Networking Analysis, Jamming, 26/11/2014

Last night, I attended a set of brief workshops that are regularly organized by the Corporate Communications department of Centennial College at the Story Arts Centre in East York. Like all events related to corporate communications, it had a name that the cynical would consider just a little cheesy, Talk Is Cheap. Here are a few brief things that  this night of seminars and panels really solidified in my knowledge about the field of work I’m about to enter.

Critical stuff first. I’m not sure how much knowledge can be imparted in a single 20 minute workshop session that still includes a presentation. I attended two workshops that were much too short to contain all that they could contain. The most interesting one was a presentation of a representative of the Cision analytics company, about the metrics by which they analyze a blogger’s audience and overall influence. They use this data to advise their clients on who is the best person to form a corporate relationship with. 

Maps of the internet look cool, but they're even
cooler when you understand their science.
I’m incredibly interested in the science of networks, which companies like Cision use to assemble their reports and analyses. Like most of reality, networks don’t form according to human intuitions. They assemble themselves as hubs and surrounding links — the influencers and those who they influence. Multiple people are influenced by multiple noteworthy hubs, but these hubs are the key points in the dissemination of knowledge. Elitism, at least in the creation and dissemination of knowledge, is built into the fundamental habits of human social activity. 

While my career will start in the corporate sector, I ultimately want to bring this mode of understanding knowledge creation and social change into a social and political context, using the knowledge of networks to change people’s lives for the better.

My only real problem with this presentation was that it was packed with too much introductory material, as if all the audience had never learned anything about networks of influence before. It was built for an hour-long session. All that necessary introduction can’t be employed in a 20 minute session and still leave adequate time for audience engagement.

I think there needs to be more engagement with the fundamental concepts that underlie the business of communications in the education of this field. I know a lot of it already, but you’ll be a better practitioner of your field if you know the conceptual and material levels of its operations. 

On another critical note, the other 20 minute workshop I attended last night suffered from an unfortunate superficiality. I had hoped to get some more intense knowledge of the practice of media relations. Instead, I got 15 minutes of tips and instructions for dealing with the media from a position of institutional power (this presenter did corporate PR for a large public sector corporation) that my first introductory media relations class had already covered. “Some journalists will be hostile to what you have to say.” They certainly will. 

I was more interested in getting into the details of media relations, and perhaps getting some advice on how to engage media when you aren’t in a position of power. For instance, when you’re representing a small company that needs to engage the media to survive and thrive. 

Yes, I was interested to apply some lessons to future promotion for my theatre and fiction work, because we badly needed it on the first run of You Were My Friend. But these are important lessons that I never had the chance to discuss because the over-long presentation took too much time away from discussion, and most of the discussion was taken up by a confused student journalist from Centennial’s college newspaper asking for clarification on particular basic technical terms from PR work.

I guess I'm smart, you know.
Perhaps my most personally satisfying lesson came from the keynote, a three-person panel on social networking and personal branding that was almost entirely based around audience discussion. It also had the benefit of lasting just shy of an hour. The discussion was very enlightening, and I was pleased to see some thoughtful professionals on the panel who had clearly put some work into understanding the central concepts of their occupations.

Here’s the kicker for me personally. There were two interactive wall projections running during the presentations displaying people’s live tweets of the keynote. One of my tweets was about how all the trendy-sounding talk about personal branding is basically just about the expression of character in user-driven media. I tweeted other thoughtful reactions to the presentation, as well as a couple of joking comments about the danger that the cupcakes topped with red icing posed to participants with moustaches. 

Almost every other tweet from student participants was a generic ‘About to get started!’ or ‘Can’t wait to get started!’ or ‘Awesome seminar!’ Don’t be afraid to express a little personal singularity on your twitter account. It’s one thing to listen to people talking about personal branding for an hour, but if you keep thinking in superficial terms, you’ll never actually do it successfully. It’s about character.

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