You’d think the level of disruption during the past 20 years would have had the opposite effect. Instead, the number of people stepping onto their virtual soapboxes and telling the rest of us what to do and think has exploded. They opine with such surety, such clarity, such force.
I love that everybody has access to the tools of publishing and can act like a media company. I’ve spent years encouraging it. But where does all of this certainty come from? How do all of these people have all the answers? Today I come in praise of a little less conviction and a little more listening. The promise of digital is not the soapbox–that’s the very reason old-school media has been so ripe for disruption. It’s the community. It’s the marketplace of ideas. Without more listening, there’s little learning; without meaningful participation, there’s little chance for engagement. Instead, we have self-proclaimed experts self-promoting. We have commenters turning up the volume.
We have noise.
At the risk of sounding somewhat sure of myself, let me softly suggest that for brands, there is a real opportunity to be heard despite the rising noise. Try thinking about digital as a niche medium. Try creating a specialized community where employees, experts, advocates, and those with a shared affinity can mix. Try seeding the community with content, both your own and content from outside sources, to help organize the community into even smaller groups. Try turning down the volume, saying less and listening more.
Ironically, as more so-called experts raise their voices, the value of sharing real expertise has only grown–but now the challenge becomes creating the right context for that sharing. To be a credible thought partner, brands need to know who their real tribes are and learn what they care about. Create a clean, well-lighted place–or, better yet, join one that already exists. Give up a little control. Worry a little less about yourself. Stop being so damn smart and start being a little more human. In an era when everybody seems to be yelling, a little quiet confidence can go a long way.
And with that, I’ll take my own advice and shut up.