beyondthemaple is currently unavailable. The writer is on a listening spree.

In my attempt at penning this entry, I kept getting carried away by the massive amounts of knowledge and information currently available through social media content, all of which has been hitting me at speeds that would give race car drivers a run for their money.

Social media has definitely hit an all time high – from tweeting to facebook updates, from gbuzz to blogging, the average social media junkie has his or her hands full up, all in a bid to tell all.  A little late for me to be singing the glories of the internet and social media, I agree, and what’s the new story there anyway,right ?

Well, I’m just curious – if everyone’s talking, who’s doing the listening?

I reckon that with the mass of information being spun onto the worldwide web, it’s time marketeers,branding gurus and even passionate crusaders need to move into receiving mode every now and then. From telling, to listening. From blogging, to following other blogs. From tweeting, to retweeting . From posting pictures to flickr, to taking time to view the world through some one else’s lens. From jazzing up one’s own profile page, to taking time to read what Alison from New Jersey is listening to these days.

Simple case in point, when I chose to follow MiamiAdSchool on twitter, it felt nice when MiamiAdSchool requested to follow me.  I would say this thought translates into the offline medium too – case in point – Primus. While Bell and Rogers (Canadian telecom giants) leave you to talk to a command recognition prompter when you call the helpline, Primus has a person that comes on the line, talks to you unscripted, and even cracks a little joke with you! (Just makes you feel like they’re truly listening).

Anyway returning to social media branding and its shout out loud approach to things – in an attempt to be present at all the right places and say all the right things, brands need to ensure they aren’t blowing their own trumpet to an audience that’s long gone because no one heard their side of the story.

–Edit:
I chanced upon an inspiring talk by Mat Zucker, agency.com on listening, thought it worthwhile to link to as it’s so relevant to this post.  

Straight from the Heart

 I experienced Canada’s annual meeting of eclectic minds – ideaCity 2010 for the first time this year and was blown away by the diversity of speakers on this year’s all-women panel. From Olympic gold medalists to mind-readers, from comedians to sexperts, the mental stimulation kept flowing. But, what was most interesting,and memorable amongst all these wise 20 min mental fodder sessions, were 3 speakers whose stories were a sharing of real life. Robert McAfee Brown once said: “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”  I couldn’t agree more, especially when those stories were so interwoven with the person themself.

Buck Angel, a female-to-male transgender star in the adult entertainment industry, opened my mind with his take on sexuality being a matter of the mind, and how he believes what lies between one’s legs should be of no consequence to a person’s sexual preferences. He was so honest and straightforward , that he made the topic of transgender, sex, and porn seem completely palatable.

On the other side of Buck, was Nina Arsenault. A male to female transgendered person And Canada’s most famous one at that. Nina takes delight in savouring the feminine form as an art object. Her views, much like Buck’s, are about daring to explore her inner construct. As she says, ‘If you don’t fit in, everybody’s looking for what’s wrong with you, and society is constantly defining what is ‘real’. Both Buck and Nina comes from a simple standpoint of ‘telling their story’, nothing more, nothing less.

Then, there was Natalie McLennan. Bright academic theatre student, who went to New York to make it big. She succeeded,but not in quite the same capacity she set out to. She became, NYC’s #1 escort. Her story,is one of triumph…of emerging from the murky depths of prostitution,getting her act together and even writing a book about it. Her message – to give people a chance and refrain from labelling. I found her story appealing as it takes courage to stand up on stage and talk about life as a hooker. But she told her story, and came through as being as real as it gets.

What unites Buck,Nina and Natalie, is that their stories are so intense, yet told in as calm and simplistic a manner as possible. No fabrication. No fakeness. What this did was, create acceptance,applause and genuine respect for them.

I believe brands can learn from them. The sooner brands start talking from the heart,the quicker they become relatable. For example, even though Harley Davidson has a certain mystique around it, it speaks from the heart to the spirit of the biker in its “We believe” commercial.  It is in showcasing who you are, and baring all, that you are remembered, liked and even admired. Yea sure there can be an enigmatic aura around the brand, that’s what keeps it exciting, as long as it still comes through as open, direct and transparent.

As with all things,brands included, the best way to go, is always straight from the heart.