Conversation in Social Media: How Important Is It?

It seems like everywhere I look these days some social media wizard is saying, “Are you part of the conversation?” “Join the conversation!” and similar phrases.

Part of the Conversation
@ohpinion8ted Marketing has changed. Are you part of the conversation?

The problem is when you hear this so often, it kind of goes to mush in your brain, it isn’t necessarily clear what is meant when you hear it over and over again.

I did a Twitter search to try to see what folks were saying about conversation. You see one of the tweets I found above. Lots of folks talking about conversation were using it as a buzzword to promote something they did themselves or wanted other folks to do. Not the best use of the word, but I did like this line from Darryl’s blogpost.

“So the question must be asked – how are you part of the conversation? After all, if someone Googles your name relative to your chosen profession, would they find you credible?”
Praill, Darryl. Marketing has changed! Dangletech Blogs August 5, 2009.

Now there’s a reason for engaging in dialog with people in social media. It doesn’t just build trust with the people you are talking to, but also with the people who observe the conversation and those who find it later. It says something about who you are, how you interact with people, what you care about.

Here are some other thoughts I cherrypicked from the stream.

@markshaw: Twitter is where your customers hang out, find them & start a conversation.
@AZFitz: CBS et al should join the conversation rather than stifle it. RT @mashable Social Media Banned from College Stadiums –
@EFT_Lifecoach Join us today @ NOON MT: ” The endless search for the holy grail: what do you yearn for?”
Interesting conversation!

Another big topic in the Twitter conversations about conversation were a lot of people either discussing or creating parodies of proposed panel discussions at the SXSW Interactive Festival. I sure wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall at this discussion!

Miles, Clyde. Creating Intentional Conversations. SXSW Panel Picker.
* What is an intentional conversation?
* What’s the difference between a strategic conversation and an intentional one?
* How can businesses gain new business thru intention conversations?
* How do stories create new possibilities?
* What conversations is Step2 having with moms who blog?
* How is the Kauffman Foundation intentionally creating conversations with entrepreneurs?
* How is one intentional about creating connections?
* How can I be intentional about creating engaging content?
* How do you measure success?
* Is this only an online activity or can I create intentional conversations offline too?

A lot of people were talking about a recent study from Pear Analytics analyzing the value of Twitter. I found dozens of comments about it, from which I selected these as representative of the main points being expressed by the community.

@markhughes: Twitter survey finds Tweets are 40% pointless babble, 37% conversation, 10% promotion/spam, and 9% useful info.
@ClaireMilne: A survey done about twitter showed that 40% of it was “pointless babbling” what fun would it be without the pointless babble!
@BaseOneGiff: @stephenfry responds to a new survey saying that 40% of Twitter is ‘Pointless Babble’: (expand): note to self, must babble more
@sdtony: Survey says Twitter is 40% “Pointless Babble.” OK, so how does that compare to your normal day at work?
@pete006: a recent survey suggests that ‘recent surveys’ are 40% pointless babble, just like twitter…
@BretMcCormick: Fewer Than 9% of Tweets Have ‘Value’ – A study shows that 40 percent of Twitter content is ‘pointless babble.’ Fort…
@robynmcintyre: @BretMcCormick Value is in the eye of the beholder. Does conversation count?

This one was my favorite.

Twitter messages are 40% pointless babble ... Win!
@dysphoria_net: Twitter messages are 40% pointless babble, according to survey (expand). Or about 97.5% better than real-life conversation. Win.

As you can tell, that study has a lot of people a tad upset. The big take away I noted from the discussion was that people feel conversation is purposeful and significant in and of itself. There was also a fair amount of discussion about how meaningful the study could be unless it was compared with metrics on conversation in other media, include face-to-face. How much of our lives is spent in schmoozing with officemates and socializing at the beginning of meetings or parties? How much of that is purposeful significant content-bearing communication? You know, there are words for people who don’t do that or who have trouble with it, and the words are not very nice. The flip side of the coin is the idea that in social media, even while we engage in conversation for the purpose of building or sustaining social relationships, that perhaps we have the opportunity to make this a bit more focused, efficient and productive than we do in face-to-face communications.

Last but not least in pondering how important conversation is in relationship building and trust building, I’d like to share this observation from @PreppyDude.

@PreppyDude Curious how many of these *über dorks* join Twitter & instantly have thousands of followers? Where’s the conversation?

There are people or organizations on Twitter who have lots of followers and either don’t follow many or don’t talk to many. Those tend to be high profile entities. They aren’t there for the conversation, but just because it is another convenient way to get the word out about what they are doing. That’s fine for some who really is hugely high profile. Just don’t expect it to work for you. They are the exceptions that prove the rule about social media being, ahem, SOCIAL.

If you liked what @PreppyDude said, you should also read Rachel’s post about social media communities, trustbuilding and making risotto. Perceptive.

Growing a Community is Like Making Risotto. The Social Organization August 15, 2009.

Her basic message is to respect the natural ebb and flow of how communities self-organize. You can’t “push the river” is another phrase to hold in mind. Just like you can’t push content out without a context of relationships and expect people to care.

I often say that social media is not an if-you-build-it-they-will-come proposition, but that isn’t technically accurate. It depends on what you are building. If you are building the pixel-by-pixel presence strung together with RSS streams and formula responses, the audience is probably going to be mighty hard to find and keep. But if you are building relationships, connections, trust, and a sense of caring and respect, well, that’s an entirely different situation. That’s why conversation is important, that’s what makes the difference.


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