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January 15, 2009

Having A Meaningful Online Conversation

January 15, 2009

Is Social Media a gigantic waste of time?

A recent column in the IBJ (Indianapolis Business Journal) by Morton Marcus is asserting that this brave new world of online communities are nothing more than that- a huge, colossal waste of time.

Before I do the obvious and prove Mr. Marcus wrong I think we should concede a little ground. He has a point, it is not hard to waste a lot of time online. Building up meaningless connections with people you don't know has little value. Having 1000 online acquaintances (or "friends") doesn't beat having 10 "real" friends.

The problem is that Morton is not having meaningful conversations online. So who can blame him for throwing in the towel?

My wife has recently embraced Twitter and Social Media in general. It's been fun to watch her get bitten by the Social Media bug over the last few months. First it was Facebook, aka the Social Media Gateway Drug, and now Twitter. Although I joined Twitter over two years ago I have to admit it wasn't until the last few months that I "got" it. The reason was that I didn't see any meaningful conversations happening when I logged in.

As anyone who is a member of Twitter will tell you the problem was that I wasn't engaging in the community. I wasn't seeking out like-minded individuals to share ideas. Also, I wasn't posting my ideas and links so why would anyone seek me out?

The Web is a huge, ever expanding universe. It's easy to get lost and feel like everyone is trying to sell you something. So how do you have a meaningful online conversation?

Here's a few ideas on how someone like Morton Marcus can have a meaningful online conversation-

  1. Talk To Peers- ask around, what sites are they spending time on?
  2. Look But Don't Touch- before creating accounts, spend some time on the recommended sites. You don't need to join every community you come across online. This can lead to Social Media Fatigue (SMF as it will now be called).
  3. Start Slow- join one community, I suggest Facebook, Twitter or a niche Ning community (i.e. SmallerIndiana.com). Spend 10-15 minutes every day on that site. Join conversations that interest you, message users that seem to be on the same path as you.
  4. Know When To Fold 'Em- it's ok to leave a community. I left My Space recently. I wasn't having any meaningful conversations. I left a note on my profile page letting people know they could find me at Musicalfamilytree.com which is the music community site I started with some friends and now has about 1500 members and many quality conversations centered around one of my great loves- music. It's a Goldilocks' site. Not too big, not too small, just right. If the community you joined has passed the Goldilocks' sweet spot then opt out.
You will start to see a return on your time investment as you start to have meaningful conversations around topics you care passionately about with people that share this passion. That return might be in the form of knowledge, friendship, or business. This depends mostly on what you wanted going in.

So I hope you are reading this Mr. Morton and you give Social Media another chance. It does require a different way of thinking especially in how one allocates time. But if done properly it can yield a great return, personally and professionally.


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