Can We Blame The Audience For Agreeing

There was an interesting discussion going on this morning over on Edward Boches blog, Creativity Unbound. (For those of you who don't know him, he's the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Social Media Officer at Mullen, in Boston. And yes, I've invited him to be on The BeanCast Marketing Podcast, so expect to hear from him in the coming months.)

The basic question put out was, "Are we being too agreeable in social media settings?" In mass marketing publications and websites, debate can be quite inflammatory and event downright nasty. But Edward points out that the norm on Twitter or in blog comments seems to be predominantly one of backslapping and "good job!"

Obviously, with a premise like this, even the commenters who agreed tried to be a little disagreeable. None of us wanted to seem like foolish patsies, after all. But two things occurred to me after reading the post and follow up comments.

Social Networks Are Designed for Agreement

While debate does happen among friends, by their very design the social networks are predisposed toward forming circles of like-minded people. Same with personal blogs. It's unlikely you're going to waste time reading the opinions of an individual you don't agree with. So finding spirited disagreement in such circles is simply not the norm. Which raises the question of whether such environments are healthy if not matched to at least some mainstream engagement. As I said 

in my comments on Edward's post


"...the debate evolves further as to whether social networks are healthy ecosystems for ideas. We talk about Twitter replacing news sites for many of us, but are we better people if we only hear the news we want to hear, reported in ways we want to hear it?

I’ve always said that social networks are only as good as the people you follow, so I try to engage with people who disagree with me as much as with those who agree with me. But I think you raise a very good point that broader news sites and open forums still very much play an important roll in our social efforts. If we don’t pay attention to the broad audience, how can we draw people to the micro audience?"

Edward's post highlights the fact that relying too heavily on social media for engagement with our audience, creates a vacuum that can be unhealthy if not tempered with broader thinking and engagement.

Vanilla Posts Get Vanilla Responses

For me, though, the more important take-away from this discussion is an understanding that I can't blame my audience for agreeing with me, if I'm not challenging them in the first place.

Let's be honest: If we're among friends, we tend to fall into certain patterns. We feel comfortable around like-minded people, so we share thinking that fits the venue. We're also driven by pleasing our audience to keep them following us or reading our blog posts. So how can we blame our audience for being too agreeable if we're not pushing their comfort zone and making them consider new ways of thinking? Again turning to my comments on Edward's post:

"I think...this also highlights the often shirked responsibility held by bloggers/posters/whatever. I hear a lot about keywords and SEO and posting content that drives traffic. But it’s the rare blogger who challenges their own thinking, explores ideas that may be counter to the thinking of their audience and occasionally admits that they were wrong. The quality of the content is what drives the debate. We can’t blame the audience for agreeing with us when we’re posting “vanilla” ideas."

To truly get the most value we can from social media tools, we need to be part of a conversation. But too many of us confuse conversation with push messaging, followed by audience feedback. We have to remember that conversation doesn't always begin and end with us. Sometimes it needs to be sought out. And sometimes it means saying things that will spark debate.Dangerous stuff! But then, if we're not willing to risk a little danger in the social scene, why are we even bothering in the first place? Because in the end if we're not engaging in real, two-way conversation, it's just the same old push strategy in a new venue.

Thanks again to Edward Boches for sparking this particular conversation. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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