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It’s always interesting to learn about what you do through someone else’s eyes. When there’s an opportunity for candid feedback, use it to refine your business strategy and look more innovatively at your performance.

The Brainzooming™ Group had a wonderful opportunity to get reactions to our strategic planning process last week from Nate Riggs. Nate started Social Business Strategies to help mid-sized & large organizations develop social media strategies and build internalized Human Business Teams.

Last Tuesday, The Brainzooming Group facilitated a large (35 person) social media strategic planning session for a four-year university. Nate Riggs was invaluable for his experience in working with other higher educational institutions on social media approaches.

We modified several Brainzooming strategy-building exercises to facilitate the large group and came away with great learnings. Nate’s first-time reactions to how we efficiently and effectively manage strategic conversations were also helpful in continuing to refine our process. You can get a quick sense of Nate’s views in this video and in his follow-up blog post on the strategic planning session.

Take a look, and let us know any questions you have on the approach, either for large groups or for developing social media strategy. – Mike Brown

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The Free State Social took place in Lawrence, KS, April 27-28, 2010. The program featured a great line-up of social media luminaries from both the national and regional scene. Based on a prior client commitment developing its social media strategy (the topic for tomorrow’s post), it wasn’t practical to be able to attend the Free State Social. Based on all the great tweets and video coming from the conference, however, it was clearly a innovative environment at the new Oread Hotel in Lawrence.

Tara Saylor Litzenberger was one of the attendees, and from the enthusiasm of her tweets, I asked her to recap her take-aways for Brainzooming readers. Tara describes herself as an “easily-amused web nerd who writes about farm equipment for a living.” She readily cops to shameless addictions to coffee, Twizzlers, and Lolcats. And although Tara says she seldom leaves comments on blogs (something she plans to remedy), I’m glad she decided to guest post and share her highlights from the Free State Social:

I love, love, LOVED the Free State Social. I freely admit I’m the biggest nerd in my department, possibly the entire office, so it was a real treat to spend time with like-minded nerds to talk about the state of the social internet– and its future.

Archives of the presentations will be online soon- watch @FreeStateSocial for updates- and there are tons of great tweets summarizing the event.

Some of my big take-aways:

  • It’s just another channel – Chris Brogan started the day by refusing to even talk about Twitter, and Jeremiah Owyang closed by reminding everyone not to fall in love with the tools you use. It was refreshing to hear because social media is the shiny new buzzword in corporate America, but the principles of using it effectively are the same marketing principles as we’ve been using for years.
  • Have a strategy before you start – Jeremiah went so far as to say that if your company doesn’t have support systems in place, don’t even engage. Again, it sounds perfectly logical, but it gets lost in all the “you gotta get a twitter account” hype.
  • Real time is not fast enough – Companies need to have a plan to deal with ugly situations before they happen. Letting something sit overnight- or worse, for an entire weekend- simply isn’t an option.

There were a few other topics that came up that really got me thinking, too:

Bloggers as Journalists

There was a lot of discussion around bloggers as journalists, which makes a lot of sense considering the event was sponsored by a news organization and the whole Gizmodo iPhone case was a current event in the online community.

But do all bloggers need to be counted as journalists? I blog, but I tend to post funny stories about daily life, not news. I don’t worry about citing my sources because my source is almost always me.

Then again, there are some basic tenets to content creation I’m following. I’m using my own pictures. I don’t try to pass off someone else’s work as mine. I give credit (and links) where credit is due. They’re the same rules I’ve been following in my professional life as a copywriter, but they’re also ingrained into journalism.

Vocal Critics

The second area I’d have like to talk about more was vocal minorities and backlash. There was a brief discussion around the Motrin Mom debacle, but it was largely around response times. We all know that there are passionate influencers out there, and as marketers, we try to reach them.

But is there a point when a vocal minority starts taking a brand hostage, along the lines of Green Peace and Nestle? Does an angry YouTube video become the digital equivalent of rappelling into a shareholders meeting?

We’ve come to accept that there are audiences that will never be happy with your company, no matter what it does, but where are the lines? Especially if you work for a company that people love to hate, like Monsanto?

The best part of an event like the Free State Social? Thanks to all the tools we use (Twitter, Facebook, even email and Google Buzz), the conversation isn’t going to stop just because the event is over.  – Tara Saylor Litzenberger

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Whether telling a story personally or in business, the natural inclination is probably to include all the information perceived as relevant. Conveying complete information is truthful and also can make you feel as if you’re doing everything possible to create understanding.

But while sharing complete information may make it seem as if you’re doing your part to convey a message, it’s not necessarily the case. Sharing the complete story might really be undermining the impact of your message.

In “Made to Stick,” both “Simplicity” and “Unexpectedness” are discussed among six fundamental strategic characteristics for helping an idea take hold and remain in a listener’s mind.

Not constraining yourself to telling a complete story (as defined by including every detail) can simplify the audience’s listening experience. And inserting previously omitted details for dramatic effect can allow you to strategically improve how memorable your tale will be.

Want an outstanding example? This short video by Fr. Larry Richards contains one of the most memorable stories I’ve ever heard. Its simplicity and sense of the unexpected make it truly memorable. Take a look and think about how you can create the same sense of drama in some of your most familiar stories. Mike Brown

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Maybe  your mother is the source of your innovation constraints.

Okay, I’m not really blaming your Mother. But when I talk to my classes on Sales and Integrated Marketing Communications strategy about how people are persuaded I always mention her. Well, not her specifically, but Mothers in general.

One of the lessons my Mother taught me—and I’m guessing yours did as well—is that we should stick to our word. If you tell someone you are going to do something, you should do it. Great advice if you want to be thought of as a truthful, reliable person. You can overdo it, however, when you internalize that rule. The result can be behavior and thinking that are too constrained by our past words and actions.

In his great book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, behavioral psychologist Robert Cialdini identifies and labels six “Weapons of Influence.” Among them is one he calls “Commitment and Consistency.” Cialdini says the essence of commitment and consistency is,Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to behave in ways that justify our earlier decision.”

Cialdini offers some additional and more nuanced reasons as to how and why commitment and consistency works, but I use the shorthand: Cause my mother told me to keep my word. Of course, she also told me, “Don’t be stupid,” and that’s just what we are doing if we let our past actions be inappropriate constraint on how we approach the future. – Barrett Sydnor

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Despite some good friends who can’t believe this is the case, it’s challenging for me to talk to new people, especially in a large group setting. After working to improve, it’s a little more natural than previously, but it can still make me very uncomfortable.

That’s why the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City Portfolio Showcase was a reach for me last week in more ways than one. Beyond having to stand in one spot and attempt to strike up conversations with people walking by our table, it also meant it was vital we further refined the Brainzooming elevator speech. Getting our message down to a few words has been a challenge since what we do can seem very intangible to people. This has been especially true for those who haven’t been exposed to how Brainzooming helps organizations  rapidly expand their strategic options and create innovative plans.

Interestingly though, it was actually easier to hone our business message among people less familiar with what we do. Approaching it with fewer preconceptions, we got the messaging down much more effectively than we had previously. One key difference was removing a constraint we all often cling to: sticking to the situations in which we’re the most comfortable. – Mike Brown

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Working on a client project last week, an unusual constraint was placed on the project. The marketing lead for the multimedia presentation dictated there be no narration on the 3 to 5 minute piece. As each creative team member pointed out how narration would be such a help in getting the message across, he would reiterate his statement, “That’s great. And maybe narration will put it over the top, but it has to work without any narration at all.”

While it seemed to be a frustrating and potentially very unnecessary constraint, there was clearly a strategic rationale for his statement.  The narration would be the last element within an incredibly time-sensitive project. The voiceover itself would be a highly variable creative element where subjective opinions about its quality or tone could completely undermine the deliverable, i.e., if the CEO didn’t ultimately like the voiceover, the whole project could fall apart at the last hour.

By imposing what seemed like a ridiculous constraint, he forced stronger, more complete performance on other creative aspects of the production. He also left the possibility of a voice over as a bonus and not a possibly vulnerable critical element. What an interesting strategy, and one worth considering when you want to protect yourself from the potentially weakest variable in your equation. – Mike Brown

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This week will focus on various types of constraints. At first, constraints seem to be big NO’s to innovation. Applied at particular times (i.e., after implementation has been started) that can be true. Early on in ideation, however, constraints can force considering radical and innovative alternatives which would have never been considered under more typical circumstances.

Some constraints are so insidious they absolutely blind us to simple and very obvious decisions we should be making to improve our situation. Other constraints are there to drive stronger performance from a narrower list of variables. Frequently, defining a certain business model strategy for your brand poses constraints which stand in the way of best serving customers.

The key, ultimately, is being able to be innovative and successful irrespective of the strategic constraints you face.

This week’s topic was inspired recently when thinking about how to fit more exercise into my day. Having a 9th floor office with the nearest ice machine 3 floors away, it was easy to walk 20 or 30 flights of stairs daily simply through bypassing the elevator several times. Now, in a first floor office, there’s no comparable opportunity, or so I thought.

I start nearly every weekday by attending mass. When traveling for business, this has created the opportunity to visit to some of the country’s great cathedrals and some pretty intimate little churches as well. Often with no rental car, I think nothing of walking two to three miles roundtrip to get to the nearest church with an early morning service.

Yet after going to daily mass at home for more than 11 years at a church that’s about a mile away from our house, I’d not walked to mass one time! For whatever reason, my perception of time limitations in the morning precluded me from even considering walking.

Recently, however, I saw a 70+ year old fellow parishioner walking home from church. She wouldn’t accept my offer of a ride as a major thunderstorm moved into the area. Her perseverance though opened my eyes to the meaningless constraint which had prevented me from walking.

The next day I tried it the first time. It was a prayerful 12 minute opportunity to start the day in a new way, along with registering two miles of exercise before 7:10 in the morning! All because of finally realizing how I was unnecessarily constraining myself. – Mike Brown

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