Ask any “social media consultant” and they’ll tell you – “you’ve gotta be part of the conversation.” This is typically about the end of the advice, though it probably also includes things like “get on Twitter”, “respond to comments”, and other recurring uses of the word conversation. And now for a new media interlude…
Here’s the issue I have: I don’t see much conversing. I see a lot of one-to-many and one-to-nobody content sessions, but rarely do I see anything that comes even close to a conversation. In a conversation, when one person talks, everyone else involved is listening. At the end of the individual talking, another person talks (though there may be a little overlap to determine who is being the most forceful about talking next). Again, while this second person talks, others are listening (or possibly checking sports scores on their iPhone). The pattern repeats. If you feel lost, read this fun article for more help on “conversing”.
Online, however, it’s extremely rare to see anything that resembles conversing. One person gets the ball rolling, either by a blog post, twitter, or posting first in a discussion forum. After that, havoc ensues. Multiple respond simultaneously, instantly fracturing the original discussion into numerous threads. Newer visitors see the additional comments and either (1) skip/ignore them completely, or (2) reply to one of them. Also, since many of the discussion systems (or commenting systems) don’t use visibly threaded replies, it’s difficult-to-impossible to create a single thread of discussion. Most, if not all, commentors do not return to see replies, and rarely actually engage with the original author. And then there’s Twitter, which is pretty much the ultimate in non-linear discussion.
I find this more than a little frustrating. First, it create a near-zero value reward system to anyone who “participates” in any form of discussion/conversation/comment thread. Why bother adding value or debating, when you probably aren’t even coming back to see what people write? Instead, commenting is basically a huge dumping ground, where people show up, drop some clever remark (psst, it’s not that clever), and then leave, having made the Internet just slightly worse than it was 17 seconds prior. “Bad commenting” is so commonplace there’s even a funny list defining the worst kinds out there!
The worst part of all this is it applies equally to the “thought leaders” that preach all the virtues the “social web” (social is no longer needed to describe the Web, it’s just social all the time, okay?). It doesn’t matter if you’re on a monster truck fan page or the freshest Web 2.3 blogger’s microvlog – the content is equally disorganized. And it’s just as much a mess on Twitter and FriendFeed, by the way, so it doesn’t matter how much of an “early adopter” you are – the “conversations” are just as screwed up as anywhere else.
So if you want to give anyone advice, it’s probably more likely to say “You’ve gotta be part of the shouting match!” I guess a better way to have said it all would’ve been “It Seems like Internet Discussions are being Moderated by Jackson Pollock.”
I’ve seen a few companies doing this properly, and I try to do so with the Twitter account I made for my blog, Symbian-Guru.com. I have a few Twitter searches running, specifically for keywords related to my site. Every day, I take a little while to go through the search results and find people asking about or talking about something where I can help. I’ll then @reply to them in a way that actually answers their question/solves their problem.
Most of the ‘tools’ that are available for Twitter only really succeed in making it more full of spam. The only way to really use Twitter legitimately is to have a person sitting there, IMO.
Fair comment, although I absolutely do my very best to have discussions/conversations on Twitter, albeit in the short/fast nature that the medium enforces.
I’d also add that newcomers arriving late to a conversation and then ignoring it completely or butting in to respond to something at random happens all the time in the offline world, too, and can be just as fracturing. 😉
It may be unique to my experience but I find that commentators *do* return to read replies, more often that not. This can also lead to confusion on Twitter, as many hours will often pass and it can take a moment to wonder what they’re responding too, but the effort is made.
All that said, I concur with your general sentiment. For the most part, and for most people, it is mostly about ‘shouting’, and less about listening.
I confess – I am guilty! I will try harder…
Great post – thanks.
At least the “core” doesn’t have to shout with all these beggars, so they just keep thier experiences for themselves. They know the true benefits of online conversation. I believe that this is already happening in the online marketing branch. In future important people read, write and conversate much less than today.
Yep, a lot of monologues approximating conversation but not quite there. I guess that’s why folks are hopeful Disqus, Intense Debate, Facebook Connect, FriendFeed, etc can tie it all together better. We shall see.
It constantly amazes me how many PR people fail to grok, or are oblivious to, Jyri Engeström’s Social Objects and Social Peripheral Vision. Principals that have been around since the 1940s, taught in sociology class, ignored and instead they take the term “conversation marketing” too literally thinking that it means spoken words.
As to the criticism that conversations are shouting matches and difficult to follow, lack context, meaning and “top sight” – I agree.
I would point you to the work being done by the folks at DiSo, particular their activity stream standard ( just adopted by Facebook BTW ). It is my opinion DiSo activity stream spec will provide the means for meaningful conversations.
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