Five reasons why social media is like … a dinner table conversation

Continuing my series on the Five Reasons Social Media Is Like … this week it’s something we’ve all been involved in, all contributed to, all enjoyed and at times couldn’t wait to get the hell away from.

Five reasons social media is like … a dinner table conversation

1. Because sometimes it’s like everyone’s talking at once and trying to be heard.

Have you ever been to a dinner where it’s like everyone is talking at once?  And once everyone starts talking, the volume increases and the only way to get yourself heard is to talk louder?  Which then increases the volume so everyone needs to speak even louder to get their point across?

I have.  If you have, think back to how much you enjoyed and took out of that conversation.  Do you remember it fondly?  Or thinking back, did your ears hurt?  Most people in that situation don’t have the fondest memories of either talking or listening like that.

Social media can be the same as that.  Everyone is trying madly to be heard so they just keep talking louder and louder.  I’ve met some social media consultants who say in that situation you just have to talk more often, bigger and louder than you ever have in order to cut through.

I don’t.  My advice to clients is talking louder or more often doesn’t engage your audience.  If anything, it makes their ears hurt.

2. Because the best conversations are ones with both listening AND talking.

All good communication falls into a simple structure – I talk, you listen.  Then it’s your turn.  That way we both contribute to the transaction and both walk away feeling both informed of another opinion, but also satisfied that we’ve been heard.

Some dinner table conversations are dominated by one or a few people.  If you’re someone who is more reserved about your opinions or is just generally shy, you might sit back and be talked AT rather than WITH.  And, based on my experience, you won’t like it.

Social media is like that as well.  The best transactions that happen in the social media space occur when the organisation and its customers share the load and express their own views.  Questions are asked and answered – from both parties.

Or you could be like Westpac, who in 2012 simply deleted anything they didn’t like on their Facebook page.  How valued do think their customers felt after that?

3. Because you form perceptions about people based on what they say, not who they are.

I have been to dinner parties where I haven’t known at all the person across the table from me.  And yet, five minutes into the function, I have formed a clear perception about who they are.  How have I determined that?  All I’ve got to go on is what they’ve said or contributed to the group around me.

In some cases, I’ve nailed the person completely.  I’ve been able to determine exactly who they are and what they’re all about.  At other times, I’ve been completely off the mark.  Once I’ve gotten to know them over time, I have found that they are more or less kind than I thought, more or less driven than I thought or more or less friendly than I thought.

That happens in social media every day.  People who see your organisation in social media form opinions on you based on what they see and read.  If your posts are customer-focussed and friendly, that’s what they think you are.  If you are defensive or combative to people who take issue with you or your product, they form a picture of you that casts doubt on whether they want to do business with you.  What picture are you putting across by how you are posting or tweeting?

4. Because the person who speaks non-stop with no thought to what others are saying is the first one we stop listening to.

Picture your nightmare dinner companion from hell.  For me, it’s someone who talks incessantly about themselves, pausing only for oxygen or another mouthful of wine.  Have you ever had dinner with someone like this?  Most people have … and the longer the ‘conversation’ has gone, the less they’ve been interested in what that person has to say.

I’m sure you’ve also bumped into these people on social media.  They post EVERYTHING about their life, EVERY thought, EVERY little thing that happened to them from the moment they first put their feet on the floor in the morning.  And it’s all screaming ‘me, me, me.’  What is your reaction to social media like this?  I’ve done some informal research in this area and can tell you that people switch off – either mentally by stopping to listen or physically by disconnecting with them in social media.

Some companies are also like that – they post incessantly but they’ve confused quantity with quality.  They talk about themselves non-stop: ‘we’re doing this, we’re doing that, this is our opinion on XYZ.’  And most people stop listening.  If your organisation is doing that, please change your focus.  Stop talking about yourselves – talk about how your product or service benefits your customers.

5. Because there are many conversations going on and you can drop in and out of them at will.

If you’ve had the good fortune to sit in the middle of the table during a dinner party, you’re in the fortunate position to be able to pick and choose from the conversations that happen to both your left and right.  It’s a conversational smorgasbord – and you can drop out of a conversation that you lose interest in, or switch to another conversation if you catch a word or two that interests you.

In social media, there are so many conversations going on that your customers are also doing that.  They can scan their Facebook news feed and only pick up on those conversations that interest them.  Then when they’re in the middle of that, they get a Tweet which sparks their interest, so they leave you and start tweeting to someone else.

How do you get around that if you’re running corporate social media?  Think about what makes people switch conversations.  It’s words they relate to.  You need to ensure you are using the right words, based on interest points for your audience, in order to first catch people’s attention and then retain it.


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