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Does social media foster discussion?

The Internet has created unprecedented opportunities to share and discuss ideas and opinions. Social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – and blogs foster great conversation and new connections. Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson champions his commenters, and entrepreneur Penelope Trunk believes blogging is key to building a good career. (Penelope also has a course on how to blog which I highly recommend.) Writer/investor James Altucher holds an open door Q&A weekly on Twitter and posts more detailed responses to questions he receives on his blog. Gawker Media is a great example of a media organization that actively curates and cultivates conversations about its posts with its readers. One of their blogs, Deadspin, recently highlighted its comments of the year. Read posts from The Daulerio Roast to get a sense of how A.J. Daulerio, former editor-in-chief at Deadspin and now editor-in-chief at Gawker, cultivated content and community on Deadspin.

John Gabriel's General Internet TheoryBut some have become disillusioned with social media. There are failures in communication: see John Gabriel’s General Internet Theory or the comments a typical daily newspaper article. The vibrant communities they once cultivated online have grown stagnant. Matt Gemmell, iOS and Mac developer, has cut comments from his blog, saying they are burdensome to moderate and offer little value to readers or the author. The Des Moines Register has discontinued anonymous commenting and now requires all comments on articles via a Facebook account. Columnist Rekha Basu pioneered the effort to encourage a more civil discourse about current affairs and the people in the media spotlight. Chicago-based writer Monica Leonelle ended her blog and most social media activity:

Over time, each of these [social media] tactics–commenting, guest posting, social media, and blogging–got crowded. People who loved reading their comments cared less about the person behind them. People who loved subscribing to new bloggers’ feeds stopped using their feed readers. People who loved commenting on blogs started commenting on social media instead. People who loved social media started opting out because their streams were flooded.

Now, I’ve deleted my blog and several social media accounts. Han Solo asked me why, when I have spent years building these platforms. The simple answer is that these platforms are ineffective in helping me reach my goals.

Neither Matt nor Monica discount the value of dialogue and they don’t want to discourage their readers from responding. They are actively managing how they communicate with their audiences and focusing their attention on the channels that give them the best return on their investment of time. Matt wants to disseminate his posts via other blogs and Twitter. Monica prefers the private one-to-one exchange via e-mail through her new venture, The Daily(ish):

I send letters daily(ish) to readers who have opted in. Each day, I hit publish and I see what sticks (or what doesn’t). I don’t try to promote old posts or resuscitate old writing. I don’t fuss with traffic or stats–my only goal is to make my current readers happy. Theoretically, if I make my current readers happy, I’ll find more readers just like them through word-of-mouth.

I am also working through this process of what works and what doesn’t in the social media sphere. I subscribe to a number of blogs using Google Reader. Since blog comments do not come through Reader, I rarely read the conversation that takes place within each post I read. Instead of commenting on the posts I like, I +1 them on Google+ and share the very best to my networks on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. This blog is growing an audience (thank you, readers!) but you, the reader, have not decided to engage with me via comments on each post. I hear most often from readers by e-mail and face-to-face. This is not a surprise, as Gallup has reported that most social networking occurs offline.

Sharing and discussing what I read is a way for me to process and understand what matters to me and what matters to my friends, my clients, and my audience. What do you read? How do you share it?

PS: Here are posts and pages I have given +1.


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