Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Communication as a Continuous Process

Conversation Agent: The “Fall in Love” and “Now I Know You” Effects.

This is a thoughtful article, with references to further reading that sounds compelling. The concept of relationships as a dynamic, continuous process of giving and taking certainly makes sense. It gets a little deeper when he cites Toru Sato writes in his psychology book The Ever Transcending Spirit:

According to Sato, communication is a continuous process of breaking down and rebuilding our self-esteem. People change. People’s circumstances change. People’s desires change. In order to keep any relationship working, we need to be constantly open to those changes and adjust accordingly each moment we interact.

It raises the question for organizations seeking to fully engage online with their customers, partners, stakeholders: how to be responsive, open to input and changes, while still presenting a consistent and reliable persona?

An interesting case in point about the (perceived) risk of this kind of radical openness to input/feedback: I was doing taxes this weekend – online, in TurboTax. On the right side of the screen was an area called “Ask the Community”. This is a nice, simple way to allow other users to support each other. But last night, one of the questions that appeared in the box was from an indignant user, very unhappy about the program. “This is the stupidest online system I have ever seen!”

The effect on me – since I was having a fine experience – was actually positive. I appreciated that Intuit allowed unfiltered feedback – and face it, there will always be flamers having a bad day (I recently had such a bad day when trying to start a blog on Typepad – I sent a pointed email to support, but if I knew it would have been viewed by the general public, I doubt it would have been so brusque). I must admit, that when I went back to find the exact text of the message – TurboTax lets you look at all recent questions – it must have been removed from the list.

Getting back to the continuous conversation idea… It may be easy for a company to treat their web presence like a billboard – something that you create and make public, and then forget. A lesson I’m continuously trying to learn is how to stay awake – online and receptive – a higher percentage of the time. It’s easy to muster your creative resources for short spurts of energy, deliver something, then slip back into relative quietude. Engaging online requires more work, and continuous effort. Staying in real conversation – not just spouting marketing platitudes and approved talking points – requires a person or a company to be more fully “on”. It also makes it hard to take a vacation – are you prepared to tend to the conversation round-the-clock?

If done right, of course, you can create an actual “community” (not just a label applied to an unallied group of people), and there will be many voices working on your behalf. Still, you can’t fall asleep – this is an always-on world, with more information being shared than you may be comfortable with. Don’t hide behind slogans, but make sure you are sincere, supportive, positive and helpful. Your attitude becomes your brand far more effectively than your advertising slogan or company tagline.

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Written by tstaley

March 9, 2009 at 4:51 pm

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