This morning I read Seth Godin’s latest post about Expertise and Passion, and suggest you do, too.  As much as I’ve written about getting your messages down into “marketing” sized packages, making them simple and eaily understood, the caveat to this is that the simplistic message is really just a hook for the more complex stuff underneath.

You have to be able to get and sustain the attention of others.  You have to make your message initially attractive and engaging, but then you have to deliver the payload, so to speak- the real goods, underneath.  But sometimes, we can get so caught up in the micro-message, we forget the nuance underneath.

My favorite example of this is the “Mozart Effect”. Based on several small studies, researchers found listening to Mozart’s music could help some college students perform better on certain tasks, like doing puzzles. This was expanded (or contracted into a sound bite) by the media to mean playing classical music for children from birth, or even in utero, would make kids smarter. This over-interpretation of the data even led a state governor to partner with Sony Music to make sure every newborn in his state received a classical music CD.[i] While no one will deny that being exposed to classical music is lovely, repeated testing showed that the task-performance increase in college students was temporary, and did not hold up in subsequent repeated testing. (It didn’t make you permanently smarter, only for short bursts, probably due to something referred to as the priming effect.) There has been no reliable evidence, to date, that listening to classical music will improve a child’s IQ score, or make any lasting impact any child’s learning over time.

So the hazard is that as we go to more short, bullet point and marketing type messages, we miss the crucial nuance, the critical details required for successful implementation of ideas and strategies.  In Seth’s example, if you are only looking for passionate people, should they be passionate about your widget or idea, or passionate about doing a good job, creative problem solving, and willing to take on tasks that aren’t easy, but willing to persevere through “the dip”?  I think we need to look in more depth about what kind or flavors of passion we are asking for in others, and whether or not that’s what we want or need.

I can see social media types easily falling into this trap.  We are understandably passionate about our friends, our groups, and our communities we’ve built through online tools.  But are we as passionate about the platform itself as we are about the people?  Is it the people or the platform that contain the magic ingredient?  What happens to the platform if some of the chief magicians decide to try something else as their main communication tool?

Likewise, if we take a job helping a company with social media, are we renting our friendships and connections, just using our virtual rolodex now for a company?  Or are we trying to build new relationships and a new community that involves a business?

If the social media venture is going to be successful, you really have to build a new community.  While you can seed it with existing people and friends, it will only grow if it becomes a true and vibrant community of its own, with its own purpose and dare I say it- soul- and that is not an overnight kind of task, but it is a long term strategy, much like adopting a new product line, or in real world terms, a pet.  You have to make a big commitment if you are considering a social media strategy, because it is not a flash-in-the-pan sort of thing at all.

What do you think?  I think the devil is always in the details, and while the sound bite or quote may attract our attention, the payload is what lies underneath, and the commentary is where all the important stuff happens.

[1] Dr. Gordon Shaw, who did the initial research on the famed Mozart Effect, recently passed away. The New York Times reported in his obituary that while he continued to research this area until his death, Dr. Shaw was never able to show more than a temporary boosting of cognitive abilities, dissipating within ten minutes, from listening to Mozart. Dr. Shaw was never able to show why Mozart in particular, in contrast to other types of classical music, led to this temporary increase in performance on IQ tests, despite years of research.

[i] former Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia