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What Happened To The Conversation?

by David Brock on June 27th, 2010

This morning, I was out for my morning run around the lake.  Up ahead, I saw a guy approaching, wearing headphones, smiling, head bouncing with the music.  Looked like he was having a great run.  Everyone he passed, he shouted, “Hi!”

As he approached me, he shouted, “Hi!”  I responded, “Great day isn’t it?”  He didn’t respond, and continued on.  I was struck by his lack of response and thought about it during the rest of my run.  I realized, that he wasn’t interested in engaging me in a conversation, after all, he was wearing headphones, preferring to listen to music.  All he wanted to do was shout out and greet people.

The interaction reminded me a lot of what seems to be happening in social media.  Everyone talks about the value of social media in establishing communities and having conversations.  The reality seems to be more like this guy, there is a lot of shouting, but little intent to listen.

I’m as much at fault as everyone, but it seems that we get consumed with VOLUME—both in quantity of content we put out and how much it is heard.  But we aren’t as good at engaging in the conversation. 

My friend, Paul Castain, posted a brilliant post on this topic the other day:  Content Is King—Are You Freaking Kidding Me?  Ironically, it generated a great conversation.

We seem so consumed with generating content and getting seen, we forget to comment and engage people.  If the point of social media is to establish community and to stimulate discussion, then we need to balance quantity and volume with engagement.  Our content needs to inspire interaction.

As creators of social media content, we have to take time to participate in the conversation, to comment and respond.

Twitter makes it even worse, there are these tools that automatically Tweet certain blogs.  The person doing the Tweeting doesn’t even read my stuff any more, their tools just automatically Tweet everything that I publish.  It’s always interesting, within about 30 minutes of publishing an article, the same 10-15 people tweet it, in exactly the same format.

I’m flattered they think enough of my stuff that they blindly tweet it, but they have lost all credibility for me in Twitter.  I follow people that offer great insight, I know when I read whatever they are talking about, I will get value from it.  When I tweet, pointing someone to an article, it’s because I think my audience will get value from the article.  Now, when people are by-passing this, automatically tweeting everything that comes from me and others, I tend to think of it as the Twitter equivalent of SPAM  (TWAM??).

Will the rush for content, will the rush to creating a lot of visibility, will the tools that allow us to mindlessly publish but not engage just erode the power of social media?  How will great stuff stand out in from the mass of junk?  How will our voices be heard as the VOLUME keeps getting turned up?  Will social media become a giant sinkhole of people shouting “Hello,”  but having no intent of listening? What happens when we lose the conversation?

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  1. Nicely stated David!

    Like you, I only retweet comments and links that I think will be of interest and value to my followers. I

    On a slightly different, but related note; I’m always fascinated when someone stops following me the day after the start. I suspect that it’s because I also don’t automatically follow them. I look at their tweets and see if they have something interesting to say, if they RT others, and if their focus appeals to me. If they meet those criteria, I’ll follow back.


    • Kelley, as always, I appreciate your comments. I’ve noticed the same thing on Twitter, sometimes I tweet using some word people are monitoring, they follow me for about 5 minutes, then stop. Are they really listening? Are these automated followers/unfollowers clogging up the system?

      I follow people who have something interesting to say, regardless whether they follow me or not. By the way, your tweets are always in my Favorites group! Thx, Dave

  2. You touched on a hot spot David. I guess there is still conversation – however the avalanche of the “Hi sayer” is putting many networks at risk. Your post motivated me to think about what changed on Twitter between 2007 and today.

    2007 – we were about 500,000 or so Tweeple. A super small Internet avantguard who mainly tweeted about latest technology, cool product, experience and shouted to big companies “listen to me”

    2010 – The big companies began to listen and 40 Million new users hope they can chime in by selling their wares. The problem: Those who just blast out information are not used to get concrete results but “traffic” and they don’t even recognize that the social media spam has no positive effects 🙁 – and continue to spam.

    What are we gonna do? We kept the Internet an open space with no “police” and no “rules” – I trust we will be smart enough to do the same for the social web – despite the fact that may be terribly annoyed by many – it’s up to us who we connect with.

    Otherwise I wouldn’t catch this post – and continue to have a conversation with you 😉


    • Axel, thanks for the great comment! It’s an interesting phenomena, we’ve seen it through every incarnation of “marketing.” In recent generations, it was the junk sanil mail that fills our mailboxes, never makes it past the first garbage can from the mail box. It is the tactics advertisers use, it’s the junk email, and welcome to the world of Twam!

      It will continue into whatever the next incarnation of social media is. Yet despite all the junk going around, smart people are still able to sort through it, still able to make meaning, and still able to connect. We’ll find ways to sort through the crowded cloud and connect with those we have interest in and who have interest in us. Thanks for the great insight! — and maybe we’ll make that connection in a coffee shop soon 😉

  3. Richard Hurwitz permalink

    Another great insight on your part David

    I think that as the phenomenon of Social Media matures we will see a lot of changes as to how people will best utilize the available resources. Right now we seem to be in the “Wild West” phase where people are jumping on every band wagon because it “seems” to be the right thing to do. How much band width does the average person have to be able to deal with the huge amount of information they are confronted with everyday? Tweet, Blog, LinkedIn, Facebook – who has time to for a conversation?

    People are going to migrate to the form of Social Media that best suits their needs and filter out the hype of the next greatest thing. Nostalgia for the past has an incredible way of creeping back into society. Who knows, we may slowly detach ourselves form our “i” world and begin to hold actual conversations. My biggest concern is that gen x, gen y and millennial’s were born into an age where a conversation is performed electronically.

  4. Jose Garrido permalink

    Excelent Article..We’re leaving in incredible times, and new ways to communicate are fascinating, however I beleive relying everything on a web site, social media , it’s a big mistake…I’m convinced that nothing will beat a candid conversation, understanding what in the other people mind..Unfortunately the speeds, deadline, tons of email and gloalization are forcing companies and people to be robots..I think we have to keep conversation as a key part of our society..hope in the future we dont have to fill a multiply choices questionaries, or a cold email to simply engage a good quality conversation..

    • Jose, keeping conversation as part of what we do is critical, people work with people, people buy from people. Technology is just an aid to the conversation. Thanks for the comments!

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