Drowning in a Sea of Noise?

Sea of NoiseIn a previous blog post, we argued that social media is not about broadcasting, PR or direct marketing. It is not about communicating your message TO an audience. First and foremost, social media should be about listening to and engaging with your customers (especially your ‘Most Valuable’ and ‘Most Growable’ customers), your partners, your community, your tribe. However, listening first is something we are not very good at doing. We prefer telling people how good we are.

It was with some interest, therefore, that we read a recent blog post by Robert Bacal entitled ‘Twitter IS A Broadcast Medium, NOT A Conversational One And Implications For Customer Service’.

According to Robert, it is becoming more and more difficult to find real conversations on Twitter (dialogue, responses to tweets) compared to one way broadcasts, despite social media mavens talking about Twitter being about relationships, interaction and engagement. Based on a snapshot survey of recent non-social media related tweets, Robert concluded that At BEST 3% of the tweets sampled could be described as conversations (i.e. actual replies to tweets). By contrast, 30% of the sampled tweets were retweets; 17% were thank you’s; 9% were autotweets; and a massive 40% were one way broadcast of links, marketing, etc.

Based on Robert’s findings, we conducted our own (non-scientific) experiment using a different platform – Linkedin. Unlike Robert, we focused on Social Media related groups on the assumption that the level of real engagement would be higher in groups used by social media mavens.

The results of our snapshot evaluation of four of the most popular social media related Linkedin groups is shown below:

Group: Digital Marketing
Number of Group Members: 88,605
Date Examined: 17/6/11
New Discussions: 65
Number of Comments: 52
Comment Breakdown: 26 post your SM details; 12 post your twitter details; 5 looking for hosting services; 6 looking for a web designer
Real Comments: 3

Group: Future Social Media
Number of Group Members: 23,518
Date Examined: 15/6/11
New Discussions: 165
Number of Comments: 22
Comment Breakdown: 15 share your twitter details; 2 recommend an agency
Real Comments: 5

Group: Intelligent Social Media
Number of Group Members: 17,844
Date Examined: 15/6/11
New Discussions: 39
Number of Comments: 2
Comment Breakdown: NA
Real Comments: 2

Group: Social Media Marketing
Number of Group Members: 179,602
Date Examined: 17/6/11
New Discussions: 60
Number of Comments: 185
Comment Breakdown: 125 post your Facebook page details; 45 post your twitter details; 6 recommend a SM trainer
Real Comments: 9

The above statistics are pretty conclusive. Even in groups populated by social media mavens (to use Robert’s words), there is almost no engagement taking place. Yes group members are happy to post, but only when it’s about ‘them’ – letting others know their Facebook and twitter links. Apart from that, there is almost no conversation taking place, at least based on our snapshot evaluation. With a combined membership base of over 300,000 people (yes we know that many people will be members of all 4 groups), and a total of 335 new so-called ‘discussions’, we estimate that there were less than 20 actual comments made. Even most of these were simple ‘likes’ rather than real dialogue.

Putting aside issues relating to sample size and ability to generalise, the combined findings for Twitter (Robert) and Linkedin (us) do raise some serious questions. Are we drowning in a sea of noise? Will the current passion for Inbound Marketing lead to even more noise being generated? How do we create excellence in a sea of mediocrity?

As usual, comments and feedback very welcome

Jim, Alan, Vincent

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9 Responses to Drowning in a Sea of Noise?

  1. Alex Ogilvie says:

    Seems the more popular the social media sites have become the less the interaction and conversation. Seen this on Twitter over the past say 18-24 months. And LinkedIn is more spam that b2b comms. Pity – but I guess it was inevitable.

  2. I’m not sure I agree completely, there are many businesses who use facebook and continually interact with users, for example The Holiday Inn East Kilbride, another example is the comedian, Jim Gaffigan, I linked to an article on my Linkedin page which discusses how he has used facebook to make money. I think what we are seeing is different social media platforms being used in different ways.

  3. Alex/Michelle

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think you may both be right in the sense that there are companies who ‘get it’ and others who don’t.

    I agree Michelle that there are good examples of ‘best practice’ beginning to emerge which is great. In fact, it would be a useful exercise to record and list these on a regular basis.

    On the other hand, I do agree with Alex – especially in terms of Linkedin. I am a member of about 20 Linkedin groups and there is almost no interaction/dialogue in any of them.

    Take care and would welcome any further thoughts you have on this.

    Jim H

  4. barryhynd says:

    I think I also have to agree regarding LinkedIn. I’m also a member of various different groups but it’s very difficult to find posts where you can actually contribute some value. The Q&A section in LinkedIn also seems very American focussed which means very little scope for UK (and even less for Scottish based) people to contribute.

    I’ve said in a couple of other places that it feels like social media people have become quite “cliquey”, I think this is also true in Scotland to a certain extent. Not everyone but some.

    I’m reading Gary Vaynerchucks book The Thank You Economy just now and while it’s a great book i’m just not sure the UK and even less so Scotland has accepted Social Media to the extent the US has.

    • Thanks Barry – interesting comment about social media people being ‘cliquey’. The world’s greatest oxymoron 🙂 but I know what you mean – true to some extent.

      Not yet read The Thank You Economy. If you have the time, i would welcome a short guest post from you summarising the theme of the book – doesnt need to be too long.

      Let me know if this is of any interest to you – thanks and take care

      Jim H

  5. Katerina Loungi says:

    Interesting findings but can’t say I’m that surprised. Most people that join groups in Linkedin do it in order to simply add them in their profile and appear in the Updates page. Nothing more to it. No desire to express their points of view or expand their knowledge on a subject. Most likely they are the same people who join Facebook and they don’t share any news, they don’t post anything, they don’t share any photos. Why do they do it? If they don’t have any intention to be social in the first place, why do they bother to join in? Just because everyone else is doing it? Just because they want to see what the others have been up to but without revealing anything about themselves? Who knows!
    Perhaps it is a paradox of times: meaningful engagement and personal relationships are hard to find in real life, how are we expecting them to take place in the Social Media environment? When people stand alone in a corner holding their drink in a party or in a pub, how can they behave differently in the social media channels? And what are the implications for the marketers? How can they really get to start conversations with people that are not very keen at talking or sharing?

    Katerina

    • Thanks Katerina – some very interesting observations you make e.g. a paradox of our times – interesting to think that one through.

      I agree with what you say about Linkedin but wonder if there is another reason for low levels of engagement – lack of confidence? Maybe the person standing alone at the bar lacks the confidence to join in until a few drinks have been consumed 🙂

      Yes i do think there are important marketing issues here. Do people really want to engage with brands? Maybe we should stop talking about engagement and turn our attention to the way in which social media can used to enhance the customer experience, especially at key moments of truth.

      Take care and thanks for taking the time to comment

      Jim H

  6. Thanks for the article. Although I have been using WordPress with social media plugins to promote my online cv I have only recently begun to use Twitter and LinkedIn. Your snap shot across several groups has certainly made me re think my strategy on using SM.

    In future I will certainly try to engage in more discussion and try to lead with discussion based topics and tweets. Looking at the groups you have used in the sample I was genuinely surprised by the results.

    I’m sure people do use different SM platforms in different ways and that’s fair enough, the old saying horses for courses springs to mind. Each platform is different therefore it’s only wise to vary your approach. However for SM groups or platforms to reach their potential topical debate and community engagement should be encouraged. Otherwise it can turn into a bland forum for the me society and we miss out on the chance to push the envelope and further evolve the technology.

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