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Engagement: Seek First to Understand

http://johnsonmatel.com/2009/May/Istanbul/hagia_sophia_2.jpgIt is habit # 5 of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective people and it is highly effective when communicating with others. Seek first to understand and then be understood.   We need to be reminded of this simple rule and encouraged to apply it to different situations.  When trying to communicate in the new media, it is especially important because the age of the semi-captive media audience is over. People have options beyond three channels and the hometown newspaper.   

Organizations and individuals accustomed to wielding power are particularly likely to forget the necessity of seeking first to understand. Government organizations can compel attention and we usually think our messages are so important that we have the right to interrupt and just start telling our story. This can bring short term results in terms of notice and attention, but it just doesn’t work for long term persuasion. People learn to filter out what they don’t want. We have to get into the subjects & venues where our potential audiences are already interested in participating. After we build trust, or at least after they get used to us, we can make more useful & credible contributions. 

As you can see from my recent posts, I am back thinking about on the new media. This time it is because I just finished a very good course on new media at FSI. We discussed some practical how-to topics like how to properly use hash tags in Twitter or the strategic use of key-terms. I also learned a few fascinating things about commonly used technologies such as Google. For example, I had no idea that there was a function called “wonder wheel” where you can see the types of subjects associated with a term you Google. I did myself and found that the associated terms made general sense.

All this is related to search engine optimization that makes it more likely that your information will come near the top of a Google or Yahoo search.   No matter what you think of the social media, most people probably still find you based on search engines. Google is the most successful search engine – for now – but it keeps it algorithm for determining ranks a secret and changes it when anybody starts to figure it out.   The basic structure, however, is that it is a kind of information market mechanism.  As in a market, not all the inputs are equal. In Google it matters if a lot of people read your posts, but it is much more complicated. It matters more who links to your posts AND who they are.   So if you want to be high on the search engine, you need to be popular and credible (or notorious) enough that people link to you. 

Anyway, it was more a seminar than technical training. You can figure out how to do most of the new media by yourself, so you don’t really need “hands-on training.  You mainly need to discuss the appropriate mix of media and what they are good for in public affairs and that is what we got. this was the first rendition of this particular course and it was one of the best FSI courses I ever attended.   We had a very good instructor called Eric Schwartzman. Do click on the link and read about him.   He was passionate about the subject, engaged and very interesting, and he brought some insights from the private sector to our government mindsets, as you see above, but I also think he was impressed with how much we in State Department have been using the new media.

The more I see what others are doing (or not) I really think that State is a leader in applying new media to public affairs. We did a live webcast of a presidential visit from Warsaw in 2001 and I know others were there before us.  (We were probably TOO early on this one and it went largely unnoticed.)  We have been building our social networks using webchats and outreach for several years and we got into Facebook and Twitter almost as soon as they were generally available.  I am very interested in our internal Wiki, called Diplopedia. It is really getting good and I have been using it to find out things I need to know about our activities and the Department. As I have been writing in other posts, we have been working on these things for long time, but they are now reaching critical mass and takeoff stages, phase shifts. 

My picture, BTW, is the Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  It was built by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian the Great.  Istanbul is one of my favorite places.  It is a place of wonder with its mix of Turkey with the lost civilizations of the Greeks and Romans who were there for thousands of years before ... and then were gone.  It is a place think about understanding.


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