Is Social Media Diluting the Message?

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal's Chin Music (28-May-2009)

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I used to work with some people who really had the gift of gab. There was no deep insight, or even anything mildly interesting, in what they said. They just talked, and talked, and talked… And my eyes would glaze over like a Pod Person out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Whenever one of these soul suckers wandered into my office in search of some social prey to subject to its inane ramblings, I was always reminded of the saying, "A wise man speaks because he has something to say; a fool speaks because he has to say something."

Over the years, I’ve worked with two very different kinds of people. There were those who talked for the sake of talking—who displayed a shocking disparity between their large verbal output and the importance of their messages. As a consequence of their constant gibbering, colleagues learned to tune them out and placed whatever they said on the same footing as honking cars and squealing tires during rush hour. Even when they finally had something of significance to say, they were rarely heard because everything that came out of their mouths was eventually treated like background noise.

Then there were those who seldom spoke—the quiet reflective types who always seemed to be listening, observing, and absorbing the environment around them. And when they did speak, everyone knew to shut up and listen because their words always seemed to hold that much more weight.

I see the same thing on the Internet, except that the "speaker" has the potential of reaching the entire Web world as opposed to a single person or a small group of people in an office. This got me wondering: Is the prevalence and abundance of social media—especially micro-blogs such as the ubiquitous Twitter—devaluing the message? Are important business-oriented messages being diluted by all the vacuous ramblings around it? Has the focus shifted away from a desire to transmit an important message through an effective medium to conjuring up any message as an excuse for using the medium?

Although social media tools hold a lot of potential and have many useful professional applications when used properly, I'm seeing more and more business users jump on board for the novelty of it. They have no clear, professional goal for tweeting; they just know they want to do it. As a result, many so-called professional tweets end up having as much relevance to the owner’s business and industry as a thirteen-year-old girl's "C U @ recess" SMS during history class. I've seen business owners post their lunch and dinner plans on Twitter, brag about their weekend itinerary, or raise a question as to how the television show Lost is going to end.

Are these tweeters really improving their professional brand or are they simply egomaniacal narcissists who actually believe that people care about how the local barista put cinnamon instead of chocolate on their cappuccino? Are they tweeting because they have something to say or because they have to say something?

Perhaps if the technology was available in the '60's and members of Apollo 11 tweeted, Neil Armstrong's "one small step" remark would have been lost in a sea of "I'm getting sick of Tang" and "Buzz is snoring again" tweets.

Copyright © 2009 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
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