Powerful feedback loops, and why should you care

The challenge of facing the media cannot be solved by studying our talking points, and coming up with zingers. As the media morphs into a real-time machine with a Google-enhanced memory, there are forces to be aware of.

Dan Gillmor, who now heads the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, recounts an incident that took place in 2002 that is even more relevant today. He was reporting in near real time via his blog about a panel discussion where then Qwest CEO Joe Naccio “whined” about the difficulty of raising capital.

The conference was in Arizona, but within minutes of his posting the story, someone in Florida emailed him a link to a story about Naccio cashing $200 in stock even as his company stock prices dropped. Gillmor posted that link in his next post, and almost instantly, the audience began to turn hostile against Naccio.

The feedback loop had unexpectedly given the audience –not the audience Gillmor thought he was writing for, but which happened to be sitting sight next to him– a new perspective. That audience-with-an-audience was also something the speaker never thought he would be facing.

Why should you care as a communicator or marketer?

  • The audience tends to be smarter than you think. Its demographics and psychographics can shift radically, even though no one may have left the room.
  • The back-channel is always at work. In grade school it was a piece of paper that was surreptitiously circulated among the class oblivious to the teacher. Today all it takes is a tweet, an IM, a text message…
  • Creating and encouraging feedback loops tip you off to something you may have never seen coming. People will come up with amazing ideas, if they are asked.
  • Your customers/audience could come to your rescue. Before his last podcast, Mitch Joel put out a tweet saying he had a bad cold and was ‘crowdsourcing’ his next show. The response was amazing! The audience practically ran the show.

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