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modes of communication in social media

Today I caught an NPR interview from a few days ago with Clay Shirky, author of "Here Comes Everybody." I was installing a new Drupal site, and so listening with divided attention. Nothing in the interview jumped out at me until the last minute when Shirky mentioned social media has a tendency to favor phatic communication, a mode of communication with the goal of opening social channels between people.

Whoa, wait. That observation stopped my installation work, and I looked up phatic communication and found someone's cheatsheet on Levels of Communication.

I'm sometimes frustrated with the trend towards a blah-blah level of communication in social media. After reading up on modes of communication, however, I was invigorated and felt more charitable towards the needs that fulfills.

Lessons Learned

phatic communication

While generally devoid of information, phatic communication does serve a purpose - with it we accomplish the social task of establishing rapport and opening social channels. It's a mistake (one I've often made) to assume its meaninglessness ("'sup guy?"), is pointless, because it does accomplish social tasks. Despite that, phatic communication does, still carry the potential to create a lot of noise in social media communication streams.

factual communication

"I work for Roger-Roger Communications." Or "My dog chews chair legs, too!" This is where we network and build relationships. It is rather safe ground and an important place to spend time. There are measurable benefits obtained from communication here, and little risk involved. It's a sweet spot.

evaluative communication

Evaluative communication, or the offering of opinions, extending a value statement or line of argument can really get a conversation going, but it's risky. Shared values will tend to intensify relationships, while dissimilar values will tend to weaken them. Some recognize evaluative arguments as something "put on" to test an idea and wish to be challenged, others consider this a level of conflict they'd rather avoid. In short, know your audience. In social media, where these communications happen in the open, audience can be difficult to define.

responding in kind

Out of human nature, we tend to respond in the mode with which another engages us. Statements of opinion beget statements of opinion. Disclosing facts about our lives elicts facts in return (if proper rapport exists).

to know is to be conscious

To know the modes of communication and their goals, it's empowering. You have an opportunity to step back and make conscious decisions. You can ask yourself, Do I value truth? Relationships? Something else? and which sort of communication fosters that?

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