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Blogging Accountability and Respect for Your Audience

I have been meaning to explore this topic for a while but a recent post by Olivier Blanchard has convinced me to write it now. If you read his post and the comments – and I recommend you do – you will notice he caused quite a controversy; not by the topic but the inferences made within it and the style in which it was delivered.  

It raised the issue of blogger and author accountability.

But before I begin, I need to frame the discussion and a possible perceived “conflict of interest” that some of you may have and I would assume some will claim. The huckle buckle over the aforementioned post has to do with Olivier’s use of a single example to support a passionate diatribe on deceptive copy. The example used is from an event that my firm, Sensei Marketing, is co-producing with Social Media Club called Social Media Masters. Olivier made valid points about the importance of copywriting, which lead to the copy in question being updated; however, his argument was undermined by some fairly inflammatory inferences and the unnecessarily dramatic comments that flowed from all parties afterward.

For me, I found the whole melodrama quite an amusing exploration of the human character. It was fascinating to watch the commentary in particular as this really to me is where the value runs deep.

So if you are an enterprise marketing leader with bloggers/authors on staff or an author/blogger looking to connect and/or disconnect (as the case may be) from your audience, please… read on!

 

Self vs. Public Perceptions

I’ve always lived by the words “the accountability for a message lies on the creator”. If I create a message, the reaction that message creates is a direct result of my words, style, and tone. Therefore, if my audience responds poorly/negatively, I created a message that influenced that reaction, either consciously if it was my intent; or unconsciously if it was not my intent or had latent unresolved emotional issues with my subject or audience.  

The reverse of the above situation of course is when I create a message where my audience responds well. Then I also own that and perhaps I understand or respect the emotional/logical needs of my audience, again either consciously or unconsciously, for a positive response. 

I explain this because it’s very important to understand the following for anyone who creates content or manages those who create content. Every word we choose to use builds a perception in those who read it. At the same time, these words are interpreted for tone (which goes to respect) and style (which goes to character) to create an experience – positive, negative or indifferent. Every experience augments audience perception one way or the other.  

The kicker is that depending on how we perceive ourselves and our own messages, our perception can often vary wildly from that of our audience. So while we may think we created a great, compelling argument it can be perceived as negative. 

Depending on who you are, you might be quite aware of the above and therefore decide to create controversy on purpose, which I believe is the case here with Olivier Blanchard. And let me say that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with creating controversy. I myself have done it numerous times on purpose to challenge current thinking or stir things up. 

Others however may not be cognisant of the impact their message, tone and style has on the audience and therefore need to become aware of these factors to align their own perceptions with that of their audience.

 

What is the Intent of Your Writing?

Everyone who writes needs to be aware of their intent. This accomplishes two very, very important things.

  1. It telegraphs and aligns your perception with the audience. This allows for a deeper connection, even in controversy.
  2. It prepares you, the writer, for any backlash you may experience from the audience so your response has positive intent.

 Where many writers fall down and go on the defensive to rationalize their writing or message is when they start with one intent and then change intent based upon audience reaction. This is particularly important if you are going to write critical pieces.

 

Owning Your Actions

We have all witnessed this. It is the moment when someone is “called out’ for their actions and that person shifts accountability for their own actions onto something or someone else. For me, it tends to be disappointing when I see it in the same way its admirable to see someone own their actions, no matter the consequences.

It must go back to when we were kids and a deeply ingrained behaviour to point at a sibling and say “he did it!!” or “it just fell” or my personal fav: “I dunno…”

It’s kinda cute when it’s a kid but it’s fairly pathetic when its an adult.

So here’s the thing… regardless of whether we own up to it or not, the decision to write, blog or tweet is ours alone. Every single word is chosen by us and when we hit that submit or send button we are 100% responsible for it.  

To be clear, I am fairly certain that nationality, race, religion, politics, up bringing, etc do not make you choose certain actions or say certain things. It’s a cop out to claim that. .

 

Respect for Your Readership

How many of us have read articles or blogs where it is clear that the author does not have respect for their audience. Again, it is seen and felt in the words, tone and style. As a writer, respect for your audience is the one thing you can never lose unless your intent is to polarize your audience into love-hate categories.  

Some classic respect blunders…

-          Belittling your audience or a rival in the blog, article or comments. If you have to step on others to raise yourself up, you are guaranteed a short stay at the top.

-          Using a condescending tone. Nothing shows contempt for someone more quickly than using a condescending tone. And yes, all writing has a tone whether you mean it to or not.

-          Arrogance. When you act like or tell people you are the smartest person in the room it typically means you’re not. Even in cases where you may be, no one likes to feel inferior. Arrogance also keeps a person from saying they were wrong.

-          Not listening to or acknowledging reader counter arguments or comments.

Some of these are obvious to see and others are not. At the same time, all can be felt and perceived by the audience and really, that’s all that matters.

 

Watching for these Traits in Your Enterprise Bloggers

While these traits are much more prevalent in authors or independent bloggers, they can come up in the enterprise and not always right away. The best approach to spot potential problems is to stay vigilant on comments.  

A blog post or article can sometimes go wrong and that’s forgivable, but comments, particularly critical comments are flash points where you will spot unfavourable traits if they exist at all. 

In the end, we own our actions as much as we are responsible for our reactions to what others do or say. Whether we choose to travel a darker road is up to us. Just know that the reward for either path is to reap what we sow.

 

On Olivier’s post

As for Olivier’s post, well my opinion is it is possible it was personal vs. SMC to some degree, but I have had instances where I have seen/read something that singularly inspired me to write an article or post. Really no way to know and depending on your perceptions or how you feel about the man personally, you could go either way.

What I can say is my perception was he showed a lack of respect at points which was his choice. He’s a big boy and knows the pros and cons of that kind of approach. Whether you as a reader choose to take issue with it is your call. 

Same applies to the people making the comments. They chose to comment and respond to him and own those actions. Should he apologize? Not in my opinion. He didn’t do anything wrong.  

Me, I approached it like a scientist studying human behaviour patterns. I found it all quite fascinating.

Jeff Wilson

 

Sensei Marketing

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IronGiantBC
IronGiantBC 5pts

Sorry guys, posted to wrong article. Will repost there. Sigh.

IronGiantBC
IronGiantBC 5pts

Disagree that it's a new exercise. Business strategy has always been a balanced approach to preparing for opportunities as well as threats.

Gotta love the Danes: in The Emperor's New Clothes, it's not about protecting the Emperor from the wise words of children and explaining it away better. It's about believing your own convictions and values, and firing the tailors in the first place. Today, with hypermedia, there is simply a lot more of those childrens' voices for a greater cummulative effect, with more amplification and velocity compared to 'old school', over-the-fence word-of-mouth.

Defensiveness and wrestling control ... the language implies and denotes even moreso a sly playing of cards - even heightens a sense of confrontation with customers. The last thing business needs is to be guarded and unauthentic. In many cases no rift may exist at all for many companies; today's brand management should simply include an explicit acknowledgement by the Emporer of a greater transparency that needs additional explaining, dialogue, and open forum with his subjects. Firms that don't stick to their values, that don't listen to customers, that don't have an open dialogue SHOULD fail [or hire Sensei Marketing to save them ;-) ].

I think Eisner's words are still relevant. Gestures are TO and FOR someone (customers). They are more than messages and imagery, they are also actions and experiences. If there are some gestures in return - be it thousands or hundreds of thousands - those are now opportunities either to thank them for helping to build brand value, or to thank them for helping to repair it on the fly. If the customers are inside the wall with you as you do the right things, there should be a reduced need to fortify and defend.

Jump in, join, and engage the crowd as allies about your new clothes. You don't have to listen to all their fashion advice but you won't be caught without your pants.

aandoni6
aandoni6 5pts

I think it is a combination of both, as well it should be. Organizations should always be proactive when they are developing their brands but they should also be listening to their audiences and reacting to the buzz surrounding their brand-be it negative or positive.

RicDragon
RicDragon 5pts

I’m not sure I agree with those words you’ve lived by, that “accountability for a message lies on the creator”. I’ve seen firsthand how intent and impact have gone their separate ways on many occasions, and get a feeling that both parties have accountability in miscommunications. Sure, sometimes you might point to one or the other and say that they have the larger responsibility, depending on the context – but not as a blanket rule.

If someone walking through an airport says to his friend, “wow, that was a bomb of a flight”, and then gets tackled by security, we certainly can say that his insensitivity to the context made him culpable. On the other hand, I’ve heard someone say something perfectly innocent like, “excuse me, can I squeeze by” and be on the receiving end of a blistering, “are you saying I’m obese?!?”

Having read the post AND the copy (before it was re-edited) – I didn’t feel the copy was out of line. I also don’t agree with the author’s notion that advanced social media techniques can’t be taught, and that marketing professionals can’t advance their careers. We’re still very much in the nascent years of social – and I am seeing that various people are working on elements of the play book that aren’t ubiquitous yet. My hunch is that the next few years are going to be chock-full of advances in how we approach social. Exciting times!

samfiorella
samfiorella moderator 5pts

@IronGiantBC Thanks Laurie! Excellent analogy! I hope you'll join us tonight on the debate where we'll be hashing out both sides of this debate!

jeffthesensei
jeffthesensei 5pts

Hey Ric,

Thanks for the comment and interesting times indeed. Yes, you are correct that accountability lies on both sides, but we can never control what others will think or how they will react. What we can control is our own role in sending clear communications.

For me i use it as a blanket rule and it has served me well although of course there have been times when it has not or despite my best intentions the communication was perceived as the opposite.

What i do know is that as more enterprise companies enter the social sphere with hundreds of bloggers or contributors on staff, it is going to become part of their risk management strategy to watch for off-brand behaviour.

Thanks again for commenting!

Jeff - Sensei