Conversation Tips & Best Practices

Let’s assume that if you are doing social media as part of your job, i.e. representing your institution, organization or enterprise, you want to promote a sense of trust between the organization and its community rather than any of these others. You can’t just listen (lurk) — you must also engage in dialog and conversation so that the community know they have been heard.

Before looking at conversation in social media contexts, let’s look at the basics of conversation, period. For the record, please note that I am personally pretty awful at this, so I am not going to speak from any kind of personal expertise but rather go to a REAL expert.

Emily Post (1873–1960). Etiquette. 1922.

Emily Post’s most important tenet of conversation is the Need of Reciprocity.

“IDEAL conversation should be a matter of equal give and take, but too often it is all ‘take.'”

She goes on to explain that it is taking if you talk a lot without listening to others or giving them a chance to talk. You are taking their time and attention and not rewarding them with your own. If you think that you talking is a gift, well, ahem, hmmm.

Now, you can make an effort to try to make your conversation useful by sharing links and resources of value to your community. Don’t just share your own stuff (blogposts, videos, pictures, etcetera). Scan what other folks are saying and share neat stuff other folks are doing also. Praise them when they say something great or interesting. Give kudos, spread the wealth.

Likewise, when you are scanning what other folks say, really read it. Look for folks who are interested in the same topics you care about, offer to help them, and after you know each other ask them to help you. Best is when you can help make connections between people who are working in the same area and don’t know each other yet. Sharing not just what you do, but helping to build a community by connecting people with shared interests.

“There is a simple rule, by which if one is a voluble chatterer (to be a good talker necessitates a good mind) one can at least refrain from being a pest or a bore. And the rule is merely, to stop and think.”

Sound advice, and a good habit to form. This would have really helped some of folk in my examples yesterday.

“Try not to repeat yourself; either by telling the same story again and again or by going back over details of your narrative that seemed especially to interest or amuse your hearer. Many things are of interest when briefly told and for the first time; nothing interests when too long dwelt upon; little interests that is told a second time.”

There is little more annoying in social media than the “link farms” — folks who push their own links over and over again, especially as advertising. Restraint is a big part of courtesy in real life and online.

Likewise, have something new to offer! Make progress, move forward, don’t be so predictable that people know what you’ll say without looking at what you’ve said.

“Be careful not to let amiable discussion turn into contradiction and argument.”

Social media is, after all, social. That means sometimes people will misunderstand something you’ve said, or you’ll stick your foot in your mouth. Sometimes you just need to be quiet for a while. Sometimes being quiet is the worst thing you can do. I was recently reading about a couple major companies who thought a social media brouhaha would just blow over if they kept their heads down, but it didn’t work out that way.

“In conversation the dangers are very much the same as those to be avoided in writing letters. Talk about things which you think will be agreeable to your hearer. Don’t dilate on ills, misfortune, or other unpleasantnesses.”

As she says, “don’t dilate”, meaning don’t dwell excessively on the negative. That works fine as long as everything is on an even keel. In letters and face to face conversation you have a little more control. This doesn’t always work in social media, however, especially when something has gone wrong in public view.

You can’t deny the negative in social media environments — everyone already knows. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen, and if you try someone will call you on it. In yesterday’s final example (Clinical Reader), they tried exactly that — pretending it didn’t happen. They deleted the account that originally posted the questionable comments. So someone else resurrected the account name to preserve the story and reveal the efforts at concealment.

Admit what happened, be honest, and move the conversation along. Answer direct questions, be consistent. Here are some tips from the pros for damage control.

Evan Carmichael: Preparing for Damage Control.

eHow: How to Plan for PR Damage Control:

Back to conversations. Here are some guidelines from other folks on general and social media conversational skills.

Conversation Skills / Tips: How To Have A Good Conversation. Personal Development December 11, 2007.
1) Be Genuinely Interested
2) Make The Other Person Feel Comfortable
3) Listen Carefully
4) Give The Other Person Time To Think/Speak

Seven Tips for Making Good Conversation with a Stranger. The Happiness Project May 20, 2009.
1. Comment on a topic common to both of you at the moment
2. Comment on a topic of general interest
3. Ask open questions that can’t be answered with a single word
4. Ask a follow-up question
5. Ask getting-to-know-you questions
6. React to what a person says
7. [When conversation is a struggle] admit it!

I found these tips from Cicero in a presentation in Slideshare. Older than Emily Post and pretty much the same ideas.

1. Speak clearly
2. Speak easily, but not too much, give others their turn
3. Do not interrupt
4. Be courteous
5. Deal seriously with serious matters, gracefully with lighter ones
6. Never criticize people behind their backs
7. Stick to subjects of general interests
8. Do not talk about yourself
9. Never lose your temper
Cicero. “On Duties.” 44BC.

Found here. Good stuff.

Ruger, Kelsey. Crucial Conversations In Social Media.

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