Inspiring Response: 5 Ways Story Can Turbo-Charge Your Message

writeheart“Story is the DNA of all meaning.”  – Annette Simmons

Do your appeals have undeniable power? Do you enthrall, captivate, motivate ― and drive response?

With only weeks remaining in 2016, the cavalcade of carefully crafted requests will soon commence. For most of us, they will arrive from all points, directions and media ― email, snail mail, APPs, Facebook, texts and tweets. What will grab us? And more important, what will snag the  imaginations of our prospects? What will be deleted? Filed? Ignored? Dismissed? Or worse . . . unnoticed?

Some will be cloaked in gratitude. Others will lament the ubiquitous budget gap or unexpected organizational need. Still others are likely to promote a seductive donor challenge, captivating contest, new initiative, capital effort or recognition group.

But they should all have one thing in common ― a compelling story.

What’s the hook? And I’m not talking about a cheesy advertising gimmick or giveaway.  The power to resonate comes from the human, emotional connection.

Big, looming, seemingly logical organizational problems ― like deficits, shortfalls and even unmet needs are just that. The organization’s problems. As communicators, we must focus on the donor’s or prospect’s needs ― they are often triggered at an imperceptible, emotional and even subconscious level.

Though Marshall McLuhan might argue, the message is just as salient as the medium in this case ― especially given the media miasma engulfing us at every turn.  As I wrote in a prior post, I feel effective messaging must address the entire brain ― engaging the emotional, logical and habitual brain circuits.

Behavioral economist George Lowenstein confirms “our subconscious explains our consumer behavior better than our conscious.  Ninety percent of all purchasing decisions are not made consciously.”

Working as a writer, communicator and crafter of hundreds (maybe thousands) of appeals and calls to action throughout my career to to date, I have identified a few key elements that are absolutely essential.  [Where appropriate, I have changed names to protect client confidentiality

The Pain

This is probably the most important concept. And it’s personal.  What is the emotional state ― or discomfort your message can resolve for the prospect or donor?  According to brain theory, everything begins with an emotional nudge, which connects to the cerebral cortex or executive function of making a decision.  And the most important thing about framing a powerful request or appeal is articulating the pain in an intimate, relatable, visceral way. Compare these two.

        “I was deployed in Saudi Arabia on 9/11 . . . And I can still hear the screams . . .”             

         Corporal John Ray’s* battle-weary voice cracks and catches in his throat.

        “We were in combat overnight . . . and we weren’t prepared,” says the slight, sandy-haired U.S. Army veteran ― as he slowly brushes a single droplet of sweat from his brow. 

       “The nightmares never stop, but I just wish I had enough to eat . . . “

                                                                       (versus)

       “Veteran hunger is a growing problem in America . . . And their struggle is significant.”

The top copy is weaving a human story that’s drawing the reader into a specifically defined conflict ― not a daunting global cause that is difficult to quantify ― or feel. More to the point, one tells and one shows.

The  Problem

The next step is the core challenge or problem.  How does this pain manifest, and how does your organization or operation contextualize the issue you are addressing? Get granular. Explain why is your mission is significant, and why should we care? Again, it’s important to construct a very personal, human narrative. Here’s an excerpt form a letter:

It was January 2007. I was on a mission trip that rattled me to my very marrow ― and ultimately changed my life forever. We brought more than 285,000 nutritious meals for hungry, struggling children who were barely surviving in the war-torn squalor.

Shockingly, the meals ran out too soon. There were just too many suffering, vulnerable girls and boys like Maribel  . . . in such dire need.

 We simply did not have enough to go around . . . All  I could do was stand there and weep. So, I had to do  something. 

Are you hooked?  And better yet . . . are you wondering about the next three components? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for these and other stories. It’s a real cliffhanger . . .

In addition to the five pillars of a great appeal, there are  many other components of your content concoction. Of course, we must artfully integrate urgency, all calls to action, testimonials/success stories, various digital platforms, and customer relationship management (CRM) interfaces. But start with this formula. Start with the IMPACT ― and you will definitely turbo-charge your results.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up below. Tell me about your project. Also, watch for the next installment.  Maximize your appeal. It all starts with the story of one. 

The Art and the Science of Infinite Possibilities

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping . . .”

— George Harrison

guitarI was taking my morning walk in the crisp Texas air on Sunday and listening to the “random shuffle” on my smart phone. As indicated with crystal clarity here, there are no accidents ― a pattern to the randomness usually emerges. And George’s message in “My Guitar Gently Weeps” impacted me on a profound, new level. Admittedly, we all have our favorite Beatles’ songs, and this is definitely in my top five.

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping 
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps.”

In sync with this moment, I was attending a dazzling event over the weekend called #DreambuildersLIVE, and I thank Unity Church Dallas for offering special access to the experience.  This was the Mary Morrissey show, and she is certainly a magnetic maestro of meaning ― orchestrating mesmerizing messages in “a container” of multimedia magic.

One of her fundamental life-coaching principles is “notice what you are noticing.” This reinforces and supports my current journey ― as I find it requires vigilant practice. I think of it as “uber awareness” or “turbo mindfulness.”  And it’s essential, because our dreams all start in our own hearts and minds ― an inside job. Deftly unfolding this concept, Mary polished many glistening enlightenment nuggets in her approachable, warm style. “You can’t get TO your dream ― you must come FROM it,” says Mary. Letting that idea seep into every molecule is potemt as I envision and feel my future joy in the now ― the present moment. Be the change. Live the dream. (Need more practice.)

In this iconic song, George is definitely noticing what he is noticing. And though that darn floor is filthy and his guitar is gloomy, he chooses to see the “love there that’s sleeping.” I have read he wrote the song at his mother’s house in Warrington, England as he contemplated “I Ching, The Book of Changes.” It’s regarded one of the most important texts of Chinese wisdom and philosophy ever scribed, and it was a foundational source for Confucius and others.

I believe one of the notions George is referencing is the ethereal mystery of relationships and the interconnectedness of all things and beings in the universe.  Our oneness with all ― and one for all time. Just beginning to embrace these ideas based on ancient philosophies, twenty-first century science is now studying the hidden, untapped power of the brain and its relationship to the quantum field. In fact, “Make it MATTER” is another great Mary-ism ― linking meaning with quantum change and infinite possibilities.

Yes, Mary is vibrating at a higher frequency ― and creating a surge in the process. You could feel it in the room of more than 750 people from across the globe gathered here in Texas for a nexus of relationship and intention to generate something wonderful and good.  So refreshing as we notice . . . our “political floor may need some sweeping.” But . . .

“With every mistake we must surely be learning.”

Thriving Trumps Narcissism

Art-Painting-American-Flag-Wallpaper-HD“Before directing the lightning in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.”
—from Rasur by Roberto Brenes Mesen

As America’s fascination with Donald Trump continues to mystify me and many others across the globe, I believe I have a heightened sensitivity to his shenanigans and rhetoric, because I have struggled mightily to break free from toxic narcissists and unhealthy relationships. It’s a little like the smoker who has kicked a noxious 10-year habit. Daily, I am mindful about elevating my consciousness to recognize these insidious hooks — toning my exit muscle.

Narcissists are not intrinsically evil — as many contend, but they have developed hard-wired coping behaviors to compensate for their own deeply damaged psyches and false selves. On one level, my heart breaks for them and I do feel empathy ― even for those who have caused me such profound pain. Thankfully, I have learned that I am not responsible for their harsh judgments.  I am only responsible for my response to them.  There is absolutely no “fixing,” “repairing,” “convincing,” or “cajoling” these people.  They are who they are. That is it. The healing journey is stepping away from the tango.

Narcissists seduce, ingratiate, self-aggrandize, manipulate, denigrate and exploit, because they are desperate to neutralize their own shame ― and they have limited capacity to access their authentic inner selves.  Indeed, individuals with Narcissist Personality Disorder are perpetually looking for affirmation of an idealized, flamboyant, yet fragile, sense of self.

Et tu, Mr. President?

From a purely clinical perspective, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 criteria) Narcissistic Personality Disorder is signified by satisfying  5 of 9 of the following standards (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):

  • A grandiose logic of self-importance
  • A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty or idyllic love
  • A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
  • A desire for unwarranted admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally oppressive behavior
  • No form of empathy
  • Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
  • A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes

Philosopher and teacher Deepak Chopra said this recently:

“But in reality Trump isn’t bizarre or anomalous. He stands for something universal, something right before our eyes. It’s an aspect of the human psyche that we feel embarrassed and ashamed of, which makes it our collective secret.  Going back a century in the field of depth psychology, the secret side of human nature acquired a special name: the shadow.”

The coping mask of the narcissist is an amalgam of arrogance, entitlement and pretentiousness. He or she often professes to know all the answers to all the questions ― while monopolizing all the conversations. A narcissist may become indignant at the drop of hat ― or belittle anyone in any role if he does not receive the service or treatment expected.  I witnessed this countless times in relationship with narcissists, but I always thought things would eventually get better somehow.

Finally, the reality kicked in. Having been the frequent recipient of this vitriol, I now know this comes from unresolved anger — often unconscious. A narcissistic reacts abruptly with rage or contempt to feel superior. And he can’t stand any perception of criticism. He may even abandon you ― anytime, anywhere. I know.

But, as narcissistic abuse recovery expert Melanie Tonia Evans insists, focusing on the NARC does not help or heal us. There is no cheese down that hole. Therefore, we can analyze Donald Trump all day long, but the more we try to inspect, explain and prescribe, the more deeply we become hooked. That’s the painful irony. It becomes an excruciating no-win scenario.

“It’s like trying to wrestle an ape,” says Evans. “Impossible.”  And the real reason we do it is because we are trying to soothe our own unhealed wounds by somehow fixing and placating the narcissist. We are assuaging our own concealed feelings of inadequacy, pain and unworthiness.  His grandiose promises attract us like the circus coming to town ― filling the darkness of our hearts momentarily with sparkles of light, some cotton candy and cheesy spectacle, but as when the circus leaves town, it also leaves us desolate, depleted and feeling a little sick.

He tells us just what we want to hear ― and then, he turns on a dime and crushes us to the mat. In Trump’s case, he calls someone “an idiot,” the world “a mess,” or mocks a disabled reporter. This pumps up his ego and self-esteem. It becomes a seductive, unending cycle ― until we decide the healing must happen inside ourselves. Evans calls this the “Thriver Model.”

That’s just what we must do as a nation.

We must face the deepest unresolved traumas of our early and recent history ― racism issues that have festered since the days of slavery, institutionalized inequality, fraying of the middle class, lethal police culture, gun violence, and the list goes on . . . we must heal them from within. Individually, we must feel better about ourselves; love ourselves and each other deeply and truly — so we are not prey to the brittle, smarmy, sanctimonious charlatans.

Trumping Survival Programs

Melanie Tonia Evans says the purpose of any relationship is to reflect back and trigger unhealed parts to help us evolve and grow ― individually and collectively. With a narcissist, this opportunity is amplified and intensified, because he or she eventually obliterates our fragile survival programs.  But in a sense, this is a gift, because we can take the wake-up call as an invitation to heal what is broken in ourselves. We have the power to become whole, productive suppliers of our own support, vitality and affirmation. We do not need to look externally for validation or worth.

When we deny, disown and mask the most vulnerable parts of ourselves to ourselves ― all the fears and pains, our abuse radar does not operate effectively. This leaves us out of alignment with our true selves ― and exceptionally needy. We are unconsciously replaying tapes from our families of origin, and in the case of the election, the early and recent years of our adolescent nation.  So, we need to get real.

We are not inextricably attached to this difficult person. We do not need to make this relationship work to survive. We do not need Trump to take us to some sort of vague “great place.”

It’s time to wake up, America! It’s an inside job.

Stream of Consciousness

teardropI am a seeker ― with far more questions than answers, and in recent days, my queries have been dramatically outnumbering my explanations.  Fortunately, in the past decade, my lifelong spiritual quest has led me to the sagacious sphere of one Dr. Joe Clifford.  And that’s why I pen this post today.  Alas, I am struggling with his recent announcement that he and his family will be leaving our frazzled city in less than a month. Intellectually, I know this sadness will pass, and Dallas/#DallasStrong will persevere somehow, but I still feel an overwhelming sense of  loss.

References to Joe’s canny wisdom and his super-human pastoral care shimmer across the pages of my blog like freshly cut gems.  Since 2009, the content I have crafted here has included both professional and personal musings ― more like a meandering stream of consciousness than a stake in the ground, but these ideas started spilling forth way before Twitter was cool and Snap even considered Chatting.  And, this stream has definitely ebbed and flowed . . .

Now, thinking about the soul-rattling events of recent weeks and days, my own profound healing journey over the past seven years, and Joe’s impending departure, I can’t help but recall one of the first posts I was ever inspired to write. It was about a “Joe sermon.”  And several years later, I actually had the good fortune to do some “official” blog writing for First Presbyterian Church ― helping amplify the impact of Joe’s insights and the Word of God.  A career highlight and honor. 

An excerpt from that April 2009 post:

Joe has an extraordinary capacity to inform and enrich my path in ways that are difficult to articulate. Today was an excellent example. He talked about the celebration of Easter wearing off as we entered a week punctuated by the bleakness of tax day, difficult professional challenges ― real life, etc. Then, he said a friend forwarded him the Susan Boyle link on Wed ― the astonishing performance of the unassuming 47-year-old on Britain’s Got Talent, who has captured the world’s imagination. He says he does not have time for all the forwarded email he receives, but he opened this one for some reason.

He said he wept ― and he asked the congregation how many of us had seen it and wept. Most of those present raised their hands. He went on to describe theologian Frederick Buechner‘s take on the origin of these tears. I now cannot get enough Buechner. He ponders:

How do you listen to your life? How do you get into the habit of doing it? How do you keep ears cocked and your eye peeled for the presence of God or the presence of anything else? One thing I have said, which I think is true, is to pay attention to any of those moments in your life when unexpected tears come in your eyes. You never know when that may happen, what may trigger them. Very often I think if you pay attention to those moments, you realize that something deep beneath the surface of who you are, something deep beneath the surface of the world, is trying to speak to you about who you are . . .

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and summoning you to where you should go to next.

Joe said we have a profound, spiritual reaction to joy ― to God. And it’s not enough to experience the moment ― we must use it as a way to discover our own life’s calling, what God has called us to do and be.

The world is hurting ― facing daunting challenges. I believe we are called to pay attention, be vigilant in our consciousness, and bare our hearts. Thank you for helping us do all of those things along the way, Joe.  Godspeed to you and your family . . .  with a smile and a tear.

This may not be Susan Boyle, but it’s a moment ― for now.

The power of marketing from the inside out!

dotsOne of the intriguing things about being a consultant is that I often have the opportunity to connect the dots in tantalizingly new ways. Taking a step back, I look inside myself for a moment, and often, I learn something I did not expect to see. That’s always pretty darn exhilarating.

Seems I have been working with a couple of clients in very different product and customer spaces–but I now see a common thread that has emerged around workforce empowerment and driving employee behavior. Well, tomes have been written on human behavior, you might say. But I’ve got an angle.

Ghost Stories

Back to my headline. Lately, I have been completely fascinated with this concept of developing marketing strategies for companies from the inside out. That is, making your employees your best recruiters and your most potent marketers. Fortify them with everything they need to communicate your message. I am currently ghostwriting a blog for successful small business consultant/coach, and he talks at length about the importance of empowering entrepreneurs and their employees. He says they are much more than task purveyors, and thinking about what drives them (on the inside) is essential.  There was super article on LinkedIn last month about this very topic–seeing your employees as talent/brand ambassadors.  Key elements include:

  • Training your entire workforce
  • Engaging them in the process
  • Recognizing/Validating
  • Measuring
  • Rewarding/Validating
  • Repeat . . . and did I say recognizing and rewarding?

 Field Notes

The other client is a major retail consumer brand deploying a complex, matrixed, supply-chain, customer-management system. How are these the same, you ask? Well, this initiative requires a gigantic shift in workforce behavior and technology process adoption. The front line is the “cash register” of the company, and that impacts every single employee. Seamless execution requires a well-oiled communication machine that empowers and engages the entire operation in action and accountability–from the inside out.  So . .  . from a communication perspective, I’m thinking the bullet points required are very similar to what I’ve listed above.

Think of every employee is a virtual “internal-preneur,” invested in the company’s positive outcome, no matter what the challenge. Our job is to create this program with the artful orchestration of social media, email, blogging, video, karaoke, and many other appealing participation opportunities.

Something to consider. . .

It’s All INREACH: Marketing Revisited

Inreach_sand“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.”

― David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

I hear nonprofits use the word “outreach” frequently.  We are doing an “outreach.” This can refer to everything from mission-driven programming — to marketing to fundraising.  They may even have an “outreach” department.” And many have even made it a verb. “We are outreaching across the globe.” But this brings to mind a sort of broad, cast-the-net-style effort, as opposed to a more targeted, precise, systematic approach — focused on engagement, conversions and revenue generation.  It’s like using the term email “blast,” versus “campaign” or “appeal.”

Recently, when I was working with one of my “heart” projects, I had one of those light-bulb moments. I really think there might be a more useful way to think about marketing for nonprofits — specifically digital tactics. And, actually, I suspect this can be applied across the board to other enterprises.

Ending the Silence is an important and powerful new program designed to help begin the conversation with adolescents about mental health and diminish the stigma that is so often a barrier to treatment.   The National Alliance of Mental Illness of Dallas (NAMI Dallas) is launching this region’s program in high schools, community centers and churches with high-impact, resource-rich presentations on how to recognize the warning signs of suicide and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and others.

The dedicated volunteer team is passionate about creating a solid foundation for growth — and is recognizing the value of building a sophisticated digital lead-generation engine.  To underscore this importance, I proposed a mental flip.  “Let’s think about outreach as INREACH.”

In reality, when we use targeted marketing tools effectively, we are actually attracting suspects, prospects, and clients/donors based on their terms and interests.  We are simply opening the door— allowing the momentum of their needs to flow— satisfying their unquenched desires for life-changing experiences — inside. It’s just a different way of looking at the process.

Feeding the Beast

Consider SEO and SEM – the alchemy of Google — great examples of “inreach.” They are both cottage industries and sciences in their own right that intertwine.  Basically, Google is hungry beast; it’s favorite food is content — (and, of course, paid advertising.) But we as content producers want to create content Google craves — and that’s content that allows us to be FOUND when people search. SEO best practices (and white-hat tricks) help us do that.  Keywords give us the clues we need to tell us how our prospects are looking for us.  As digital marketers and humans, really, we would probably be better served if were more focused on “inreaching,” in general, as opposed to outreaching.   If we think more about how we can frame our missions in ways that satisfy the needs of our donors/partners/clients—instead of how that donor (or partner) will satisfy us, we will be much further down the success highway.

After all, when you think about it, we are all merely facilitators of desire . . .

What are you reaching for on the outside that has been inside — all along?

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”    — Dorothy

Creating Compelling Content 101

Yes, it’s a common lament.  I hear this wistful question almost daily. What should I blog about?  What do I have to say? Well, the answer to that question is “plenty.”  The biggest challenge is editing — prioritizing and redefining what makes sense within the context of your brand and your audience engagement strategy.  I recently stumbled across this infographic on the Copyblogger by Danny Iny.  It’s called “22 Ways to Create Compelling Content When You Don’t Have a Clue.”  Love the whimsy of the infographic format as a idea generator. Take a gander. Bet you will be creating in no time!

22-content-suggestions-for-blogs

Mindfulness is the Message

timeWhen we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love. – Thich Nhat Hanh

I was chatting with an old pal recently, and he quipped, “You know, Elaine, you seem very high on this social-media-from -inside-out concept.  Perhaps you should focus on that.”  He was referring to empowering internal teams to serve as social media promoters.

Well, I began to ponder it a bit and realized–good idea, but probably easier said than done. I saw a recent Gallup study that indicated more than 85% of employees are unhappy with their current jobs. Employees and managers reported feeling stress or boredom as the two most common experiences throughout the workday. The high cost to employers is absenteeism, burnout, lost productivity and disengagement. Certainly, if your employees are not engaged, they are most likely not going to be the most passionate brand advocates.

So, maybe inside out is the right notion.  But, we must start—not inside the business—but inside each individual.  Satisfaction does not just happen—Mr. Jagger taught us that.  However, many from my friend’s generation might say, “You pay them to make it their business.”  The truth is there appears to be something missing. It’s not something that can be filled in with a couple of posters on the wall, free donuts on Friday, or a holiday potluck.  It requires something deeper and more profound—a deliberate shift in consciousness.

Mindfulness—it’s about being fully present and engaged in the moment and taking responsibility for what’s working, what’s not and your reactions to it. This is the radical personal epiphany I have had in the past six months—which has changed the way I perceive everything.  I think we all exist so much of the time on autopilot—particularly at work. We blame others for our predicaments and often feel powerless. Or, we get into a tragic rhythm of “just getting through the day.”  No wonder we feel cranky and demoralized. Or, we are constantly worrying what else we should be doing at any given point in time. Or, we’re anxious about politics, about what the boss thinks, potential layoffs, the other gal’s promotion— you name it—all things over which we have no control. It’s a recipe for emotional mayhem.

To plug into the creative juice and to joy, we need to cultivate clarity, communication, peace — and consciousness. Plus, a little fun. That may be what Google and Zappos have been able to foster in their environments.

However, the first step is to get clear about who you are. Make sure you know you, what you are about, and what success will look like when you get there. Sounds easy enough, but hey, as my experience has shown, this is probably the hardest part. 

Next post – we’ll review some easy ways to begin living more mindfully. Mindfulness 101 . . . ways to start now. Let me know what you think.

Letting Go.

Roses_3_1.0

“Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.”  

– Voltaire

On Saturday, we honored the memory of Everett E. Gantz Jr. with a quiet, traditional Episcopal memorial service.  After nearly 89 years on this earth, my father was still an enigma to many— and to me in many ways. Few truly knew the man behind the stoic, Midwestern-chiseled facade— and the charismatic artist/wife of more than 50 years.  Thankfully, my dear sister Melissa gave a lovely, instructive “reflection” that filled gaps and hearts.

The loss is palpable—and beginning with my mother’s devastating stroke in January 2010, the grieving process has been a lingering one.

Plus, as a single, working mother of two growing boys, remembering to “put the oxygen mask on first” is a constant effort—and a daily focus of my mindfulness practice. However, I am certainly no role model for the “sandwich generation,” and I guarantee you that I still get tangled up in the roughage, as it were.  Still, I have come to understand that the frustrating stubbornness and vitriol I have encountered on “both sides of the bun” often mask the poignant vulnerabilities that quite frequently melt my heart.

Mastin Kipp, one of my favorite daily inspirational mentors, says, “When you let go and admit it, accept that you have moments of being a mess, and you share that feeling at times with the rest of us, then you can step into a larger, freer life.”

So, with another Mother’s Day behind us and a new normal dawning, I have revisited something I wrote several years ago for my mom:

Letting go.

No need to give to feel anymore.

Her bare spirit shines — less the veneer.
Without speech, without talk
Now real.

Transcending words.
The essence of her soul.
Awareness without comprehension,
Cognition, no.

She looks at me finally – and actually sees.

Letting go of need.
Content to be.
Helpless though.
Fights her wheeled prison.
Her body knows now
To bridge the chasm.

There between this Scylla and Charybdis.

And yet he still clings.
Together alone.
Denies to suppress — but never go home.

Letting go of control.
But the seizures defy
The years and the secrets
He insists to know why.

Anger. Passion. Pain.

A stone cold wall.
What a loss — so far.
Tear us apart and we fall.

Oh, to let love  . .  .

So, letting go.

–Elaine

Time for Social Media Therapy in 2014?

enough time for social mediaBrian Solis, one of the pioneering voices in social media and one of my fave raconteurs, wrote a provocative year-end post called My So-Called Digital Life. In it, he turns a harsh light on social media behavior and questioned its value in our lives. As we look to the year ahead and prepare to orchestrate our communication plans—either for personal or business impact, I believe Solis’ thoughts resonate.

Whether it’s selfies, the sandwich on your plate, life events, new profile pictures, a vacation spot, your updated relationship status, a provocative quote, a random icebreaker, or humble brag,  we are wired for instant response and reaction. He observes, “With every action, we expect an equal or greater reaction.” It seems we are learning to measure our intrinsic worth as human beings in likes, comments, shares, retweets, and the coveted “favorite-d” tweet.  Solis contends, “We invite attention because we’re learning to lean on it and the reactions that pour through our screens warm us.  It reminds us that we’re appreciated, that we’re loved, that we’re alive.”

But, this is hollow praise, isn’t it? Superficial, temporal, and oh so fleeting—plus, it’s dependent on the whims and approval of others.  It is only a flimsy substitution for a core sense of self-worth and soul substance. Most any therapist would tell you this is not a solid plan for long-term mental health. Perhaps Solis is right. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate “the system”—to move on to a more psychologically healthy phase of social media– giving us the opportunity to invest differently and get more substance out of our digital lifestyle—and  perhaps more meaning out of our lives as a whole. Here are some initial musings for 2014:

mindfulness1. Engage in mindfulness. I think one way to transcend the shallow cycle of self-involvement is to approach social media with a sense of mindfulness—that is, try experiencing the moment fully for yourself first before commenting or feeling compelled to share or garner feedback.  Stay present and conscious – with yourself and for yourself first and foremost. Stay in the moment. Observe, yes, but participate fully and mindfully  in your own life.

2. Make it valuable.  The second is also pretty practical, too. If you are in business, focus on your customer’s needs and therefore and serving up relevant, engaging content that is worth their time and attention. Make it about value—early and often.

3. Put it in context. For the most part, we’ve begun to embrace content marketing, but in 2014, we’ll become more sophisticated about its deployment. We’ll discover that context is essential—especially with respect to the specific social channels used, media, target audiences, times of day . . . the many variables that define and design its relevance.   Brands should start asking themselves, “How are people using a particular social channel?” and “What makes a channel unique?” Then they will create contextually relevant content based on those insights. More and more, marketers will discover content may be king, but the power is in the context.

4.   Communicate from the inside out. This has been my mantra for a couple of years—particularly for small businesses, but it’s expanding into the enterprise social media realm.  This may seem painfully obvious, but social media synergy happens, well, socially.  Collaboration is the best way to ignite engagement. It’s that simple, and it starts with your internal team. They know your business best, anyway. You pay them to make it their business, right?  Empower them instead of thwarting them on social profiles. Give them guidelines and messaging to carry forward, around, and through.  We are talking about cultivating the social employee. We cannot communicate externally until we communicate internally. Good to remember in just about any context.

Snack, nibble, taste5. Snack, nibble and taste. Content need not be a bitter pill or a long dreary blog post. Make it tasty, fun and delicious. Make a quick 60-second video. Share a serious of fun photos or a really cool infographic.  Video. Video. Video.  Short-form video—Twitter’s Vine app and Instagram’s 15-second video make it incredibly easy to create and share this short-form content, so take the time to not only understand how to use these platforms but also how users consume content on them.

6.  Divide and conquer. It’s time to reel in the scatter-shot approach. Cultivate a solid presence in one or two channels rather than dominate every single platform.  Re-purpose your content as webinars, blog posts, ebooks, videos and social media content. Go for frequency and volume.  Stop whipping yourself into a social media frenzy– unless you enjoy that sort of thing! And for heaven’s sake, go for LinkedIn—especially if you are not maximizing it already. Develop a comprehensive LI strategy that leverages leadership profiles, group participation and your company profile.  LinkedIn is poised for major growth and impact in 2014—and if you’re in business and not on there, you’ll be missing the boat. Watch for some big feature announcements.

Your content awaits  . . . What are your thoughts for social media mindfulness?

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