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Communications, sociology and your twitter handle

Posted by: Dana Yonchak on 10/27/2011

There’s been a new philosophy taking shape in Communications that’s like a sniff of the ocean after a landlocked winter to a seasoned marketer like me. It’s not simply about the exciting new online tools, social media and digital technologies we use (cool as they are and certainly part of the equation.) It's about how we're thinking about and using these tools and technology to get back to connecting people with people

David Armano, EVP of Global Innovation at Edelman (the uber PR firm) recently posted a blog on HBR about “social digital,” and writes, “…the current revolution is not only digital, but codependent on social behaviors and interactions from human beings. If the digital revolution was about computers being connected (the internet) then the social-digital revolution is about people being connected (the social web).”

Fascinating yet so simple, this evolution to the social-digital revolution. And about time for thought and discussion as we pry our thumbs from our iPhones and BlackBerries to remember the live person(s) on the other end of the ether. (Disclaimer: in all transparency you’ll catch me texting and IMing my dear husband more than I call him these days. It’s faster and I can get my message out lickety-split. Stuck in traffic. Grace has strep. R U on dinner? We’ve even been known to email each other when one is working upstairs and the other downstairs.) Madness? Efficiency? Perhaps some strange place in between that's no longer than 140 characters long.

But that's the thing about social media, new media tools and tech and how we communicate with each other today. IM, text, tweets, FB posts, LinkedIn updates all have the benefit of being focused, short and quickly delivered. And very one-sided, at least to start. I can open a discussion or a post or a tweet without actually having a conversation with anyone. There's a lot of "I" in IM. What happened to the "social" in social media?

At FSG, we've launched a new website in the last year that features this blog and 6 a verdant repository on social change thinking that we call the "Knowledge Exchange." When we developed the new site, a cornerstone for our design and content strategy was the idea of building a platform that would allow for an exchange of ideas, discourse, dialogue. An opportunity for those around us to learn and share ideas, embrace them, pull them apart, mash them up, adapt them, improve them and spread them. And that ideally, these ideas would not be ours alone.

Flash forward one year later. We have 7 living, breathing blogs. We have a knowledge exchange. We have a 100% increase in web traffic year over year. We have increases in the numbers of downloads of our thought pieces, and blow the door off the hinges metrics based on web analytics. We have a vibrant Twitter feed. Loyal Facebook fans. But, the question of the moment for us is, why aren't folks commenting and responding more? Are people reading our stuff? (Google analytics suggests yes.) Are people engaging? (metrics suggest yes--good time spent on pages.) Are people noticing and talking about these ideas (pulse checks when we are out and about, and media coverage stats suggest yes.) And yes, we know about the yardstick that for every respondent, there are at least 100 lurkers who do not post. I know this personally—I read and lurk more than I comment. But still I get itchy when it seems like a post or a tweet or an eBlast we share feels like it should get meatier dialogue going.

So, being researchers, we asked our audience some of these questions about communications and engagement in a survey, focused on our eCommunications efforts and on the new site. Thanks to the hundreds of intrepid souls who responded in late August (bless you and thank you!), respondents to the survey largely noted that their reasons for not joining in the conversations included:

- lack of other comments (oh dear…really?)
- perceived lack of subject matter expertise
- lack of time

The one that intrigues me the most and the one that my team and I will be exploring and thinking about in the coming months is the middle one: the lack of perceived subject matter expertise. As we’ve aimed to eliminate the barriers to entry to more dialogue and engagement with our ideas, and to use technology tools to engage in more conversations, we are still bumping up against a perception that thought leadership is a one-way street. We can do our best to fix whatever technology or functional glitches may be occurring that affect someone’s ability to engage with us, but this particular issue is more an issue of human connection and understanding.

How are you integrating new media and social tools to connect technology with community and the human spirit? Please post your response here so we can share with each other.

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Chris Barkley
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Great post Dana. I read and lurk a lot of blogs and rarely post. Here's to bucking the that trend. One frustration I have is the disproportionate number of blogs academic in nature. To truly engage I want to discover my own insights, through my own actions, and share my experiences. I don't question the value of blogs that help me think but I want more blogs that help me do.
The proliferation of blogs on what social media engagement and analytics "means" abound. Yet how many social enterprises and NGOs don't know how to rate and select social media monitoring vendors? Which vendors make sense for my social media channels? What kind of analytical reports should I run?
Blogs should ask themselves, how do I provide a space for troubleshooting, skills buildings, and pushing a community's understanding of a topic beyond conventional wisdom? This is distinct from an intellectual exercise where your opinion = you (I need expertise) and it's hard to see the value of posting a comment.
Dana Yonchak
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Hi Chris, thanks for the thoughtful post (and for posting!) We’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of posting, responses, and how we assess the impact of blogs and social media.

Perhaps the natural tension between the styles of blog posting (expertise and instructional-focus, versus community and discussion-building), is endemic of a still relatively new technology tool that has morphed into a new way we all connect with one another. I believe there is a space and need for both types of posts, and perhaps it’s managing our own expectations (as bloggers) for the role of the post we’re creating and the type of engagement we expect…as well as realistic expectations as social media consumers that it’s also OK to read and not comment sometimes, and still engage in an idea. Today, it’s clearly not one size fits all…and also as clearly, not the end of the line for how we use and access blogs and social media. What an exciting time!
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