“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.