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Communal Literacy

by Randall Craig on July 13, 2011

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Presentations, Social Media

Tagged as: , , ,

Chances are that you know how to drive, but cannot fix the engine. Eighty-five years ago, however, the answer would have been different.

Motoring enthusiasts back in the 1930’s and 1940’s had to know the basics of automotive repair and troubleshooting, as the “newfangled” cars often broke down, needed constant tune-ups, and were not quite as reliable as cars today. At a certain point, however, cars became more reliable; they became more technically sophisticated, and car repair became more specialized knowledge.  You were either a Driver, or an Auto Mechanic.

Today, social media has reached a similar tipping point. The knowledge of how Social Media is wired behind the scenes, how to integrate them, and how they should be properly bound to a corporate strategy is fast becoming specialist knowledge.  Yet, at the same time, there is also an expectation of a minimal communal literacy:  “people” know how to drive the car, use the phone… and use YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Despite the incredible number of users, it is dangerous to assume they are comfortable with these new tools, let alone engaged with them.  Communal literacy assumes everyone – and every group – is at the same level.  The reality is that different groups may have vastly different levels of understanding:  older users might not have knowledge of LinkedIn; newcomers may be familiar with sites more prevalent back home; smaller communities might use the same tools but in different ways.  To “Drive” your message home – and engage your audience – requires an approach that recognizes that communal literacy doesn’t mean complete literacy.  Every group – and every individual – is different.

This week’s action plan:

You probably have an area of specialty that has taken a career to learn.  The next time you present  your ideas to a group, consider whether the audience needs to be auto mechanics, or merely drivers to understand what you say.  In other words, what is the communal literacy of the group?  You’ll generate buy-in when you’re neither patronizing nor overly complex.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)




Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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