The Myth of Social Media Conversation

Sure, it seemed like a good idea. Businesses would get involved with social media and all this conversation would take place between customers and company. The customer would speak, brands would listen and improve. Everyone would drink a Coke on a hilltop and tweet in perfect harmony. Unfortunately it’s a myth perpetuated by both marketers and companies participating (marketing) in social media, based on a utopian world and not reality.


Here’s the reality. Over the past couple of months, I’ve kept a (unscientific) record of my JayEhret Twitter stream. A little context here: My Twitter connections are almost exclusively other marketers, bloggers, and businesses. What I’ve found is that 75% of tweets appearing in my stream are links: links to articles, blog posts and specials. It’s a little better on the Facebook pages I like, where only about 65% of those posts are links and self-promoting specials.

I readily admit that I have been a full participant of this utopia, tweeting and sharing links with the best of them. After all, I had to keep up with all those links! Then I decided to check out the effectiveness of the links that I share on Twitter. This is made possible by the web-based social media management tool, HootSuite, which tracks the number of clicks on links you share. What I found was a little sobering.

Of all the links I shared on Twitter, only about 1 in 7 have more than a passing interest to the 6800 people who follow my tweets. 6 of 7, or 86% of the links I shared, received only a couple of clicks. But I found something else that was interesting too; the 14% of links that did receive significant interest had a conversational quality to them. For example, I preceded this link to John Moore’s blog post, In Between Aspiration and Action, with the comment, “Wow. The absolute must read of the day.” Of course, my evidence is anecdotal, and some might say that I should look for better links to share, but I don’t think that’s what social media is all about.

Numbers and Mythological Conversation

So lets just pretend for a moment. If my data plays out across Twitter, and only 14% of shared links are of interest, and 75% of Twitter streams is links, that means as much as 65% of all tweets has little to no value to most people. Mainly, marketers and companies are talking to themselves on Twitter. The data is probably not much better on Facebook pages and, as Drew McLellan points out, on LinkedIn networks.

What this all adds up to is a myth that social media is about conversation; a utopia conceived by marketers and companies amidst an avalanche of Twitter shared links and product specials disguised as Facebook page status updates. Social media is just a another tool for self-promotion. It’s a marketing channel, devoid of much conversation.

To be sure, conversation takes place on social media, but mostly by civilians, those 500 million users who signed up to connect on Facebook. But as far as marketers and brands on social media? All that talk is just a myth.

Are you participating the in conversation, or just part of the myth?

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