Recently, the New York Times ran an article called Brave New World of Digital Intimacy that dives into how relationships have changed now that interaction with others-and our lives- are shared on-line via applications like Facebook and Twitter.
According to the article, 'social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it "ambient awareness." It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does - body language, sighs, stray comments - out of the corner of your eye.'
A lot of updates are limited to 140 characters and applications like ping.fm make it easy to broadcast daily minutiae across multiple applications at the same time. There seems to be an assumption that broadcasting equates to participation in social media and its applications. It certainly makes it easier, right? Instant communicate to all networks with one push of the enter key.
But is communication with the network the same as conversing with the network? Connie Reece recently asked the question "are you conversationally tone-deaf?" and explained that one-way conversation (i.e. broadcasting) does not equate to a social media best practice.
Social media leaders, who understand the importance of conversation, leave different update statuses on different applications like Twitter, Plurk and Facebook. Why? Because they use the applications for the different purposes they serve. Perhaps Twitter for business, Plurk for friends and Facebook for the combination of the two. Time consuming? Yes. But importantly, they realize that their communities are different on each networking application and conversations on each will be different.
The article goes on to say that, "...this is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update-each individual bit of social information-is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends' and family members' lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting."
But, that's not entirely accurate. The portrait being seen is the one painted by the broadcaster. They control what is known about them. Without any meaningful conversation, whether on-line or in person, it is truly impossible to know that person. Basing relationships on what broadcasted messages they leave behind can lead to potential parasocial behavior. Conversation is an art. It takes practice and is time consuming. Having ambient awareness isn't enough to develop a meaningful relationship. And as more people start using social media tools to broadcast and not converse, social media will become no more than traditional marketing utilizing on-line tools.
Ultimately as marketers it's important to understand that broadcasting via social media tools will not help to engage customers, partners or employees anymore than newsletters and e-mail marketing do (i.e. one-way conversation). Ambient awareness does not truly provide the body language, sighs, stray comments that are only apparent during a real conversation. The only way to get to understand your customers, partners or employees and their wants, needs and goals/objectives is to have a traditional conversation. No tool or amount of broadcasting can replace that.
What's your take on ambient awareness?
[NYT article hat tip: Alan Wolk]
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