Tips on Getting an Online Conversation Going

I can’t tell you how many  nonprofit clients I help to build a blog where comments are accepted or an online message board, wiki (collaborative Web site), listserv, or any combination of the above. Then, despite what we’ve discussed on what it takes to keep an active conversation going, the effort falls flat.

But there’s hope. Yes, it seems that these online conversation strategies failures are quite common. But at the same time, more organic online conversations — via channels like MySpace and Facebook — are flourishing. And online communications experts are focusing on finding out why. Here are some initial insights from Web writer and online conversation specialist Amy Gaharan:

  • Conversations demand attention, time and effort.
    • These are three highly-valued and heavily-guarded resources.
  • In-person conversations are more demanding, so participants have to be more selective about which ones they participate in.
    • They usually require you to interrupt what you were doing, listen and make eye contact, and observe social conventions that take time and interpretation.
    • When you abruptly end an in-person conversation, you are perceived as rude.
  • Online conversations require less from participants, and provide more control over when or how you participate.
    • You can divide your attention with other tasks, or delay your response, making them ideal for less crucial discussions, or for those where you want to participate intermittently.
    • The barrier if far lower for all participations, so expectations of you are very limited.

Here’s what Amy’s observations imply for your nonprofit:

  • Be realistic about the time and focus participants will bring to your online conversation.
    • Don’t count on online conversation as your only community-building strategy.
    • There has to be a reason for folks to participate even once in a while.
  • An online conversation is a perfect supplement/complement to other communications strategies:
    • Conference pre-quel or sequel
    • Teleseminar or webinar.
  • Save your most important conversations and meetings for face-to-face.
    • Still nothing like it.
    • Once you’ve established a relationship with your colleagues and other audiences, then online conversations are a perfect way to continue talking.

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Nancy Schwartz on November 9, 2006 in New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications, Social Networking | 1 comment
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  • I love Amy Gahran! I finally met her face-to-face this summer. Her delicious links and her various blogs are one of the best resources on this topic.
    And to put this into larger context – see Jacob Nielsen’s points about lurkers versus participation
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html

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