Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The three states of online communication

I've been pondering the various paradigms when it comes to communicating via social media, whether that's Twitter, Facebook or something else. There are a variety of popular mechanisms avaliable to broadcast what you are doing, or to conduct advertising. People use these tools in a huge number of ways.

Personally I've got a split, I use my Facebook status to let people know about the more inane side of my life, and my Twitter to broadcast the more studious side of my life. Since Facebook is broadly limited to my friends, I feel like they won't mind hearing about my new running shoes or where I'm going for dinner. Twitter is a more open tool and I figure that's a more sensible medium to broadcast new blog posts or to communicate with other people I find interesting.

This realisation about myself has led me to thinking about the various ways public facing figures, MPs, companies, celebrities, use these tools to communicate and I think they can be summaried into three broad categories (NB: Categories named for my amusement):

Personal mutterers: These are the people who are using the tool to talk about their personal lives, usually in a great deal of detail, without an interest in commentary. Its rare to see a public facing figure doing this, but it has been known to happen.

Transmitophiles: These are people who are putting out a higher level of information, which they believe will be of use to an audience. There isnt an invitation to discuss the information, however they will engage in conversation if someone else engages them actively. If the transmitter has unique information, it can be successful, if they are retransmitting existing information it'll be less valuable.

Dialoguers: This final type is using the medium to open up a conversation with people who are interested in similar topics. This is the hardest method to maintain, as it requires a great deal of ongoing effort and contiuous monitoring. Its also the most rewarding however, and the most likely to garner a significant following.

Some of the most succesful politicial figures during the election were able to create a dialogue with their constituents. They acted as a source of information, both about themselves and the local area, providing their followers with information they might not have otherwise. At the same time they used this audience as a potential source of voters, openly advocating their political position and its benefits.

The majority of the rest were transmitters. Providing information almost solely about themselves and the campaign they were involved in. There is no harm in this, but it doesnt incentivise people to reach out and engage with you.

Its a subtle transition between the two states but an important one. It requires that you are unselfish in providing information about things beyond yourself. Advertising local groups and activities for example, is always valued and creates a pool of goodwill which you can access later. It also makes you seem less self interested in your activities.

When developing a social media strategy (if that isnt too grand a way of describing it) it's important to consider which category you fall into and which is appropriate. Remember, if you want to create a dialogue, you have to do it from day one until such a time as you close down the activity, or else you'll alienate the very people you're trying to engage with.

I'm now going to go and transmit the fact I wrote this blog piece and figure out how I can create a dialogue about it.


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