Why Conversation, not Content, is King

“Conversation is King, content is just something to talk about.”  Oh, how I wish I were the person who coined that phrase.  That credit goes to author and activist Cory Doctorow, and I read it in Clay Shirky’s seminal book, Here Comes Everybody. It’s a concept that deserves some expansion – even some conversation.

If you’ve been hanging around the Internet for a few years, you may have heard the adage, “Content is King”.  As a writer, and in many instances a web writer, I’ve hung onto that phrase like a gold coin.  It validates what I do, which is create the content that all the lovely code in the background supports.   Code is important – useability is important, but without ongoing new content, any website will wither and die (putting the lie to my last post, heh heh).  But Doctorow takes this concept one step further.

“Content is just something to talk about” puts human interaction at the centre of the picture.  And it explains the rise of social media on the web, the growth of multi-user games on all platforms, and the persistence of people meeting in real life, and not just in “cyberspace”.  Content without conversation is just broadcasting, or just advertising.  It goes to the listener/reader/viewer/visitor… and stops there.  If the sender is lucky, it may lodge as a piece of information in the receiver’s consciousness, and they may act on it someday.  If the sender is luckier, or perhaps more engaging, it may be something that the receiver wants to talk about.  And then the message gets a whole new burst of energy.  The energy behind the message is what gives it meaning, and a life of its own.  That happens because we humans like to communicate with each other.  Thus the conversation begins.

I see the truth of this all the time on my social platforms of choice: Twitter and Facebook.  Users are constantly sending out little bits of information, but the fun really doesn’t start unless those morsels are taken up by someone else and responded to, passed along, or even “liked”.  And for that to happen, there has to be a conversation starter somewhere in the message.

“I had cornflakes for breakfast” is not likely to generate any sort of conversation beyond “Me too,” or “Yeah, so?”  But (and this really did happen to me, though it was long enough ago to be Before the Internet) “Oh shoot, the ferret I’m babysitting just jumped in my cornflakes!!” conveys a bunch of conversation starters.  Who is crazy enough to babysit a ferret?  What is it doing on the breakfast table?  Do ferrets like cornflakes?  How long did it take to clean up?  It has action, emotion, and personal experience, and those are the key ingredients to starting a conversation.

If you’ve been on Twitter, or Facebook, or even the phone – you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Our world is shaped by the relationships and conversations we have with other people – by the emotions we feel as well as the information we receive.  As you consider the message you have to bring to the world, ask yourself: is this a conversation starter?  Who will I interact with as a result of my putting it out there?  How will the conversation proceed?  What might happen?

This wisdom applies whether the nature of your conversation is commercial, or personal.  In fact, as a model of effective communication it is all the more important because it puts the personal into every transaction – and we all want to be treated like a person, and not just a “consumer” (of media or anything else), right?

Help me carry on this conversation: pass it along to your own friends, or send a comment to me.  I’d love to hear from you.

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8 thoughts on “Why Conversation, not Content, is King

  1. Catherine, this is a fantastic post and captures what I think blogging is all about. When people slap up content on their blogs every day like it’s nothing, readers treat it accordingly — like, well, it’s nothing.

    Whether it’s for business or pleasure, I think the goal of content should ultimately be the same — for conversation, just as you say. Because even if you’re trying to sell, blogging is no place for a hard sell. The likelihood of writing one post directly leading to a new client is slim to none. It’s about creating conversation, a place for people to congregate, a place where people feel comfortable sharing their own views.

    If someone feels comfortable conversing with you, well, then when the time comes that they need services that you offer, they don’t have to think very long about who to turn to.

    Good content will be appreciated for maybe a few hours after it’s digested. Good conversation will be appreciated over the long haul, because while a good piece of content ends with the last sentence, a good conversation never has to.

    I hope you don’t mind the long comment, Catherine, but you just may have provided the spark for a blog post of my own! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Thanks, Daniel!
    Love the long comment, actually. Feel free to quote me in your blog post – I’ll do my best to add to the conversation by leaving a comment of my own :-).

  3. Catherine, I do agree with you and Daniel, I have a different thought on the usefulness. As much as I would like to drive lots of business to the coffee shop, I use blogging and social websites more to keep in touch with friends, family and acquaintances. My Mom was the social person in the family, always keeping in touch with friends and family through letters and phone calls. The problem is all of the information comes at once, and it can be difficult to retain. I never did get the bug of regular letter writing from my Mom. After a few lines of writing, my lines would start sloping, and my writing would get sloppier and writing a cohesive letter that made sense usually required a couple of rewrites! Enter the desktop computer era and I could write to my hearts content, cut, paste, and delete, and have a finished letter that was readable in a matter of minutes! Even though letter writing became legible, I reserved the letter for our once-a-year mail out with our Christmas cards. At least the rest of our friends and relatives would know what we were up to. With the advent of social media, it is much easier to get snippets of information regularly and retain that info (and even pass it on) than the old letter writing days. Keeping track of family (some I have never met) and friends (some I hadn’t seen or talked to in 20 years) has been really interesting and with the small bits of information it is easy to follow these social relationships.

    I think that Quality should beat out quantity no matter what we do. Facebook Friends and Twitter followers should be about quality, but too often quantity seems to be the deciding factor if a person is successful. I don’t have a lot of people reading my blog. Even though I try to write regularly on my blog and a couple other blog/websites that I maintain, I am mostly trying out new and different WordPress features on my site before using them on other sites! Not that I mind having only a few followers, as I have been practising with WordPress designs and trying to have my writing make sense. At some point in time I will get serious with my writing, but for now I am happy with learning about WordPress and polishing my writing skills.

  4. A fellow arts/social media lover and I have started doing weekly podcasts. Everytime, we do one, I have a weird little ephinany. First one being that because we are having a free-from conversation, I’m able to have these little ah ha moments. On the last “cast,” we talked about blogging and how some people are afraid they have nothing to say, or their post won’t be good enough etc. And I said, well actually, your post is not your post. Your post is a conversation starter, which is exapanded by people responding and so on. I am SO happy that Conversation is King (or perhaps Queen given the prominence of women in this medium) now. Much livelier and much more interesting!

  5. That’s the beauty of social media, isn’t it? We can’t have this kind of back and forth dialogue in a company (or Christmas) newsletter. I like your comment “your post is not your post” (emphasis mine) – just like your conversation is not your conversation. This is something we do together. Thanks for the epiphany, Harriet. Thanks also to Daniel, and to my “real life” friend Larry, whom I haven’t had a verbal conversation with in a long time.

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