We all hear lots of commentary (read that as clichés) about communicating online:
“Content is King!”
“Think outside of the box!”
“Test, Test, Test!”
“Taking it to the next level”
Blah, blah, blah.
The best commentary I have ever read on communicating online likens communication to a conversation, and not that clichéd “conversation” that means you post something to Facebook. I mean a real conversation.
“When you think of the Internet, don’t think of Mack trucks full of widgets destined for distributorship, whizzing by countless billboards. Think of a table for two.” - The Cluetrain Manifesto
After reading the above quote my thoughts regarding online content changed dramatically. I realized that we were no longer talking about connecting the “user” to the “brand,” instead we are talking about connecting “me” to “you.” The question becomes: How can one person connect to a group of individuals in a very personal way? The only thing I could think of that achieves that seemingly impossible goal is art.
The next logical question is: What is art? That answer is complicated. In fact, Leo Tolstoy wrote an entire book attempting to answer the question. In his book, Tolstoy asserts that the most common definition of art is that it relates to “beauty,” which is a horrible definition since it defines one subjective term with another. Nor does art, according to Tolstoy, relate to pleasure, since the concept of pleasure doesn’t allow for the person to grasp the meaning of the thing (i.e. eating food for pleasure doesn’t define its need, which is, of course, nourishment). Therefore, art is not a concept of beauty or pleasure, but is instead a condition of human life. Art, according to Tolstoy, is the ability of one person to emotionally connect and relate with mankind.
“Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indicators.” - Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?
Tolstoy further asserts that every piece of art connects the artist to the receiver “into a certain kind of relationship” that is based on a shared understanding, condition, or experience.
Our cultural conversations, which take place nearly entirely online, have abandoned shared understanding for a polarized digital landscape that is in a constant struggle to determine what is right/wrong and true/false through the subjectivity of tribal positions. As facts are being hurled from one position to the other we are not connecting. There is no relationship. No one is being heard. And being heard is key! It is integral that you be a part of the conversation that will define the values for generations to come. But In order to converse and influence you need to connect. So, what do you think is the best way to reach people? A ton of content? Lots of data? Testing? Nope, at least none are the foundation upon which you build your strategy.
The best way to reach people is a conversation, a “table for two,” connected through shared experiences, shared understanding, and shared conditions. In Tolstoy’s words, connected through art “into a certain kind of relationship.”
I often advise that, “If you want to change the world, then start with art, and optimize.” The optimize part of the equation is simple: once you have art you hustle it. It is an algorithm of quality (art) and reach (optimization). But we don’t ever, ever, ever start with data. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with data, but the problem is that data can only tell us the present and past (with an emphasis on the latter). We are looking to build a new future. Market research cannot tell us how to build that future. Change is future-oriented. In order to build the future, we need real communication connecting with real people.
Put simply: We need art.