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How Are You Connecting?

Tim Leberecht wrote a challenging piece this week for Frog Design’s Design Mind blog about what he calls Smart Brands in the Connected Age. He puts out a good question about what “connectedness” and “smart” mean for how brands interact—not just with their clients, but with their surrounding communities. I found the way he explored this idea, by breaking it out into categories like networks, social intelligence, platform, super-flexibility, presence, and unpredictability, spoke directly to my experience in developing Newfangled’s connections beyond the “walls” of our firm.

I began thinking about the various ways that we—a very small brand, relatively—engage and how they relate to his categories. First I went through a list of all the engagement techniques we employ, which is an exercise I’d recommend doing yourself. Feel free to skim through this list—it’s not at all meant to be a how-many-pushups-I-can-do thing, but more of an inductive survey to make sure I’ve got the picture right in my mind.

  • Monthly Newsletters: This regular, long-form written content created to educate our industry on high-level web topics and spread via a growing email subscriber list (~3k), Twitter, RSS, and other platforms.
  • Quarterly Webinars: These are free 1-hour live audio/visual sessions with Q&A that deal with similar high-level topics as our newsletters. Attendance has been steadily growing, and each session has a healthy download life after the live event. We’re promoting these on our site, every email we send our network, and on Twitter.
  • Blogs: We’re posting 3-5 short-form, focused articles on our blog each week on a variety of topics—from planning to analytics and everything in between.
  • Public Speaking: Newfangled has been increasingly present at industry events that put us right in front of the audience that matters most to us: Agencies. These include the ReCourses New Business Summit, HOW’s Design, Mind Your Own Business, and Interactive Design conferences, and Marketing Prof’s B2B Forum.
  • Magazine Articles: Our relationship with HOW/PRINT/F+W Media has enabled us to contribute articles over the years to both HOW Magazine and Print Magazine.
  • Books: Mark’s book, A Website that Works will be released at the end of June with RockBench Press, and my book, Thinking Before Doing: A Designer’s Guide to Web Strategy will be released toward the end of the year with HOW Books.
  • LinkedIn: This has been an important platform to us over the years. Whether it’s been nurturing our Agency WebDev Group, contributing to conversations with other groups, asking questions, or creating polls (doesn’t look like I can link to all my polls), LinkedIn has been a wonderful place to gather feedback and insights from our network.
  • Twitter: Twitter is becoming bigger and bigger for us. I set up a Newfangled Network list that includes some of our employees, some clients, and some other colleagues that I watch closely every day. I also am constantly educated by the top-notch thinkers on my interesting people list.
  • Offsite Comments: This is probably one of the most important things on this list to me because it is so often neglected. Whenever a client asks me why they aren’t getting comments on their articles or blogs, or when they’ll start to see more engagement, I ask them if they are commenting on blogs that are relevant to the conversation they’re hoping to contribute to with their content. The answer is too often “no.” The only way to have a conversation is to engage with other people and draw them out. Each item on this list is one way to do that. Commenting is another. I try to comment on articles every week to build community and contribute to conversations (not only to build offsite links). Make an effort to do this, and I’m confident you’ll see positive results. You’ll read more, learn more, and meet more people. I actually first met someone who has become a very good friend because I commented on his blog—imagine that!

Ok, that looks like a lot. It is, but it doesn’t feel like a lot anymore. We’ve been doing this for long enough that it’s become our default—except for the books, which have been new learning experiences for both Mark and me. But then I wondered how our content-heavy approach corresponds to Tim’s categories. I won’t go through all of them, but just a few in particular:

Networks: Each of the items on my list above is a network, as is the entire list. As a single network, we’ve built it around content and our desire to freely share and educate in order to define our expertise and contribute positively to our industry. But each individual kind of content is a network of its own. While there’s certainly some overlap—some of the same people that receive our newsletter attend webinars, subscribe to our blog, go to industry events, follow us on Twitter, and will hopefully pick up copies of our books‐each type of content caters to a specific way of engaging with ideas. Some people are readers, others are watchers. Some people like to have short conversations on Twitter, others like to engage over long strings in specific forums. We love it all.

Social Intelligence: This is one I feel very sensitive to—mostly because I’m very aware of how easily one might lose sight of it. I was talking to Mark this morning about various things and said:

“What we say to get attention is very different from what we say when we have it.”

Sad, but true. I want the gap in there to be narrowed. I want to avoid getting swept up by the momentum of social media discourse, catching a glimpse of myself in a Tweet or blog post and not liking what I see. There’s an evolving ethics to this. In fact, that’s something I’d love to talk with anyone about—drop me a line.

Presence: This is another one that we think a lot about. There are few opportunities that we would rule out unconditionally when it comes to engaging around the web. We want to meet our existing network and new people wherever we can, which is precisely why our list above is long and growing. That doesn’t mean that we’ll do everything, though (for instance, I haven’t found a compelling drive to be active on Quora), nor does it mean that every item on the list will be there forever. We’re continually asking what makes sense today and what will make sense tomorrow.

So this is a pretty large conversation about connectedness, but it’s also one that will bring up content pretty quickly. How do you see the relationship between brands, connectedness, and content?

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