In Washington They Ask, "What Can We Actually Use?"

As many of you know, I’ve spent the better part of the last three months looking for sustainable employment. Historically (in the past two years), I have focused on technology startups outside of my geographical region, but, as time has gone on I have seen increasing value in planting roots with a local firm.

In this process, I have interviewed with agencies, political action comittees, social cause organization, activist groups, development shops and even the occasional PR firm. However, by and large, most of these organizations are connected to the Washington government machine in some way.

A question that comes up frequently in interviews, specifically because I have a unique position as “power player” in the web space, is “What is out there that is new that we can use?”

This question has been answered in a variety of ways, being refined for each organization and group. Different folks, different strokes, different spokes.

As an early adopter of most new web technologies, I recognize this question. It is a question that generally stems from the desire to “be relevant” but often doesn’t consider the mission and constituency. So, in an admittedly generic and assumptive way, I’ll answer this question, and leave you scratching your head as to why I get hired for my social media strategery… There is nothing new out there that you can use.

Nothing. Absolutely Zero.

The principles of communication are really simple and have remained consistent over 10,000 years of recorded history… Talk to people the way you would want to be talked to. Give people information the way they want to consume information. If that’s a YouTube video, make a YouTube video (Bonus points if you can articulate a surefire way to make a viral YouTube video! ;-) ). If you have a thousand attorneys on a email newsletter, then communicate with compelling email newsletters (and talk to my buddy, Greg Cangialosi, over at Blue Sky Factory about their solutions). If your constituency wants a “pull” aggregator of interesting related content, give them a Delicious feed. If you are dealing with foreign wars, try to communicate with photography. If you’re dealing with climate change, work with a Google Maps mashup (build one!) showing the effect of rising sea levels and deforestation.

In other words, communications principles always remain the same: communicate with people on their level with respect. The execution of such principles varies according to organization.

Putting aside the “best tool” question, the real question becomes: How will you use the tools available to execute on mission, not simply be sexy?

Answers?

Rant: Silicon Valley Fenetics

Yes, intentionally misspelled. Phonetics.

Phonetics and mashup are all the rage in Silicon Valley web 2.0 start-up naming conventions right now.  When it was Digg, FaceBook and Skype, this was different.  It was cool, fresh and neat.  You could not help but ask yourself, what’s that?!?

Now, it’s not cute anymore (‘sup Pownce and Jaiku!). Instead it signals, “Oh, another 2 dot-bomb.” OK, maybe we’re not there yet, but you get the point.

Branding gurus are charging clients tens, hundreds of thousands for not-so-cheeky plays on phonetics or slamming two words together.  Read TechCrunch, and you’ll find posts littered with examples:

Out of the three of these, there’s only one I like: TasteBook. Why?  Because it tells you or at least gives you an idea of what it does.  TasteBook allows Shazam-Poster-C10097475users to create and order custom hardback cookbooks (“tastebooks”). BTW, that’s what a company name is supposed to do. Tell potential buyers, partners and investors what kind of business it is.

One must wonder how much longer this latest naming fad will continue.  And if you don’t think it’s a fad, how many eGoofy cos and .bombs can you name in five seconds? Pets.com, eHarmony, eLuminant, etc., etc.

P.S. As a result of this rant and as a tribute to Doug Haslam, I’ve decided to rename my PR firm Shazaaamr.