Chris Brogan is the co-author of the book Trust Agents. During a presentation Chris gave at New Media Atlanta in 2009, he made a statement that struck a chord with me, and one I’ve heard echo many times since. Chris stated, “connect before you need it … people typically start looking for a job when the get fired … make connections and keep them warm until you really need them.” Understanding the need to connect, and practicing the art of connecting are two completely different things. As we continue the discussion of an online social presence, the next logical step following be visible, and be listening is the step of be conversational.
At some point in a discussion or dialogue, you may feel the urge or compulsion to add your two cents. Knowing how to and whether what you have to say is pertinent may be intimidating. This is true whether this is a water cooler conversation, business meeting, or online discussion. At one level we each individually need to answer the simple question, why are we wanting to speak? Is it to be noticed? Are we looking for clarification? Or do we have have something of value to contribute to the conversation?
Group dynamics play into this discussion, because each of us have certain levels of comfort that assist in managing our willingness to engage. I know when I’m with a group of buddies, I do not wrestle with decisions of when to speak, what to say, or what my motivation is in engaging the discussion. In contrast, when I’m at a conference or large meeting, with many people I’m not familiar with, I wrestle with this questions regularly. At some point anonymity can be the worst enemy to effectively engaging in a conversation. In these situations, we have to be willing to put ourselves out there, muster the confidence that despite how uncomfortable we may feel what me want to contribute may be valued by the others around us.
One of the first steps to be conversational is to comment on the things we have been listening to. As we’ve read blogs and understood the etiquette and context, we should be better equipped to pen our thoughts in the comment section. As Aliza Sherman wrote in the article “Revisiting 10 Golden Rules of Social Media” for GigaOm, “if you’ve listened thoughtfully and have something valuable to share, your participation will be welcome.” Commenting can occur on other people’s blogs, groups within Facebook or LinkedIn, as well as tweets. Regardless of the locality or service, actively participating by posting a comment is a significant milestone in one’s online presence.
With regards to the platform Twitter, the use of the “retweet” button can be an effective way to be conversational. Essentially the “retweet” action indicates the original tweet was something you found interesting, compelling, or engaging and as a result you desire to share it with others. Chris Brogan calls this action of retweeting “a very powerful trick inside twitter”, especially when you consider Chris’ 12-to-1 rule which he details, “talk about other people’s stuff 12 times to each time you talk about your stuff.” To Chris’ point, be conversational doesn’t require that we start the conversation. It also doesn’t mean that we have to build on the conversation. It could simply mean that we expand the audience that is listening to the conversation.
There may be occasions when your interests or passions are not represented online through blogs, tweets, LinkedIn Groups, or Facebook pages. On those occasions, it may require that you will have to start the conversation. Lewis Howes is a former professional football player, who has successfully leveraged LinkedIn to create new business opportunities. In an article on his website entitled, “Seven Ways to Market Yourself on LinkedIn“, Howes suggests that one way to market oneself is to start their own community. Howes offers that creating a LinkedIn group, “may be one of the best ways to get your message out there and the most powerful way to leverage LinkedIn.” If starting a LinkedIn group seems a little daunting, maybe starting up a blog is more compelling. In the “State of the Blogosphere 2010” report published by Technorati.com, 57% of the bloggers who responded indicated they, “blog to share their expertise and experiences with others.” Blogs can be a very effective mechanism to demonstrate one’s expertise. Brian Solis, in response to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere article commented in a FastCompany.com blog post, “Blogs are the digital library of our intellect, experience, and vision.” Solis goes on to emphasize the difference between blogs and Twitter, “with Twitter, we are simply competing for the moment. With blogs, we are investing in our digital legacy.” If a digital legacy isn’t compelling enough to start blogging, maybe Mike Phillips‘ article on his site EatSleepSocial.com entitled “Seven Reasons You Should be Blogging” will solidify the rational to start a blog. My own favorite reason is “demonstrate your thought leadership-don’t just be a sheep”.
Once others have taken notice of our efforts to be conversational, we must be willing to continue the conversation by responding to those who follow, connect, and comment. It’s not enough just to make a statement and then fade back into the woodwork. Once we’ve crossed the threshold, we need to be ready to continuity engage in the conversation. This lesson is visibly being played out within social media today as Big Businesses and Big Brands are struggling to understand how to successfully leverage the online social environment. The way we show the world that we are active online is as much associated with what we say as it as how we connect and respond to others online. In a keynote that Gary Vaynerchuk gave in August of 2010, he stated it simply, “pay attention to what people are saying … answer the questions”. Simply answering the questions demonstrates posed can be very effective in continuing the conversation and enhancing one’s online presence. Books like Twitterville, Open Leadership, even Crush It! all denote case studies and success stories how Big Brands have won over naysayers by simply engaging them, answering questions, and responding to individual comments. As Vaynerchuk so colorfully says it, “Care…be patient, let the relationship develop…invest in people.”
I suspect, it wasn’t that surprising that joining a conversation followed listening. Hopefully articulating the various modes, mediums, and ways to join the conversation and carrying on the conversation has been thoughtful and meaningful. I hope I’ve lived up to the tag-line in my twitter account … “Technologist who is looking to add value to the conversation”