July 28, 2005

Campfires and Story telling

Britt Blaser wrote an interesting piece on corporate blogging, extending the metaphor of campfire story telling, and the properties he sees in it as why we trust its "talk to accept its steady, unadorned, agenda-free tone as trustworthy."

It's something I've been thinking about, as I started writing about it (offline) a couple of months ago to describe why people need to tell stories and what the relationships, expectations and processes are that cause us to speak in a certain way. But I was thinking about it in terms of individula users and their desire to share their experiences and connect to each other in deeper and more real ways. But Britt makes the analogy about corporate blogging, where he suggests that our ability to share information at low transaction costs online means that we won't accept a stilted style or broadcast mode. We'll just change the channel to someone more authentic and conversational. He suggests that the style of speaking around the campfire is deeply embedded in our primal brains and that when people, corporate bloggers or otherwise, take that tone, we are much more prone to listen.

I think it's more than tone, but a process we engage in with talk that is conversational, where everyone has an opportunity to speak, there is not so much a competitive flavor but rather a contemplative one in the interaction. Also, we take turns and listen to others, which also reinforces the egalitarian nature of the experience. The ideas and stories are more about shared experiences, regardless of whether the teller was with the others when the experience occurred. I'm not sure the actual details of the story matter in the long term, except in the moment of the telling, as listeners half listen for truth or in the case of a narrative willingly suspend disbelief and half listen to the development of the story, emotional buildup, and shared connection to the speaker. The details serve to support the moments of entertainment, emotion and connection, but in memory, it is the shared connection and warm emotional experience that we remember, more than most of the details.

If corporate blogging can succeed in revealing who people are inside the company, really, with all of our foibles and quirky eccentricities that make us authentically human, then we might want to sit with people in companies to share our stories together. But part of the success of the campfire is equality in the sharing, as much as the tone during the telling of the story. And I'm not so sure that corporations on the whole would be willing to show that unkept, unmanaged side of themselves inside as they share information campfire style with outsiders who themselves are revealing this sort of thing.

Posted by Mary Hodder at July 28, 2005 11:48 PM | TrackBack