Social media – the end of conversation

Something unusual happened yesterday; this blog had a lot more comments than it normally gets. That’s surprising for this time of year, given that many people are on holiday.

Over the last year or so, I have noticed two seemingly contradictory trends. The blog’s hit rate has almost doubled while, at the same time, the number of comments has fallen. The rise in hit rates is probably due, in part, to the increased interest in this blog’s subject matter. My career is unusual in that I have worked in investment banking and in the public sector, both of which have come under the media spotlight recently, so some of my ramblings and reflections have attracted people’s attention. Being linked to by major newspapers like the Guardian has helped to boost the blog traffic.

Another major source of hits is Twitter. Since I started posting on Twitter a few months ago, I have noticed another sharp increase in traffic. As I was thinking about this recently, the penny dropped. Twitter is also the reason why I’m getting fewer blog comments. Everyone is discussing stuff on Twitter instead.

Earlier this week, digital marketing expert Mitch Joel blogged about The End Of Conversation In Social Media. The title gives you a pretty clear idea of Mitch’s stance on the subject but here are his observations:

  • Blogs that have comments, with little back and forth. Some Bloggers respond to the comments and some don’t.
  • Those that do have comments, usually have no further comment from the person who left a comment in the first place. That’s not a conversation. That’s feedback.
  • Individuals not leaving a comment to engage in a conversation, but simply to promote their own links or to chest-thump.
  • Twitter doesn’t really bring out a conversation. It’s a great place to broadcast and get some quick tidbits, but let’s face it, unless you’re creating spiritual and motivation tweets, it’s hard to have substance in 140 characters (or less – if you’re looking for a retweet).
  • Even in cool arenas like the #blogchat that takes place on Twitter every Sunday night, it feels more like everyone screaming a thought at once than a conversation that can be followed and engaged with.
  • Facebook has some great banter with the wall posts and status updates, but it’s more chatty than conversational and it’s not an open/public environment.

I have observed something similar. Twitter doesn’t lend itself to debate. It’s difficult to follow a conversation and the 140 character limit restricts what you can say. It’s rather like watching children pass notes to each other in the classroom. It’s difficult to join in and almost impossible to discuss anything in depth. It’s even worse when you look at the Twitter pages of some of the political bloggers. Their comments threads were always more rowdy and abusive than those on business-related blogs. Their Twitter pages are full of seemingly random insults; that what political arguments look like when they are conducted by passing post-it notes.

At the end of his post, Mitch poses the question:

Are we seeing a new shift in Social Media? Are the conversations dead? Were they ever – really – alive? What do you think?

From what I’ve seen, there was more conversation and debate in the early days of blogs and discussion forums than there is now. Twitter and other social media are fun because there is always something new happening and you can connect with lots of people but you don’t really get conversation. The shift in focus towards Twitter seems to have reduced the level of conversation elsewhere on the web too.

Back in the eighties and early nineties I used to follow a band called New Model Army. (Anyone who is familiar with the band will know that they had followers not fans.) Twenty years ago, their chief bard, Justin Sullivan, wrote these words:

This golden age of communication
Means everyone talks at the same time

Strangely prophetic. Perhaps he foresaw Twitter and social media, because that’s exactly what’s happening now.

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7 Responses to Social media – the end of conversation

  1. Pingback: Social media – the end of conversation - Rick - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  2. thehrd says:

    Rick, I thought I’d leave a comment. I’m a traditionalist! I noticed the same thing when I went onto Twitter full time. The amount of hits increased, but comments didn’t follow (although I’m lucky that there tends to be a regular number of comments). On a coup0le of occasions I’ve asked people that have tweeted me to write their comments on the blog, not for me but for others. Twitter is fast moving and sometimes a really insightful remark can be missed.

    I’m not sure that the two things, blogging and micro blogging are not compatible. I think the difference is that with a blog you have to put work time and effort into it whereas with Twitter you can fairly much shoot from the hip from the get go. It isn’t the end of the conversation, but it is an acceleration of it.

  3. Rick says:

    Yeah, I see what you mean but it seems to me that the more time people spend on Twitter and Facebook, the less time they spend having proper discussions on blogs. Perhaps Twitter works better for some people. It requires less effort, as you say, and you are less likely to get challenged as no-one can pick your argument apart in 140 characters – or if they do, it’s gone before too many people see it.

  4. I think Twitter works best as a starting point for conversations, or as an alert that conversations are taking place, through links and mentions, rather than the main location for the discussion. From that point of view, I find Twitter works better than my RSS reader or general surfing to alert me to interesting conversations and debates. I certainly agree, though, that Twitter is not a good place to develop the discussion once it has begun. You can’t say much more in 14o characters than “I like this” or “I disagree with that” – but for me Twitter is just about perfect for saying “read this” or “have you seen that?”

  5. Pingback: Connect. Engage. Share. Learn. « T Recs

  6. Rick, it’s interesting to see the impact Twitter has had on your blog. I agree that it is harder to have an in-depth debate on Twitter, but it is easier to have conversation and to connect with others and share links. It would seem logical that amplifying your blog on Twitter would lead to more comments but maybe that will come. Only a very small proportion of users engage (ie they post comments on blogs) so the Twitter impact might take time. For all the places to chat (forums, social networking sites etc) there does not seem to be any new place for writing and sharing longer pieces – the only place seems to be blogs. Plus blogs are effective for bringing users to you via search (ie people interested in the topic). I like the look of ‘lighter’ blogging platforms such as Posterous which maybe provide something in between Twitter and, say, WordPress. Weirdly, I find myself looking at your blog more (and commenting more) because of Twitter.

  7. One of the better articles I’ve seen written, great job! Looking forward to reading more from you.

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