Getting the Message

Architecting Better Data-driven Digital Experiences

Getting the Message

I’ve been cautioned at being too literal, so maybe I’m taking this question too seriously. Could be “just a matter of semantics” as they say, but as I think about new communications and measurement, I keep getting stuck on trying to meet one of the new standards.

Many social media strategists, most prominently Brian Solis (who I greatly respect), have called for communications pros to move away from thinking of “pitching” “audiences” with “messages”, and to think instead of engaging with people.

The shift from thinking of “audiences” to thinking instead of people in communities is a must for social media. I still default to this term “audience” too much, but what I really mean, and hereby pledge to say instead, is people, individuals, groups and communities. And the notion of pitching does seem pretty impersonal in a social media context. I wonder, however, if thinking in terms of “messages” must be struck from the practice completely?

After all, there is something we want to get across in our engagement with people, and people are actively seeking information in social media all the time. In semiotics, a message is simply the conveyance of meaning.

Can’t we still engage by engaging people with messages that they want to hear? Without a message in our communications, wouldn’t our communications be meaningless? I think it is not so much that we have to do away with the idea of messages, but rather that we have to think in terms of both sending and receiving messages; a two-way street. (Otherwise, how do we know what the people we’re engaged with want to hear?)

The last two posts on the Barcelona principles hopefully established the case for planning and measurement in communications. Goal setting and strategic planning on how to communicate to meet those goals are all about listening to people and designing messages that matter to them and their communities. Meaningful engagement requires sharing meaning, and meaning is transferred through messages. One-way messages are definitely not engagement, but communication is about sharing meaning, and effective “listening” means getting the message.

So, for the record, when I use the term “message” going forward, it’s not in the sense of talking-points or a sales-pitch, it means “a meaning intended to be shared”.

What do you think?