Talk With People, Not To Them

A few days ago, I read an interesting essay by Steven Hodson on The Inquisitr – Is social media becoming a social mess? In his essay, Steven wrote about the avalanche of conversations occuring in social media.

“It is beginning to feel like we are just having conversations for converstaion sake – to make some noise – to fill up that immense space of the Internet with noise. It is all becoming a matter of hyper-conversation. Conversations on as many services as possible with as many people as possible. We are drowning in conversations but is anybody really talking?”

It’s an excellent essay and I encourage everyone to read it. I spent the last two days thinking about Steven’s essay. After I read the essay, I posted a comment:

“I agree that things are starting to look like mush and the conversations are becoming less about the conversation and more about having others see that you’re having a conversation. My personal view – many people are drawn not only to the excitement of conversing with many people, but also to the excitement of having lots of followers and being known and recognized. Those are all good things – and some deserve the recognition and the followers. But for most, it’s become a game and is less about substance than it is about numbers. And that’s a real problem because there are far more people who care about numbers than those who care about substance. The noise will continue to increase and it will be more and more difficult to follow real conversations. I don’t have a solution to propose. I certainly understand @chrisbrogan and the reason he wouldn’t delete his Facebook account – that account doesn’t contribute to the noise. It’s really not about how many accounts we have and our presence on the many social networks. It’s more about our reasons for being there. If it’s merely to build followers and that’s the end goal – we become shills and easily compromise our own values and standards. So – I say that conversations are a great thing if they are about the conversations, and not about making sure others see you’re having them. Sadly, looking at Twitter as an example, I am finding fewer and fewer conversations for the sake of conversation.”

It occurred to me this morning that Steven’s point can be extended a bit further. The problem is not merely that we are conversing on every social network and with as many people as we can at one time –  we often forget why we are participating in these conversations. I don’t mean that we lose track of where we’ve posted our comments or about our tweets on Twitter. We forget that conversations are about talking WITH people, not talking TO people. There are many good reasons why people like Chris Brogan and Tim O’Reilly are highly respected in social media circles. One important reason: they don’t forget that they are talking WITH people, not TO people.

There is a difference, and the difference is important. It’s a lesson we learned long ago. For example, we are currently talking with our entire community in our forums about standards of conduct for creatives on crowdSPRING. We could have simply written the standards and published them. Instead, we wanted to involve our entire community. It’s an important conversation and we wanted everyone to have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

This isn’t a particularly profound concept – talking WITH people. We are pretty good at talking with people when we meet face to face. But our online conversations often ignore common courtesies and we often feign real interest. Our online conversations often become more about increasing the number of people who follow us on Twitter or friends on Facebook.

If you really want to be like Chris Brogan and Tim O’Reilly – don’t worry about how many people “follow” or “friend” you. Worry about your conversations and ask yourself whether you are talking WITH people or merely TO them. The difference is important.

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