Is Social Media Engagement a Myth?

To what extent is social media’s promise of engagement a myth?

Earlier today I read this comment on Twitter from the recognised and highly regarded, including by myself, Twitter expert, @markshaw.

Mark believes strongly in the power of Twitter.  I join him in that.  But his apparent belief that he should expect a response from @nickclegg is misplaced and I think inappropriate.

Social Media Etiquette

Mark’s cajoling, even challenge, to Nick Clegg to communicate with him, to reply, is inappropriate.  If Nick and Mark (forgive the familiarity of first names) were present in the same room, at a networking event, then such a demand for a response would be wildly out of place.

You would wait your turn, probably wait for an opportunity to feed into an existing conversation or wait for a quiet discrete moment.

The Force Response – Is an answer required?

I replied to Mark that the “force response”, to me, is the domain of the email.  People expect responses to email, and quickly too.

One of the joys of Twiter, to me, is that I choose to go to my twitter stream and dip in and out of the conversation as I choose.  Sometimes I broadcast, sometimes I respond, sometimes I engage in a conversation.

I opt in, or out.  Twitter puts me in control.

The only time I feel I am expected to respond is if addresed by direct or an @ message.

The Illusion of Engagement

But, for the individual reading any given tweet, the perception that they are engaged in a conversation or relationship is nothing but a powerful illusion.

This has bearings for us as all as we continue to use this medium personally and commercially.


I myself became frustrated last year when I tweeted about some truly awful customer service from Tescos.  I live tweeted about the service and expected some response from Tescos. Nothing and I had to go through email and telephone instead.

Is it right that we expect to be heard and acknowledged within social media?

Perhaps we should expect organisations to be responsive.  Would I expect the Lib/Dem machine to get in touch with Mark?  I think I would.

Should it be a personalised answer from Nick Clegg.  No, surely not.  If he gets it then that’s very nice.  It will give Mark a great anecdote to share in his excellent Twitter training sessions and might boost Nick’s credibility within Mark’s contact spheres, but it is not necessary.

Aggression Detering Engagement

Finally I cannot resist pulling on my conflict communications hat.  There is something quite aggressive about Mark’s challenge to Nick. (I really wish I hadn’t gone with first names).  I’m sure Mark didn’t mean it to.

I think the problem is in the opening “If…”

It almost reads as if to say, “Oh yeah Nick? If you are so prepared to listen and engage, come on out here…” 

So again, note to self, be aware of how we might be coming across…

What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts?


Filed under An End To Silo Thinking, General Technology

11 responses to “Is Social Media Engagement a Myth?

  1. venaramphal

    I see twitter as a dance floor, where duets and group formations arise and dissolve spontaneously. Each of us moves toward and away from our twitter feed and particular aspects of it as we wish. For me, its the unpredictability that’s the thrill of it.
    Oh, and I wonder whether you’ve seeded another blog here – about the etiquette of first name familiarity…

  2. An excellent blog Neil, thank you.

    You are right, people have no obligation to respond to you on Twitter, even if you address them personally.

    Where appropriate it is courteous, but an element of realism has to come into it. I’m sure that Nick Clegg isn’t going to interrupt an interview with The Sunday Times, for example, to respond to Mark Shaw’s tweet.

    I sometimes find myself frustrated if I tweet something I think is interesting and get no response. Meanwhile at other times the most innocuous link or comments gets picked up by a host of people. That’s the nature of the beast.

    When you seek to engage with people, you find out what drives them to engage with you, not the other way around.

    Using Vena’s wonderful analogy, if you’re playing the right music, others will be delighted to dance to your tune.

  3. Thank you Vena and Andy for commenting.

    I love the analogy that you draw there Vena, and it is very apt. I know that my network on Twitter, for example is very fluid.

    Occassionally I am closer to a contact than at other times. Sometimes we are communicating with one another directly, and sometimes we are able to simply keep aware of one another in a more passive fashion.

    And Andy, its a pleasure to see you on here talking about networking which I know, from our own very passive Twitter relationship, is right up your alley.

    Realism within social media can sometimes get skewed pretty quickly. Courtesy should always be paramount in our networking interactions whether online or not. It is one of the things we will be judged upon.

    And I certainly know what it is to put something out there and get no response. But that is the reality of Twitter.

    We throw in our contribution and it might just get lost in the twitter stream, or it might snag on one or two contacts who then retweet and so on and so on.

    That has to be one reason why we cannot demand a response or judge any non-response. Chances are the person you are referring to wasn’t ignoring you; You weren’t even heard.

    Is it a question of playing the “right” tune? I don’t know, but at least play it in a way that will make people want to listen.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

  4. An interesting & thought provoking post. I never cease to be amazed that people feel the rules of human interaction are somehow ‘different’ in digital environments.

    The recent situation with Nestle (which I freely admit they could have handled better) is a classic example. The topic they were being pressed about was one that they couldn’t respond to because of financial market regulations as any response may have positively or negatively affected the share price. In these situations they have to respond to shareholders first etc etc.

    On this point I want to draw two analogies.

    Firstly this is like cold calling, Nick does not know Mark so this type of ‘demand’ is inappropriate and chances are will be ignored.

    The second analogy is that Mark is acting like an evangelist getting on the tube. We have all seen them. What happens? People get off, change carriages, anything to remove the awkward situation. Can you imagine that same evangelist if someone got up, walked over, hugged them asking where they had been all the time…..just think!

  5. Social media is no different to any other kind of personal or non-personal contact with people. In the same way that standard social media guidelines say things like “be the same online as you are offline”, so some of the details are true, too. Would any of us *always* expect a reply from a politician to a letter or a hand held up at a rally? No, of course not.

    The transient nature of Twitter is indeed one of the reasons for this – and one of the reasons it is such a nice tool to work with (you never get a full in-box because of it, unless you’re one of those weird types who look back over historical tweets…) but the other reason is purely one of scale. Would I expect an emailed reply from Nick Clegg? Again, no. I know full well that he probably has an in-box of total and utter doom.

    The intimacy of social media, and Twitter in particular, isn’t total, as you point out. Yes, we get to see some intimacies (certain…parts… of Demi Moore, for example). But (sorry..) there are myriad ways in which this intimacy is implied, too.

    As you know, I have a personal and private Twitter account as well as my public one at @m1ke_ellis. I engage with those 130 or so people far more closely than the 1,000 or so on my public account. Dunbar gets it right once again.

    For us to expect otherwise – and Mark certainly looks like he expects otherwise – is pretty unrealistic. Whether this steps outside the perceived personal nature of the medium is a whole other question. Should “marketeers” use Twitter in a way which appears personal but actually isn’t? Would Mark be happier if he got a reply, even if it turned out it was from a LibDem minion?

  6. Hi Marc,

    On the cold calling point I recall some networking stuff I had to present for my law firm about the 5 levels of communication, starting out with phatic communication “How, how are you?…” and buiding up through layers of increasing intimacy and trust.

    A social media environment cannot do away with those layers of a developing dialogue, although I suspect that it can rapidly increase the rate of development in many cases.

    On the evangelist point, one of the things I really like about Mark’s work is that he is, if nothing else, an unashamed and unabashed evangelist for social media and how it can open doors for business owners and employees, enabling them build new relationships and business and reach the parts of networking circles that other systems just cannot reach.

    Whether this tweet was over-stepping the mark to a degree I don’t know. I doubt any offence has been caused and that this current attempt to reach out to a potential contact has just fallen on stoney ground.

    Personally I think it would be great to see Mark presenting to one or more parties at their next annual conferences in preparation for the late 2011 general elections.

    And aren’t we all evangelists on Twitter?… Perhaps that’s another blog!

  7. Hmmm, there is something here, something about the inbox of total and utter doom. I’m imagining an Inbox full icon which looks like the Red Eye of Saruman now, but I digress.

    If Mark got, or gets, as he might yet do, a charming acknowledgement from Nick then what Mark demonstrates is the ability of Twitter to cut through the email and other demands.

    In doing so he successfully evangelises the power of social media in flattening hierarchies of access and connectivity.

    In many ways I want to see that succeed and for more people and professionals to get curious and use communications tools such as Twitter.

    At the same time, ironically, the tweet shown above does nothing to demonstrate or model a normal usage of Twitter. A single acknowledgement, a follower, or a Facebook friend is meaningless.

    But then again, I know that Mark has a relationship beyond a mere tweet with the UK director of Starbucks so maybe, again, that demonstrates his point and that social media can tolerate a degree of audacity and boldness in putting yourself forward and getting noticed.

    Let’s ask Nick!

  8. Hi Neil,

    I was far from saying Mark was wrong or oversteping the ‘mark’ (pardon the pun) I was merely pointing out, I believe, that the rules of engagement are the same.

    Mark is very clear when he talks about not worrying about how many followers etc. He is the same in real life as on twitter and that will work with some and not others. I guess that deep down he won’t mind if he gets no reply. It is a bonus if he can. There are people on twitter I have tried to instigate conversation with and they choose not to reply. That is absolutely their right, however you must be true to yourself.

  9. Firstly a great blog Neil and thanks for raising this issue. I would firstly like to mention a couple of things….

    I would never normally approach people in this type of way.. I always advocate the getting to know like and trust approach…I would hope that my Twitter stream would represent this type of approach…

    My issue and why I made this Tweet, is that so many of the politicians talk about listening, and engaging with their community, so I wanted to put it to the test… and I wanted to put it to the test in the medium of my choice… which is Twitter.

    Nick Clegg like so many of the other politicians have joined Twitter, but in my opinion are utilising it very poorly… why?

    Because in my view, they are simply broadcasting as per usual.. they are not listening at all.. and certainy not engaging at all…that to me one of the essences of Twitter…

    Did I expect him to reply.. Yes.. actually I did… Of course the idea that he would re arrange a meeting or tv interview is ridicolous, but I am sure he has plenty of time as he travels around the UK to answer some Tweets…

    The question though, is how would he have made me feel had he responded.. He would have made me feel special… made me feel as though he cared, he listened.. and that he was approachable, and perhaps most of all … different to so many of the other politicans…

    Of course he has every right to ignore me.. but in his situation, perhaps it is a bit different. He wants me to step out next week, and make an effort and support him… So why not show some willing and make a very small effort and reply to me..

    The tragedy here.. is that I doubt he will ever know, as his account is being managed by someone else.. sorry.. but I do feel that is poor… Twitter to me is all about trust and transparency…

    Trust needs to be earnt..he wants me to trust him to run the UK… so the least he can do is build up that trust by replying and enaging with me… surely it is not too much to ask…

    This is the 1st general election where social media and inparticular Twitter has and will play such a massive role…

    MP’s of all parties in my view need to get off this broadcasting approach, and start telling us who they are.. what they are all about… start listening to us the electorate… and in my world that is best done through Twitter…

    So I do apologise to Nick Clegg if my Tweet was too rude or aggressive.. I did not intend it that way… and yes my door is still very much open if he would like to contact me to talk about why I should vote for his party, or how be can utlise Twitter more effectively in my view to help him win this election



  10. Patrick

    I agree with Neil: one shouldn’t expect a response, but if one gets one, that’s good.

    Just because one can communicate with anyone – including Nick Clegg – doesn’t mean you should expect a response. If you wrote him a letter challenging him to reply to get your vote – well, that would be a bit weird, wouldn’t it?

    Twitter can sometimes feel a little like stalking. I am still amazed when heros of mine indulge me in Twitter conversations. They don’t have to. And neither should politicians, or anyone else.

  11. Interesting post Neil!

    A number of things interacting here: human relationships, the personal and group perceptions of social media, and finally – the question of who’s trying to gain/sell to whom?

    Your point on different levels of human interaction and resultant license is right, although I am sure that many sociologists and sales guru’s may disagree with a model of five. But the point is that some things are appropriate and right if you have met/interacted with someone in a particular environemnt. Something that many studies recognise at present, is that the younger you are the more likely you are to think that there is little difference between what is right/acceptable in both “warm handshake” as well as online human interaction.

    That variable then brings us to Twitter, an online phenomenon that is still being defined itself, let alone its rules of engagement. Twitter personally is just another opportunity of communication: a very fluid one as Vera points out well. How each sees it and hence interacts on it means effectively there are few rules, just some good practises. Mark is one of those trying to communicate and educate others on their experiences and hence best practises, but with such a fluid learning experience based on such a new fast expanding service, some trail blazing testing and potential for failure is inevitable; mostly presently without consequence.

    But thirdly, we come to who’s gaining from whom/who’s selling. And it is on this point, however each of us sees human interaction or Twitter, I agree with Mark’s twet. Clegg – along with many other politicians at present – is trying to sell us a proposition right now, and further stands up and says in public media: “I listen!” In Marks’ business of selling services associated with Twitter, I hence thinks its a fair and reasonable test – and a wholly proportionate human one – to test Clegg’s claim on a channel of communication Clegg choose to open up.

    If I wanted to interact with Clegg, would I primarily choose Twitter? No, as Andy points out it is best to find out what drives them and find common agenda, and that takes research work and time. Twitter is a good information stream for researching common agendas, but 140 characters will never be a rich channel of communication. But if they are trying to sell to me, time is limited, and they are on Twitter: then why not? If my business was Twitter, then I can conclude that Mark’s chosen risk was a fair one.

    Good Luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s