Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Engaging in Social Media Conversations: Some Practical Realities

By Dennis D. McDonald

One recommendations often made to professionals about blogging is that blogging, and reading others’ blog posts and commenting on them, are ways to engage in “conversations.” These conversations, so pundits like me say, can evolve over time into valuable social, professional, and intellectual relationships.

I believe this. But there are practical limits to “engaging in conversations” given that time and attention spans are limited for everyone.

I was reminded of this recently when I read a post by Sarah Perez in ReadWriteWeb titled How to Reach Baby Boomers with Social Media. In it she referenced a Forrester study on “baby boomer” use of social media. (Disclaimer: I’m a baby boomer and have been involved with technology all my career.)

The referenced Forrester study says that baby boomers’ use of social media is increasing. I was not that surprised by the finding since I know a lot of baby boomers myself. But I grimaced at the sentence in Perez’ article that said,

A new report from Forrester Research revealed some surprising information: apparently Baby Boomers aren’t exactly the technology Luddites that people think they are.

“Who said that?” I wondered, reminded of the lead sentence sometimes used by cable news commentators, “Some people say…”

I posted the following comment on Perez’ post:

Repeating the stereotype that Baby Boomers are “Luddites” about technology just perpetuates the stereotype. That’s like saying that “all 20-somethings don’t get Twitter.”

Later that day I received an email from Perez (I’m assuming it came from her) where she said she was, in fact, refuting the stereotype. I guess she thought I was tarring her with too broad a brush.

Maybe I was. I was, in fact,  impressed that she had replied by email, something I don ‘t usually do myself when someone leaves a comment on my own site (I usually respond using my blog post’s comment features).

Since I have never even heard of Perez I was impressed that she responded personally.  I replied by email to her partly as follows:

Not a big deal. … I guess it’s just a generational thing and less about technology per se than about the social nature of how the technology is consumed and used. That’s what makes it significant, really, and the Forrester study details that I’ve read haven’t really addressed that subtlety.

Facebook usage is not about technology it’s about the formation and reformation of constantly evolving peer groups that in previous generations would have been facilitated through more classic forms of technology. Like a baby boomer while a teenager talking on the phone for hours at night. Now the teenagers have moved the conversation to online groups but it’s still about group conversation and exclusion of older folks. College and independence basically have extended the adolescent social bonding processes into the late teens and early twenties and peer group communications via social media support this. Older folks — including boomers — aren’t as dependent on groups but have established more traditional one-on-one relationships so there may be less dependence on the social technologies for socializing and more on social media for more utilitarian information and entertainment which then evolves into social and collaborative experiences.

I have no data to support this though.


Thinking to myself I had established a “conversation” with another blogger, I was amused when I received this response to my email (I’ve removed the links to simplify things):

Thank you for your email. I receive a lot of email related to my work
with both Microsoft’s Channel 10 and, so I will not
necessarily be able to respond to your message personally.

If you are pitching me for ReadWriteWeb, please send your email to
[email address] instead.

If you are messaging me about something urgent that I need to know
right away, please click here to get my attention:


Thank you.

Reaching Me Immediately:
I’m addressing my email overload issue. For urgent matters, I can be
reached at: [URL]
Where You Can Find Me:
[Twitter ID] - Twitter
[URL] - My Personal Blog
[URL] - ReadWriteWeb
[URL] - Microsoft’s Channel 10
[URL] - Tech Blog Network
What You Should Do:
Subscribe:[Feedburner URL]
Follow: [Twitter URL]
Friend: [FriendFeed URL]

Whew! This is one connected lady!

Reminds me of the tangle of networks I subscribe to even though I obviously don’t get the volume of email and comments that Perez probably does.

This situation does point out the reality of using online tools to establish ongoing “conversations” and “relationships.” Time is limited. That’s one reason, I think, that Twitter has grown so rapidly in popularity. It’s fast, it’s simple — so far — and it’s short and sweet. I definitely think Twitter has taken away some of the need for “online forums” as they used to be called.

Time limitations are also why I have pared down the number of places where I maintain a “web presence”  and why I recommend so strongly to other professionals interested in establishing their own “web presence” that they do some planning and research before jumping in.

Now, if I could just find my reading glasses so I can get back to work…

Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. McDonald is a management consultant in Alexandria Virginia. His contact information is here.

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