Monday, September 28, 2009

The Town Crier

When I responded to a post on Beth Kanter's blog all I was trying to do was win a copy of Twitterville, a new book from Shel Israel. As I left my comment, my fingers typed the words "town crier." I hadn't given it much thought, and given how busy I've been at my new job it simply floated away from me.

Beth asked me to do a follow up on it, and I neglected that as well. Finally though, I'm back to thinking about that phrase and how it applies to marketing, social media and engagement marketing both in the non-profit sector and in general.

First of all, I had to look up "town crier" to make sure my analogy wasn't off-base right from the start. Wikipedia confirms what I thought and even adds some texture to the phrase:

A town crier is an officer of the court who makes public pronouncements as required by the court Black's Law Dictionary. The crier can also be used to make public announcements in the streets. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat.

They carry a handbell to attract people's attention, as they shout the words "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!" before making their announcements. The word "Oyez" means "hear ye," which is a call for silence and attention. Oyez derives from the Anglo-Norman word for listen. The proclamations book in Chester from the early 19th century records this as O Yes, O Yes!

What I meant in my comment "Our current use of Twitter (and Facebook status updates) is at best a "town crier" model right now - a rough way today to disseminate information quickly" is just that. It's us dressing elaborately (our logo, tagline, website and more) and clanging our bell yelling "hear ye, hear ye" through any and all available channels (youtube, facebook, twitter etc).

I don't know about you, but I'm not a huge fan of town criers. The very idea of standing on a corner demanding attention bothers me. They are doing so much yelling, there is no way they could possibly listen. Back in the day, this may have been an effective way to drive branding, close sales and get attention, but today it just feels like yelling.

I am really pushing myself and Autism Speaks to start to listen, both to each other internally and to our constituents. I've been able to talk a good game so far when it comes to listening first, but now it's time to put the pieces in place and use listening first as a way to gather feedback and perspective, but as a way to have a conversation with our communities.

Whatever the opposite of "town crier" is what I'm after. It's face time, personal relationships and respect.

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