Is Social Media for Conversation – or for Broadcasting?

“Social media is for conversations, not broadcasting.”

That’s a common bromide among social media gurus.  But is it true?

This matters to traditional broadcasters, because so much of what we do is built for broadcasting – it’s built for “one-to-many.”  Should we shoot for more conversation or more distribution?

Hubspot’s Dan Zarella took a closer look at this question:

For blogs, “conversation” means “comments.”  But Zarella found no significant correlation between the number of comments a blog post received and the amount of traffic that blog got.  Nor did he find a correlation between comments and links to a blog post.  In other words, conversation did not drive traffic.

For Facebook, Zarella looked at two popular pages and again found no correlation between the amount of conversation (comments and likes) on a wall post and the number of people who see that wall post.

Finally, Zarella took on Twitter, and here’s what he discovered:

I found that highly followed accounts tend to have a lower percentage of their overall tweet stream starting with an “@” sign–they’re less conversational. So then you may ask me, if “engaging in the conversation” doesn’t work to increase my reach, what does? The answer is simple: broadcasting more interesting content.

Shocking!  Broadcast more interesting stuff over Twitter and you’ll attract more fans.

Okay, not so shocking, but a super-important reminder.  Especially when the flawed consensus tells us it’s more important to converse with fans than to publish more interesting content for them.

Zarella continues:

When I analyzed those same Twitter accounts and looked at the percentage of their tweet streams that did not start with an “@” sign but did contain a link, I found that highly followed accounts tend to share more content.

And the same result is shown for blogs.

The more interesting stuff you publish (whether by blog, Facebook, or Twitter) and the more often you publish it, the more followers and fans you will attract.

Attracting an audience via social media sounds a lot more like radio than you might have expected.

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  • Mark,

    Sharing great content has also been a cornerstone of social media. I don’t really see broadcasting and conversing as an either/or situation when it comes to a social media strategy. We need a good mix of both.

    When we share interesting stuff, the reaction may not start a conversation because there’s nothing to say beyond “Hey, that’s cool.” Sometimes that’s enough. There are times when you want your audience to simply watch, listen, or share.

    Sometimes conversation-centric content is the way to go. Let’s say I have a goal to get more feedback on a certain track. So by positioning content to generate conversation, I don’t necessarily need huge traffic numbers. I need a conversation.

    Regardless, I think you bring up very relevant points, particularly when it comes to being interesting. Whether artists broadcast or converse, they need to make it interesting.

  • I’m not arguing that they’re either/or per se, I’m trying to address a specific question:
    Which is the way to build followers?

    And when it comes to the answer to that question, the data point in only one direction.
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Wes.

  • Interesting data Mark. Broadcasting interesting material on a continuous basis will drive traffic which is important. However, to build relationships and community over time then it is important to have a ‘conversations’ with your visitors. There are excellent examples of blogs on the web that are visited because of their communities and their content – For example Fred Wilson’s http://www.avc.com and Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/ta-nehisi-coates/ – I visit both of these blogs for the community and have become a loyal follower because of the conversations. Thanks for the post!

  • I think he was strictly trying to answer the narrow question: How to GROW traffic? And nurturing relationships was less relevant than broadcasting quality content.
    As you point out, that’s not to say that relationships don’t matter. It’s only to say that those relationships won’t necessarily multiply, all other things equal.

  • I do believe that the social web needs to stay ‘social’ and if broadcasting becomes the only focus for some then those who nurture communities will win over the long-term. Things are becoming very noisy and as a social web user, I need filters to decide where to spend my time. Broadcasting good content is one of them but an engaged community is another one.

  • Definitely, it’s a mix of both. The broadcast part is one signal. The conversation part is another type of signal.

  • btw- I noticed the comments are moderated here. I wonder why?

    By moderating, you’re removing the real-time, instantaneous aspects of lubricating conversations and nurturing a community around your blog. Disqus has very strong anti-spam if that’s what you’re worried about, and you can specify rules for links, and you can white-list certain users.

    I really encourage you to not moderate 🙂

  • Moderation makes the proceedings more civilized, if less spontaneous and with less immediate gratification. 🙂

  • It’s your blog of course, but I’m not sure I would agree. Look at avc.com, feld.com and other communities that don’t moderate. See results of commenting survey we made,- Moderation is 3rd most annoying thing to users:http://blog.engag.io/2012/06/06/engagio-survey-commenting-more-important-than-sharing-and-replying-is-more-important-than-liking-or-sharing/

  • Thanks for the thoughts….I’ll consider them!

  • If you start a tweet with @ then only you, the recipient and people who follow both of you can see it.

    So by starting a tweet with @, you’re actually limiting your audience. A better way to converse, and gain reach is to structure the sentence with the recipient further down the body of the tweet. Eg: “I agree with what @markramseymedia says completely” will be more effective than “@markramseymedia I agree with you”

    The first gets me interested, ohh, hat did he say that this friend of mine agrees with? Click.

    The second is as above, not as visible to your followers, and doesn’t invite anyone else to participate. It’s a closed conversation

    So like radio, simple sentence structure will work for you, or against you, depending on how well you use it.

  • Great tips – that I myself violate too often!

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