Terms of the art: What every discipline needs

by Karen Dietz on 2011/09/28 · 24 comments 12,528 views

in a dos and don'ts,f standards - client focus, customer exp.,great guest posts,social media diary

That title seems obvious, so why am I writing about this today? Because of recent discussions on Google+ with professionals in the field of infographics. We were wrestling with questions like, Is a flow chart an Infographic? and What makes an Infographic really work?

In ongoing discussions in my field of organizational storytelling, I encounter the same questions when we struggle with “What is a story?” and “What are our standards of quality?

Article source – Terms of the art: What every discipline needs

Incidentally, if you want more material about designing tables and graphs that enlighten, enter your email below and get the next post first; you’ll be glad you did:

But first, what do I mean by terms of the art? Put simply, terms of the art are agreed upon

  • definitions of our work (i.e. an infographic is…; social metrics are…; a story is…),
  • accepted processes/methodologies and/or tools we use (including synthesis, analytics, ethnography),
  • standards of quality or best practice we strive for (such as principles of graphic design, statistical conventions, strengths-based principles),
  • standards and/or methods of evaluation (e.g, customer feedback, pattern analysis, workshop debrief), and
  • the body of work to reference within a discipline (for example, Infographipedia; The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, the Impressionist school of painting).

Tackling ’emerging’

ComMetrics Blog Impact Index - sparkline graph on your dashboard - provides a quick sense of historical context to enrich the meaning of the measure for the viewer.Even though infographics have been around a while, and business storytelling has been a recognized field for over a decade, we are still articulating the answers to these questions. While there are clear definitions and a canon of standards for graphic design and writing a novel, when we move into the branching disciplines of infographics and business storytelling, we grapple with definitions and best practices all over again because the new tools, applications and contexts require a paradigm shift. A sign of a discipline’s maturity and stability is when terms of the art get established.

Why does this matter?

Without a common language and accepted ways of working, it is hard to have a decent conversation about our work.

Research indicates that in general, members of fields with higher levels of paradigm development such as physics, finance and psychology show attitudes and activities reflecting a great deal of consensus over theories, research goals, methodologies, and curricula.

The domain of social media (SM) including a term such as infographics suggests that paradigm development within the discipline is in its infancy. There is little consensus, but much confusion and disagreement on methodologies. This means we must repeatedly try to figure out what we mean by a story.

Half the audience will love a speaker’s talk and examples out of ignorance, while the other half will be appalled because it violates their unstated unconscious standards. Then a few will gather to try to figure out what was wrong with the material and how anyone could think this was acceptable. This happens all over again at the next conference – year after year.

The point is, if there were clear definitions and articulated best practices, the speaker would never have made it on stage.

Without clearly articulated standards we are left with only vague reactions like, ‘Ooh’, ‘Aah’, ‘Ugh’, and ‘Yuck’. But what worked? What didn’t? How can we do more of what worked, or improve on what did not if we cannot articulate specific elements or concrete criteria? When we just stick with Ooh-Aah Syndrome, we are forever lost.

In my own field, we constantly bemoan the fact that we are not taken seriously. But then, why should we be when we have no

– clear definition of what a story is,
– established standards of practice, or
– ways to help people evaluate what we do.

Without these, most people cannot tell the difference between good work and bad work. When people cannot tell the difference, they are disappointed when the person they think can deliver the goods, can’t. That person may or may not be hired again, but the client definitely goes away thinking, That was a waste of time and money, or This field does not work, or This is just hype, or…

You get the picture. We all suffer.

For all those who say, “No, no, we must remain free! Definitions and standards constrain us!” I say, that way lies doom, because people cannot see what is real, true, good, and valuable.

Bottom line – the real kicker

Without established terms of the art, the discipline is perpetually reinventing the wheel. Bad enough that time is wasted, quality suffers, and reputation decreases. But think about this: terms of the art establish clear boundaries that make breaking the rules and innovating so much easier!

We have a love-hate relationship with rules and I have no satisfying advice for navigating it. I just know that innovation happens when we push the boundaries (which terms of the art help delineate), and the clearer those boundaries are, the better we can create meaningful innovation.

Creating terms of the art can be messy, because we cannot strive for perfection written in stone. Such standards are impossible in the face of change. Instead, we aim for what clarity we can bring right now, understanding that terms of the art do – and should – evolve over time.

Establishing terms of the art is a worthy endeavor. Engage your colleagues in discussions and debates to gain consensus. Put it all in one place for easy reference. Get over this hump so you can get on with your work. Stay within the rules, break the rules, innovate, evaluate – just keep pushing your field and your work to be the best it can be – clearly and consciously.

Disagree? Sure. Leave a comment!

Just one question I hope you will answer: what methodology used in your work is your favorite, and why? I look forward to your comments below.

This guest post was written by Karen Dietz, a business consultant who specializes in helping companies find and tell their most compelling stories for business growth. She is a thought leader in her field and passionate about helping companies and leaders increase their influence. Visit www.polaris-associates.com or subscribe to her curated content at http://www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it.

  • http://twitter.com/commetrics/status/118838781557215235 Urs E. Gattiker

    Guest blogger @kdietz at #ComMetrics: Terms of the art: What every discipline needs http://j.mp/q1yzku #metrics #method #socialmedia

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  • http://twitter.com/birdbathbuzz/status/118847609816354816 Chris Isaac

    Terms of the art: What every discipline needs http://t.co/aHq8tXqH

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  • http://twitter.com/satoritrip/status/118853548002910209 Math Matix

    Terms of the art: What every discipline needs http://t.co/sjmwDxXu #socialmedia

  • http://twitter.com/mathewbatarse/status/118853549168934913 Mathew Batarse

    Terms of the art: What every discipline needs http://t.co/sSvNFZmk #socialmedia

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  • http://twitter.com/cytrap/status/118913471206264832 CyTRAP

    Gast Eintrag by @kdietz auf #ComMetrics: Terms of the art: Was #socialmedia braucht http://t.co/kqlybApy #metrics #method

  • http://twitter.com/mycommetrics/status/118913720125620224 MyComMetrics

    @kdietz – Terms of the art – why it matters that we have them in #socialmedia #metrics #infographics http://t.co/T0dJdT4u

  • http://commetrics.drkpi.ch/articles/2011-trends-get-better-roi-with-facebook-twitter-and-youtube/ Urs E. Gattiker


    I like this very much.  Interesting and it just seems that we always need some time before we develop and are able to share 

    – vocabulary
    – values
    – beliefs
    – techniques

    shared by a community.  In social media we are surely not there yet are we?

    • Karen Dietz

      Yes Urs, I think social media has a way to go before its Terms of the Art emerges fully.  And that is normal.

      The field has powerful tools to use (and more in development), and I think social media professionals are still figuring out what defines social media, along with its best practices.  It is a pretty dynamic field with rapid change, so I expect the Terms of the Art to take some time. In the meantime, it is fun when viewing the social media landscape to see Terms of the Art being articulated.

      A recent example is the infographic distinguishing between social media and social marketing at http://thornelyhill.co.uk/blog/?p=84

      • http://commetrics.drkpi.ch/articles/2011-trends-get-better-roi-with-facebook-twitter-and-youtube/ Urs E. Gattiker


        Thanks so much for your quick reply. I agree with most of what you say (I discovered we seem to do that more often than not). Nevertheless, let me play devil’s advocate here and be a bit hard-nosed just to make things slightly more interesting for the reader, I hope.

        We are probably starting to move in the right direction as far as defining the terms and sharing techniques and definitions are concerned, such as social media (see this definition: Social media definition: 3 essentials).

        Nonetheless, as far as social media monitoring is concerned or social media ROI we seem to be still far apart or using vastly different approaches to measure these things across organizations. 

        The link you provide is very interesting and supports the points I made above. For instance, it tries to play with words and making things more complex than they should be between between social marketing and social media marketing
        I would challenge the author of that blog post you link to above and suggest that social marketing is a sub-discipline of social media marketing. 

        Moreover, if behavioral change is the goal as these authors claim, à la bonheur. However, then we should also gree that we always hope our activities using social media marketing result in some desirable behavior (e.g., purchase, commenting on a blog, more engagement). Unfortunately, as we know from experience ourselves (e.g., trying to loose weight) changing our behaviors long-term is often a wishful thought (e.g., we loose weight but then regain it quickly unless we did change our diet and started doing exercises regularly).

        There is still work to be done and as is common in younger disciplines, some people love this (particularly ad agencies when it comes to social media marketing) since it helps their business but not necessarily their clients.
        Thanks again for sharing.

        • Karen Dietz

          You make great points Urs! I love the fine-tuning between social media and social media marketing.  This is just the kind of articulation any field needs.  And the issues with ROI are fascinating.  It is really easy to get bogged down in fancy tools but if they do not help the client, then they do not mean much in the end. Measurement can be so seductive, but if it does not help the client make better decisions, then do not bother.

          Whether a field is developing its definitions, or articulating its tools and measures, I find it very interesting that if the definition consists of elements (a story is made of up of XYZ) the subsequent best practices will be about those elements.  If the definition is about the process (a story is packets of sensory material that help people create meaning), then the subsequent best practices are about dynamic processes.

          The definition you cited above focuses more on the process than elements, I think.  Any thoughts to add?

        • http://commetrics.drkpi.ch/articles/2011-trends-get-better-roi-with-facebook-twitter-and-youtube/ Urs E. Gattiker

          @9b83e3595f463e00bb7ac672c15a4c00:disqus Thanks for the feedback.
          I think you are right the above definition is about elements so best practices will be about those elements.  
          Nonetheless,  we also need those about processes (moving from strategy to goals to measuring if these were reached) which will result in best practices about these dynamic processes.

          Useful stuff which I will take into the book I am writing:  Social Media Marketing: Measuring for Impact

          So I will try to focus on the dynamic processes as well as far as social media marketing and measurement is concerned.  

          Thanks for helping me clarify this for myself.

        • Neil

          Hi Urs

          I’m Neil Thornely, the author of the above inforgraphic!  It has received so much attention from academics as a useful tool to differentiate between these two disciplines.

          Firstly can I begin by assuring you that social marketing is definitely NOT a discipline of social media marketing! It dates back to 1971 and uses marketing tactics, techniques and theory to influence behaviour for social/societal good.  These are the same tools and approaches (research/co-development/analysis) that marketers have used for years to influence buyer behaviour and shape products/services to the needs of the customer.

          I’d advise reading Philip Kotler or Nancy Lee’s earlier academic writing around this subject, which has existed since early 70s, before online social networks even existed!  Furthermore Social Marketing rarely, if ever uses social media as a tool for behaviour change as it is (in my opinion) a tool more suited to raising awareness than directly changing consumer behaviour.  As any good marketer will know, at least three routes of communication are needed to even begin influencing an individual, with a (when I last checked) 11 reinforcements of a clear message before that messages is genuinely listened to.

          I’m a great fan of social media for its ability to open up two-way communication between an organisation and their audience, however it must not be confused with social marketing as they are completely different disciplines with different practitioner requirements and different skillsets.

          Hope that helps!


        • http://info.drkpi.ch/articles/social-media-marketing-fur-den-kmu Urs E. Gattiker

          Dear @e21d38d3aa75268fc72a8d7487dca421:disqus 
          Thanks so much for stopping by our @Commetrics:twitter blog and commenting on @9b83e3595f463e00bb7ac672c15a4c00:disqus ‘s blog post… and my reply.

          I totally agree with you saying that:

          “Marketing rarely, if ever uses social media as a tool for behaviour change as it is (in my opinion) a tool more suited to raising awareness than directly changing consumer behaviour.  As any good marketer will know, at least three routes of communication are needed to even begin influencing an individual, with a (when I last checked) 11 reinforcements of a clear message before that messages is genuinely listened to.”

          I just want to point out that that Kotler and Andreasen define social marketing as “differing from other areas of marketing only with respect to the objectives of the marketer and his or her organization. Social marketing seeks to influence social behaviors not to benefit the marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society.” 

          Hence, we can say its part of marketing but it can also be part of social media marketing whereby the the latter tries to benefit the target audience and general society (e.g., non-profits, charities, using social media).

          Neil, I do not think we are that far apart, are we?
          Accordingly, social media marketing needs to have a benefit for the target audience because it is not about branding. It strategically applies “mass collaboration” by combining technology, community, and purpose. Thereby it can address challenges as well as opportunities by creating purpose-driven collaborative communities that are enabled by social media. As such it has to benefit the target audience and hopefully, general society.  

          Looking forward to your reply.

        • Neil Thornely

          Hi Urs

          First of all I apologise for taking so long to reply.  I’ve been insanely busy!

          “Kotler and Andreasen define social
          marketing as “differing from other areas of marketing only with respect
          to the objectives of the marketer and his or her organization. Social
          marketing seeks to influence social behaviors not to benefit the
          marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society.” – totally true.

          Just to help me a bit here I was wondering if you could explain for me the differences between what you’d call social media marketing and regular marketing?

          Neil :)

        • http://commetrics.drkpi.ch/articles/what-they-do-not-teach-you-at-lady-gaga-university/ Urs E. Gattiker

          Dear @e21d38d3aa75268fc72a8d7487dca421:disqus 
          Happy to see you reply, merci.
          For me personally social media marketing is pretty much part of marketing (you call regular marketing). Maybe we use different tools with social media, try to be authentic…. focus on pull versus push and so forth.  Seems that is pretty much it.

          Hence, social marketing can use social media for getting the message across better.

          @NeilThornely:twitter   Hope you agree and thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/devseo/status/121987417090699264 Alex Hall

    #socialmedia Terms of the art: What every discipline needs – http://t.co/DboyzTR3

  • http://twitter.com/devseo/status/133860193086877697 Alex Hall

    Terms of the art: What every discipline needs – http://t.co/UGEWz4zV #socialmedia

  • http://twitter.com/hughmccabe/status/134289954888089600 Hugh McCabe

    Terms of the art: What every discipline needs http://t.co/vo5z3ZKA

  • http://twitter.com/devseo/status/135284904090009600 Alex Hall

    http://t.co/DboyzTR3 – Terms of the art: What every discipline needs

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