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Parenting and online conversations: Fears, benefits & parallels

June 15th, 2008 | by Klaus Holzapfel |

Today is father’s day and I got inspired to write this article by reading many comments on Twitter.

I have been thinking about how listening to the radio with my daughter is a showcase for parenting that works but also can serve as a guide for many marketers that are thinking about engaging in any variation of groundswell activities.

Bear with me. In order to make this meaningful I need to provide some personal data first.

HISTORY

My dad plays guitar and listens mainly to Jazz. I was never allowed to touch the radio in the car. At home I listened to my favorite music in secret – Django Rheinhardt and the Beatles were my first big musings. I didn’t want my dad to even agree with my taste of music. I wanted to explore this on my own. He told me what to like and what not.

In marketing this would be a company shouting at their clients. When the client would have a chance to talk back it would be dismissed at irrelevant: “ Our customers don’t know what they like because they are not educated. They don’t know what they want.”

I don’t exactly want to trash my dad on father’s day either. He did what he felt was the right way. He left me with a taste of music that lead to a library of thousands of CD’s and ten thousands of MP3’s. Without him I wouldn’t know albums like Don Ellis’s Autumn. He instilled a love for music that made me spend 100% of my allowance for many years on LP’s. Homework or record store – easy choice! Thank you dad for me being completely broke all the time;-)

FROM ZERO TO DAD IN 2 SECONDS
I met my wife 5 years ago and was completely sold right away. At this moment I also stepped into the role of being a step dad. My daughter was 7 at that time. I remember the first time she asked to change the radio station when we were driving. I scolded her: This is “my” radio in “my” car (after all, that’s how my dad used to operate when I was a child). I sounded like my dad.
The consequences: I got to listen to “my” Jazz radio station and my daughter was mad at me and of course hated “my” music. My daughter would resort to her Game Boy or MP3 player.

Take a look at this:
Here is a guy that preaches companies to open up to their clients, enable interaction and communication and tuning in whenever possible. And I am playing belittling hard ass on my daughter and telling her how little I think of her favorite kind of music (Hard-core Rap music was on top of her list at that time).

I knew that I needed to keep the communication channels open with my daughter in order to succeed. But that was only theory. In practice I was slamming doors on her left and right.

Marketers & parents beware:
You are slamming doors on your clients almost every day as well – most probably without noticing it. Every missed communication could be a missed opportunity to learn something really important that could change your perception on your business and your products or services. Of course there is a lot of irrelevant noise in the mix as well but you won’t get the treasure without the “pleasure”.

A TIME FOR CHANGE
After us banging heads over gangster rap for 50 times I decided to switch things around a bit. I offered her a deal: Whenever I’d drive her somewhere she’d get to pick “her music” for half the drive and I’d get to pick “my music” for the other half. We also agreed on not offending each other by purposely picking the music that the other one hated the most. Driving together became bearable. We had the beginning of a conversation going but there was still plenty of controversy.

This phase reminds me a bit of some pages of The Groundswell. The authors recommend that you phase in your approach towards engaging with your crowd. They also state that this is a long-term commitment that can hardly be undone. Shutting down a conversation once it has started is synonymous to getting the guinea back into the bottle.

GEARING IT UP
I realized I had to move on the get more out of this approach. I swallowed my ego and gave my daughter pretty much full control of the radio whenever the two of us are driving together. I pick her up from school and I know this is a great way for her to relax and get the middle school stress out of her system. She started to ask me how I would rate a song from 1-10 that we were listening to. We do this constantly and check on each others taste. I make fun of what we listening to by pretending I heard some lines of text wrong (after all I am German born and English is my second language). I use this to tease her.

STATUS QUO
Things have shifted a lot since then. My daughter doesn’t feel judged any longer. We have an open discussion about music that stems from real interest and curiosity on both ends. She has opened up to a lot of new styles of music and gangster rap is pretty much gone. Her favorite band right now is from Germany – Tokio Hotel of course. Her taste of music is truly eclectic – and she is only 12. It makes me very proud to see how she opened up and experiments and enhances her play lists constantly. We constantly find new music that we both like: Cold Play’s new song, the August Rush or Enchanted sound tracks etc…

After over 5 years in her life I had a real big moment this week. She surfed the channels on the radio and stops at Kuvo (my favorite station that is). They had a nice Brazilian tune on with a bit of an electronic beat. Not the average cup of tea for our middle schoolers but right down my alley. Her comment: “That’s a cool song”.

SUMMING IT UP
Ok that was more personal information than in all my past articles together but you might see the point:

I tuned into the conversation and overcame many personal obstacles. By doing so I created a strong bond with my daughter. Our conversation is totally open. I can tell her what I think without offending her and she has every right to tell me what she thinks and knows I won’t take it the wrong way.  We’ll stay in touch forever.

I am not done parenting. This is not a “OK, I finally got it” project. This is an ongoing effort.

Can you see how that also accounts to an organization in the new economy? Unless you go out of business there is no way to not stay committed to a conversation with your audience once you engaged to it. And if you refuse to tune in and listen and open up and react to feedback you will eventually go out of business as well. And/or your kids will be gone.

Of course our conversation is not all about music. But it is a great way to get the conversation started and find out what my daughter is thinking about many subjects.

My daughter has taught me a lot. This was a rocky road with setbacks (more to come). But I can take my lessons to work and help others to succeed.

Of course this is fathers day and it is all about us guys;-)
Not really: In reality my wife deserves a ton of credit for guiding and supporting me on finding a way of parenting that works for me and my daughter.

Don’t worry:
Of course my daughter won’t ever admit openly that I am cool. Most probably never will. and that’s just fine with me.

I’ll stop now since I didn’t plan to write an entire book today.

Happy father’s day to all of you!

PS:
 Here are two books that helped me letting go of being a control freak and “shouter”:
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life -  by Marshall B. Rosenberg and Arun Gandhi

Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind by Michael J. Bradley

And here is one that didn’t help:
Stop Negotiating With Your Teen by Janet Sasson Edgette

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