Markets are Conversations.

This is a great book. If you haven’t read it yet and you’re either a business or an advocacy group trying to engage people to create the change you want to see in this world – try it.

When one person talks and the rest of us listen, either attentively or with reticence, it’s called a Lecture. When that lecture insists on not only presenting facts and ideas but claims its points to be the absolute truth, it’s a sermon. You get my point.

What inspired me to write this post comes from my inexperienced experience observing how people who want to change education can or cannot use social media for their means and ends. I want to share some observations which might be useful to people who are new to this.

Starting Conversations : What’s the End in Mind?

We can use social media to start conversations but we are not likely able to control the direction of where it’s going to lead. Trying to define conversations and limiting where they can or cannot go will make us end up sounding like a lecture – kind of like what this blog is like – a lecture. (Few people post comments here unless they want to virtually pat me on the back. Like a professor getting off stage and having one or two organizers pat me on the  back just in case I think no one was even listening. :D)

Blogs are a good way to disseminate information and influence thinking with the audience’s permission. When someone reads your blog they give you permission to either tell your whole story (they read each word) give a quick run-down (they skim through the first few words of each paragraph) or skip your topic at hand altogether.  The best way to get any message across is to ask for permission – that’s what distinguishes a speaker from a teacher. A speaker knows how to ask for engagement and permission. A teacher demands it and students just “tune out mentally”.

Facebook and Twitter is a good way to aggregate information and bring traffic. I experimented yesterday aggregating an insignificant post that was made up of a composite of comments I had left on a fb thread and it had one of the highest hits of all time – more than 200 hundred in a 24 hour period. That’s a lot for an unknown like me whose unschooled daughter’s blog that talks about nothing gets more hit per day than I typically do.

The thing with Facebook now is you can create groups – open, closed, private. And these groups were created to start conversations on a particular focus. What I want to share is that the Creators of these groups have absolutely no power in controlling the trajectory and momentum of the group once the number exceeds a certain limit. (I know this isn’t a business blog but I will give you a link anyway at the end of this article).

It disappoints many a group creator to see either conversations dying, focus lost or momentum dying. I remember in those early days an acquaintance of mine would get very excited over every single new “like” on his page.  On social media often quantity leads to quality. But not as often as we’d like to think. However, Quality and Intuitive Questions lead to Quality conversations.

How Do You Get From Where You Are to Where You Want To Be in terms of online conversations?

When I say Markets are Conversations I want to highlight the fact that the conversation is NOT going to be organized nor go the way we idealize it to go. It’s going to go based on ….things :

(1) Does your message resonate with people out there?

(2) What kind of people does it resonate with?

(3) Are you asking the right questions?

(4) What do the answers tell you? What do the lack of answers tell you?

Finetune. Finetune. Finetune.

Numbers Alone Don’t Tell You Much

While a lot of people are online the % of people who really know how to leverage on social media to connect, relate and contribute is relatively small.  Many of the meaningful relationships I’ve built with like-minded parents and teachers came to me via my blogs. And it’s only takes a small number to change things around us. All that blogging has been worth it.

Personalities and privacy matters, matter. Out of the majority of people who have the experience, resources and leadership to lead changes in education only a certain percentage have both the personalities and the expertise to navigate cyberspace and leverage on social  media.

Some people like me have been on cyberspace since our first term in college. We’re used to the interface. That’s one thing. But more importantly our personality – our innate character of being able to create a public persona to relate to others influences how we leverage any kind of platform to interact and disseminate our ideas.

Now, the added advantage of the Internet is that people can choose their degree of exposure as well as the timing of their exposure as opposed to IRL interactions. Until people get their head around the right balance , something they’re comfortable with, between the amount of aggregating (exposure) versus privacy it’s difficult for the audience we want to interact with to interact with us in an effective way. They have this sense of “unknown” and they need to be able to take the medium for granted before being able to actively engage with it.

Not All is Lost. 

Fortunately, the above barriers are not significant ones for the younger generation. So even if our advocacy work online seem to count for nothing it can at least function as a sort of archive for the young generation to pick up from where we left off.  They at least can find relics from “the 2000s” to know we’ve beat the path for them, kept our foot in the door and a light on for them.

 We have to understand what a slim minority we all are – those who are creating content and able to interact meaningfully with each other.

Taking Care of Our Corner

A better way to get anything done in real life is to just do it. Living in cyberspace and using social media alone gets nothing done, really. It strokes our egos but Big Egos groundswells do not maketh. Rather than create more blogs or more facebook groups let’s instead try and seed other people’s messages. Unless we have something totally original to say. 

Summary :

1. Markets are Conversations. If you want conversations that can translate to action plans, limit the conversation to about 7 people for any group. I have many groups of 7 going on online and in real life and that is how I get even one thing to materialize in real life.

On social media you can limit your group to about 70 members. You would be LUCKY if you have 10% engaging with you in a meaningful way. Prune, prune, prune. Do not be too hung-up about creating a group within a group. VIP access, VVIP access, Super VVIP access.

The more pro-active and “out there” an online persona is the more privilege they’ve earned for themselves to land at a place where all the Happening Happenings Happen in real life. That should be the goal of social media interactions. Not just talking and whining and complaining – but engaging and THEN collaboratively coming up with a synergy that can manifest into actionable plans.

The truth is that we need people who are willing to Show Up.  If people haven’t learned to Show Up online they’re not getting a VIP pass to my events. I don’t mean to sound like a snob but all my efforts have been built with a lot of sacrifice over the years from myself and a few good men and women along the way. Now that things are starting to take shape I can’t have freeloaders jumping on and causing disruptions. I organize people and events – I don’t want to manage them.

My idle life is busy from running separate, distinct groups of conversations. Some I get paid for, most I don’t. But that’s how I get meaningful conversations going and my pulse both on the local scene as well as benchmarking myself against a wider international movement.

You know what? I’ve pretty much said all I wanted to say about education, unschooling and ESL over the last couple hundred of posts. I’m going to start talking about more concrete plans and what all of you out there can take from my experience in developing alternative learning in your neighborhoods.

But perhaps that kind of content is more suitable for my other blog?

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Filed under Context : the thoughts behind the blog., Future of Education, Quirks, Rethinking Parenting & Teaching

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