The Storytelling Covenant, Part 2

Theatre masks.
(Drawing by Ikiyuzlu)







[Scene: Audience member is at home chilling on the sofa with his laptop. He surfs to Enter Jason Dean.]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Skeptically) Why should I read your post?

JASON DEAN: (Enthusiastically): If you’re open-minded and read it from start to finish, I promise you’ll find it interesting. You may even find it informative. What do you do?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a content marketer.

JASON DEAN: Great! You may even find this post useful and applicable to your professional practice.

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Technology and the Rise of Values-Based Consumerism

As a communicator, I’m interested in the various ways technology affects the way we all access, consume and distribute information. The affordances of smartphones and social media, for example, give consumers a window, like never before, into the behaviour of businesses they deal with. All of this has given rise to what can be called “values-based consumerism.”

Man's hands shown holding tablet.
Technology, such as smartphones, tablets and social media, has helped with the rise of values-based consumerism. (Image by Ponsulak Kunsub.)

In an interview Liz Oke, of Liz Oke Marketing INC. and marketing instructor at the University of Toronto, argues that smartphones have fundamentally changed our lives. “These aren’t even phones anymore,” she says holding up her smartphone. “They’re mini computers. No matter where you are you just have so much access to information. And depending on the person, they have their own set of values. If businesses are resonating with those values, consumers are going to continue on with the customer journey beyond awareness.”

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A Rat in the White House

Book cover of Wind in the Willows with Frog, Mole and other characters.
The Wind in the Willows teaches us that communication can be found everywhere and in surprising places. (Cover design by Ernest H. Shepard.)

In chapter five of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Mole and Rat are returning from their adventures when the environment begins to “communicate” to Mole. Grahame describes it not just as “smell” but an “electric thrill” that somehow reminds Mole that his neglected home is nearby. Mole wants to stop and visit the home he abandoned, but Rat is too far ahead and too preoccupied with his own motives to indulge poor Mole.

Reading this delightful little novel recently has reaffirmed my belief that communication is probably the most powerful force in the universe.

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A Communication Professional, I am

Black couple having a conversation at a cafe outdoors in the spring
Communication professionals speak more precisely when they refer to their discipline as communication, not communications.
Copyright, Iangstrup

I met her on Tinder. We agreed to meet for coffee on the Danforth. A communication professional and a human resources employee. Who knows? it could work, I thought. My initial impression, though, was that were so different. I like to dress up and was wearing a sports coat, a dress shirt and designer jeans. She wore a white t-shirt, jeans, no makeup, and looked kind of… unkempt.

Aside from many awkward pauses, the highlight of the conversation was a terse exchange about communication. I argued that technically what I do is communication, not communications. She bluntly informed me that I was wrong.

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I’m Not Engaged! Here’s How to Hook Me.

By J. Dean Spence

Man holding smartphone and photographing graffiti.

What would you say if, when you asked me what marriage is, I answered “Marriage is meeting someone, dating, falling in love, getting engaged, planning a wedding, going to the chapel…”

You might stop me and say “Whoa, Jason Dean! That’s not marriage. That’s maybe how people come to be married. But marriage is a state of union between spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.”

No one would define marriage the way I did. They would all define it similarly to how you did.

However, when people—even digital experts who know their stuff—talk about social media engagement they do use a definitional strategy like I used to define marriage. “Engagement is getting likes, shares and comments on my posts.” Or, “It’s when I enter into dialogue in social spaces with audiences that read my posts.” But that’s not defining engagement—that’s just articulating how it comes to be.

I’ve only read one satisfying definition of the term by marketing scholar Ian H. Gordon who says it is “forward thinking”, and suggests that it is entering into a collaborative relationship with your audience in an effort to arrive at a mutually desirable future state.

So, for example, if you are an internal communication specialist who wants to engage your company’s employees, engagement might look like creating a better workplace through effective communication. It gets trickier to define what engagement looks like, however, for external social media communicators wanting to engage audiences.

The New York Times’ Founder, Adolph Ochs’ vision for the paper was “to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” And today, the paper engages me in this way by allowing me, with my digital subscription, to comment on stories on the NYT app.

Of course, the NYT is not a social media platform. But, although unlikely, let’s pretend that the folks at the NYT knew about Gordon’s definition of engagement and used it when they designed their digital paper. The same principle would apply to you: start with Gordon’s definition of engagement and then figure out what engagement looks like for your company.

To be better digital communicators, and better strategic communicators in general, we must first understand clearly what engagement is. Engagement is a journey—you might get there by walking down any road you happen to come to, but if you have a map you’ll get there sooner.

I Don’t Know Jack about Communications

By J. Dean Spence

I don’t know jack about communications. But I know a thing or two about communication.

“Communicate” is a verb. It involves the exchange of information between two or more parties.  According to the classic Shannon-Weaver model, this exchange of information has six elements: a sender, a receiver, a message, a channel of communication, and the processes of encoding and decoding. This is the type of communication that I do Continue reading “I Don’t Know Jack about Communications”