

There’s been an ongoing discussion in one of my private Facebook groups around who should speak for your organization. Public relations? Social media? Customer service? Someone else?

The discussion isn’t about the formal reporting chain — identifying the spokesperson responsible for official communications. That’s pretty easy to establish and enforce. This is about informal contacts, include those relationships we build on Twitter and other social platforms.

Conversations are fluid.

Abstract Head (Fluidity)

I don’t personally do media pitching (though my business does), and yet I talk to reporters all the time. Not surprisingly, we don’t usually talk about their work. That would be like talking to a surgeon about surgery or a miner about mining. Or a marketer about marketing. Fascinating, in context, but otherwise rather one-dimensional.

Conversations are fluid, and relationships are built around commonalities and shared interests. Most of the reporters I talk to are local reporters. We have a region in common, and like most conversations we go from there.

I’ve often compared the twitterstream to a cocktail party. You can dip in and out of conversations, respond to someone else’s observation and move along, and more. Like a cocktail party, there are lots of people and conversations happening at the same time — white noise, until you hone in.

You can control the message, but not the conversation.

Gate, with water flowing out

If I had a need for media help, you can bet I’d ask for a favor. Perhaps an introduction, or advice on where to go. It’s no different than asking a friend or a business contact to connect me with someone they know that I want to meet.

And that’s the point. You can’t control who talks to whom. You can’t really tell me I can’t talk to a reporter. You can tell me I can’t speak for the company (doh), but what if I tell my tech reporter friend in passing that we’re doing some cool stuff he (or she) might be interested in?

Would it bother you if we had this casual conversation at a cocktail party? If not, then why should it be different when it happens online?

Embrace the chaos.

We need to move org. thinking away from command and control. It never really worked, but it was easy to pretend when employees were talking to neighbors in their local pubs, at their kids’ soccer games, and in church. In this age of platforms and everywhere connectedness, the fissures are glaring.

Instead of trying to control the conversation, figure out how to take advantage of the informal networks all around you.

Feature photo by Brian Glanz (Flickr); Gate by FoolishMastermind (Flickr); Fluidity of Thought by River Arts Center (Flickr).

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