In a couple of previous postings here, I underlined the importance of targeting, and the need to make sure that your work is being followed by the key people that you need to influence (advocacy targets, colleagues, connectors and mavens, etc).
This post will qualify that slightly. Numbers also matter. While it’s important to have a selected close-group of readers, there are also plenty of techniques that can be used to grow the number of followers you have within defined audience-groups, either using Twitter, LinkedIn or (if you’re OK about doing it) Facebook.
And if you have a well-established and well-marketed blog, lots of Facebook friends or Twitter followers, you are able to do something that most people can’t do: Crowdsource intelligence.
This is where you throw out a question to a large number of people. If even a small fraction of that large number give you quick light answers, it may give you some data or judgements that you wouldn’t have access to normally. You can access the hive mind of the Internet. This is another aspect of my ‘downgrade your inbox‘ advice’.
The mechanics of this is fairly simple. Taking Prof. Grint’s understanding of the human qualities that leadership requires – the encouragement of a more uncertain conversational polity in which questions are asked widely and freely – it means that a leadership blogger regularly posts short questions into the conversational space that they have cultivated.
This can be done informally – posting short blog posts. Alternatively, one-liners on Twitter could work (the blog post can be flagged on twitter allowing you to use the blog-comments and other tools like Disqus to capture all feedback). There are other more complicated options that an organisation can consider as well. The Central Office of Information (COI) has published guidance on how it should be done in a very formal setting, and Steph Gray provided an introduction to the tools that can be used to do this here a few years ago.
If you’re doing this organisationally, you may even consider the opportunities that offering open data can present. There are lots of less formal free ‘collaborative authoring’ tools such as Writeboard, Google Docs or other Wikis. You may also want to consider encouraging your team to start understanding the potential of using open data and infographics for this, but that’s a longer-term project.
But the bottom line is this; You will probably get the most value from this if you can ask lots of small questions, rather than big ones. Offer a breadcrumb trail instead of a weighty consultation document. And – wherever possible – try not to ask people to tell you what to do. Asking for solutions will attract people with special interests – lobbyists. Asking your audience to describe the problem can bring you information that you didn’t have before.
This is normally what you pay consultants a lot of money for – so it’s also a money-saving tip!