“Simple. I asked.” That’s what I say when people ask me how I turned my full-time employer into a client of Pursuit. But that’s not an answer people like to hear. Because we hate asking. It makes us feel uncomfortable. When people ask, we start to wonder if it’s because they think they’re entitled to something that we’re not.
I felt the same way when I started watching Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking” Ted talk. 7,000,000 views and a book deal later, I finally decided to watch it. The book promises that it will inspire readers to “rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art and love.”
Sure. But as I watched Palmer’s talk, I couldn’t help but make the connection to the work I do with teams and online communities. Seems like quite the reach, but it isn’t. Her approach represents the way that we have to operate as modern employees, employers and as organizations—especially during this time when relationship dynamics are changing so much.
Leaders and their employees, or freelancers, companies and their customers, or communities. Today, people don’t need to work for organizations, and we definitely don’t need to buy from them. We don’t need to be advocates for them and rally around them. But when we do? It’s because of a certain type of connection—a human connection based on give and take. One that Palmer understands deeply—whether you like her or not.
That human connection is how she mobilized her community and raised nearly $1.2 million when her goal was only $100,000—the biggest music crowdfunding project to date.
Would your team or community rally behind your business in the same way?
I recently gave a talk about one of the most engaged communities we’ve built and mobilized for a client, Oticon Medical. The audience asked, “how do you get people to do this?”
We listen. We connect. We look directly at people and say, I see you. And, when we need something?
It’s simple, we ask.
Palmer reminds us how.
As leaders or as a company with hundreds, maybe even thousands of employees and customers, it’s just easier to be loved from a distance. Getting too close makes us nervous. Palmer describes it as a “fear that I was doing something un-joblike and unfair, shameful.”
Is it okay to connect personally with an employee or a customer? I’d argue that t’s not just okay, but absolutely necessary. That’s the foundation that community is built upon. That’s what Palmer saw the most successful musicians doing too.
“For most of human history, musicians, artists, they’ve been part of the community. Connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the Internet and the content that we’re freely able to share on it are taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”
The executive who doesn’t acknowledge the youngest person in the room when he or she talks. The company that doesn’t see how it would ever be scalable to have real one-on-one conversations. Those who can’t justify spending time and resources to listen and engage with customers—for the purpose of listening—of connecting. They’ll continue to try to make people take action. And, in most cases, they’ll experience an endless cycle of disappointing results. The rest of us will learn to ask.
We’re used to pushing an agenda. For making people do things. The world, especially when it comes to work, has largely been a game of tell, not ask. So it’s no surprise that asking feels too unfamiliar.
“I got a lot of criticism online, after my Kickstarter went big, for continuing my crazy crowdsourcing practices,” Palmer said. “Because they weren’t with us on the sidewalk, and they couldn’t see the exchange that was happening between me and my crowd, an exchange that was very fair to us but alien to them.”
And what if you take the time to create connections, only to ask and get nothing in return? What if no one responds? What if they say no?
That client I mentioned, we work to make ourselves vulnerable to our community. Every single time we’re met with these questions. Most times, we succeed and get more than we ever planned or hoped for. Competitors have taken notice, and some are even trying to do the same but they don’t have the recipe to get the results. It’s between us and our crowd.
There’s only one way to overcome the vulnerability that comes with authentic connection and making the ask. And it’s to change your perspective. Palmer puts it best, “I don’t see it as risk, I see it as trust.”
“Now, the online tools to make the exchange as easy and as instinctive as the street, they’re getting there. But the perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other and give and receive fearlessly, but, more important—to ask without shame.”
At her Kickstarter backer party in Berlin, Palmer stripped and let people draw on her with a marker. “Now let me tell you, if you want to experience the visceral feeling of trusting strangers—I recommend this, especially if those strangers are drunk German people. This was a ninja master-level fan connection, because what I was really saying here was, I trust you this much. Should I? Show me.”
As organizations we do the same thing when we have employees and customers speak on our behalf. It takes trust, but the end result is a connection that’s human, not manufactured.
Manufactured conversations make for manufactured results. The question “Why isn’t our marketing working?” can usually be answered by looking at the number of real conversations that are coming from employees and customers. Are the two groups connected? Are they talking to each other? Are we listening and asking them for what we need?
The media asked Palmer, “’Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. How did you make all these people pay for music?’”
Here’s what she said: “The real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It’s kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists. They don’t want to ask for things. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to ask.”
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Pursuit is a community-sourced consultancy that helps organizations engage a new era of employees and customers. We work at the intersection of company culture, marketing and technology to build your community from the inside out.
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