Objectives shape social engagements

I had a great conversation with Farhan Rehman today on the issue of how to train business based clients in the art of social media content development. We got to talking about the varied uses of various platforms and the relative benefits (in terms of business purpose) to be derived from different kinds of engagements. I think at some stage Farhan is going to write a post on his blog about the various levels of maturity in twitter use, so I’ll leave that to him to explain, but his ideas really got my thinking about how objectives for use affected the method of engagement, not just of the original author of a twitter post, but the style of response of the audience to those tweets.

For instance, if your major purpose in using twitter is to learn from the community of sources you put together in your following list, then you’re already treating those sources as a kind of learning space. So your engagement with the content offered by your sources is likely to be clarifying, expanding, and comparative.

Or if your purpose for using twitter is more as a means of keeping up with colleagues and friends you know, you’re likely to engage with people in a lighter, perhaps even trivial fashion, using the platform as a means of staying informed and in touch but perhaps less exclusively as a content channel and more as a conversational environment.

If, however, your primary interest in using twitter is for research, business development and news, your engagement will tend to be critical, opportunistic and perhaps even demanding.

But what’s really weird (or perhaps entirely understandable?) is that audiences seem for the most part to have a remarkably accurate capacity to intuit the tone and purpose of an author’s twitter use. And they tend to respond almost in kind to those purposes. And they appear to do so by ‘tuning in’ to the frequency at which the author is ‘broadcasting’.

Of course this all impacts on how we listen, too. As audiences we can treat sources as mass media, consuming information of interest as and when we choose, or we can listen as we would to a conversation at a bar, or we can listen critically, challenging the ideas we come across, or reaching out to new opportunities in a manner that puts one’s reputation on the line.

I think understanding different purposes and protocols for using platforms like twitter can be instrumental in guiding content development and audience engagement. Because when a purpose and a protocol is clear, there’s always room for divergence, but there’s also clarity of what kind of engagement is valued.

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