Social conversations: time to move beyond broadcasting

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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.

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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.

 

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