Social conversations: time to move beyond broadcasting


Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human – Aristotle

That’s the intellectual stuff out of the way.

Let’s talk about Instagram and social conversations.

People sharing their passions and interests is what social is all about for me. Whether it’s a love of food , dancing , dogs or a desire to change the world, most of us connect better when we see the person behind the brand.

Far from being a modern phenomenon these passions have been shared between people for thousands of years. The fact we are now sharing them through digital media is a change in the tools available to us – not our human behaviour.

Earlier in the year I went on a trip to Vietnam. I didn’t think I tweeted much but it was enough to prompt the following in Inside Housing – the social housing magazine.

Screenshot 2014-05-05 12.48.41

I thought it was pretty funny and shared it online.

The responses were interesting and split three ways.

Some thought it was amusing. It annoyed others who saw the call for ‘disconnecting’ as missing the point of social.

But some people agreed with it – and suggested I keep my holiday updates to myself. They’d followed me for insights on innovation and customer experience – and now they were getting photographs of my breakfast.

I was initially dismissive of this. I even playfully reminded them that social networks are subscription services – if you don’t like a persons updates you can always switch them off.

Indeed a couple of people took me up on this advice and promptly unfollowed me! This , on reflection, was short sighted of me , it’s important to try to understand the expectations of your community.

In ‘It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens’ , danah boyd explores changing attitudes to digital identity from the point of view of young people.

The book articulates how teens are becoming increasingly sophisticated in adapting their identity according to the audience they are addressing. Or the audience they imagine they are addressing.

Digital communication is different.

In face-to-face communication we carefully assess the context of the interaction in order to decide how we will act, what we will say, and how we present ourselves.

But social media technologies collapse multiple audiences into single contexts. And every blog you write , every photo you share , every message you tweet can be transported anywhere in the world and interpreted in an infinite number of ways.

This excites many of us and scares others.

A girls message left on Facebook with an intended audience of her close friends is sometimes misunderstood , usually by adults, who have no clue as to how it fits into the context of a larger conversation.

This is why many organisations have such an uneasy relationship with social media. They obsess about how their output has to be “on message” and not be capable of being misinterpreted. They are trying to put a set of rules around social media that simply doesn’t work.

As Mark Schaefer has said – internal process is usually optimised for “campaigns,” not “relationships.”

Rewiring our organisations for building relationships through conversations is one of our great challenges.

Clearly many will struggle to adapt to a more connected culture. This need for digital leadership was discussed last week with Mark Brown and Shirley Ayres. The highlights are in this slide deck.

We are moving beyond broadcasting.

And if social media can lead to social good it requires us to build relationships with others who share our passions and interests . These relationships are no longer restrained by physical location , our immediate peer group, our employers, or our sectors.

We have an opportunity to say this is who I am and this is what I want to achieve. A opportunity of following and being followed by people who believe in your cause.

And that conversation may start with what you had for breakfast. And it might annoy a minority of your followers.

I reckon Aristotle would have loved Instagram , our emerging digital intimacy , and our very social conversations.



16 thoughts on “Social conversations: time to move beyond broadcasting

  1. Spot on, once again, Paul.

    What I always say to people who complain about the personal stuff among the business tweets is that it’s like working in an office full of really helpful people. They give you loads of professional information and advice, but, in between that, you learn what they’ve been doing in their private lives. I think that helps you to make a decision about what kind of people they are, and whether their professional advice can be trusted.

    1. It’s exactly that isn’t it John? If I was making a coffee at work and someone said ‘how did your weekend go?’ – I wouldn’t say ‘can we talk about this outside work’. It’s just part of the ebb and flow of relationships and conversations. Maybe some people are just better at screeing out the noise – just like in an office.

      Thanks for commenting

    1. Love the concept of ‘the more touchpoints the better’ Charlotte. I agree it breaks down perceived barriers and strengthens tie. Thanks!

  2. Having just come back from a trip to Australia this struck a bit of a chord. Since tweeting pictures from my trip it’s been interesting making connections with colleagues and sharing our interests. It’s quite interesting to see that those water cooler conversations aren’t just happening in the workplace, but also when one person is a few thousand miles away.

    Great picture by the way!

    – Dyfrig

    1. Thanks Dyfrig – funny that was when I in North Wales with #WAOprevent I didn’t ask where you were as I clocked you were away. I think this adds to relationships and helps deepen connections.

      Liked the “Don’t be a Tosser” picture too! Hope Oz was great I’ve never been. Catch up soon.

      1. It was great cheers – 3 weeks in Queensland and I still don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface of Oz. Loved that pic – not a bad way of getting your message through! I heard #WAOprevent in the north went well, cheers again for all your hard work on it. I’ll get the video edited and online soon.

  3. It’s not at all easy to know what to share where online, and you have summarised it well. Balancing the need to “understand the expectations of your community” (and understanding that each social platform has a subtly different community) whilst also being bold enough to say “this is who I am” is a challenge.

    The comparison with the office environment in the comments clearly show it really is important to allow ourselves, and allow others, to give a fuller picture of who we are.

    I wish I hadn’t started reading this just as I tucked into my lunch – the photo almost put me off my sandwiches! 😉

    1. I’d agree it’s a challenge Albert a balance that we have to achieve through trial and error in many ways. I used to cross post some really random stuff but have , through observing others , tried to make things as appropriate as possible.

      We are all on a journey on this one.

      Thanks for commenting and sorry about the lunch!

  4. Reblogged this on michalarudman and commented:
    I have a ‘professional’ twitter and a personal one as I was worried about sending out mixed messages. But more recently I’ve had the confidence to share a bit of my humour and life via my ‘professional’ account as I’ve realised that it is the office ‘water cooler’ for the online community and posts like my crotchet stars wars characters on May 4th, ‘fills In some of the gaps of who I am as a person…(one who enjoys bad jokes!)

    I like this approach, lets call it friendly professional, so keep it up Paul!

    1. Thanks Michala – you know the number one question I get asked when I do conferences is “how do you separate personal and work?”. And I think it’s down to what you said – confidence.

      I used to have a personal Twitter account that I deactivated about 12 months after I switched to the @paulbromford account. The reason I did it was confidence in what I was posting and realising I wasn’t two people. But this will be different for all of us and also depends on our employers too.

      But the default I think is people connect with people – we understand each other better when we know what makes people tick.

      Thanks for posting

  5. Have been thinking more on this, and connecting it to another related topic (for me). I’ve been reflecting on my interaction via twitter and the fact I’m an introvert. On the one hand twitter is great for me – the introvert- No need to worry about screening phone calls! However, I still find it, on occasion – maybe in waves- too noisy and loud, and I have to retreat to quiet. But I’m conscious too that social connections loosen if not maintained.. so for me, posting ‘inconsequential’ stuff is also a way of trying to retain a connection when I also need seclusion…. I am aware that this probably sounds very ridiculous so would be interested in other introverts views… Maybe I should start my own blog but goodness how would I manage that!!

    1. I think you should Charlotte as would be fascinated! There’s a second part to this post as it got a bit long and rambling which goes into why some people find social media easier than others. Whilst some people find it’s much easier to be outgoing online, than it is offline – others have exactly the opposite experience.

      I’ll try and post it next week.

      What you are saying does not sound ridiculous at all though – it makes sense that been able to dip and out with “stuff” keeps up ties and maintains links.

  6. I love Instagram .. its the hobby photographer in me. Having just been to Panama I was able to get random shots on my phone via a bus window when the big camera wouldnt have coped.
    Life is experience ..experience is life… to share the world we live in is inspiring, emotional, challenging and uplifting. While my business has a business Twitter & Facebook account primarily to push out work/employment related info…I dont have any problem being myself on all the social media platforms that I have.
    We talk about authenticity a lot in SoMe and I think thats why these platforms challenge our mindset. I agree that if we pull back the curtains to allow the world in.. then at times we have to tweek the view to suit the audience. Great blog Paul and what better way to create a conversation than letting the world view how the rest of the world lives….it makes you appreciate a lot more than we probabaly realised. PS. My Instagram is Fi Harland

  7. Thanks Fiona what a lovely comment – much appreciated. And hey – we are now connected on Instagram!

  8. I’m totally with you on this, Paul. Like you’ve raised in your comments below, I too deactivated my personal twitter account last year and opted to tweet only using my @andyjatbromford after all – there’s only one me! (<< I then went on to blog about this!).

    John (Popham) makes a great reference to conversations in the office and this is behind some of the reason behind my decision. In doing so I've widened my network and opened some great opportunities where my work 'work' and 'personal' audiences can mix for the better of one another – cue a recent volunteering call for a festival I go to that I've signposted via Connect!

    Great stuff Paul.

    Andy Johnson (via twitter, via WordPress from Ibiza!) 😉

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