The cocktail party rule of social media

Picture 3 I gave a presentation yesterday at the Iowa Tourism conference.  I had the opportunity to speak with 200+ tourism professionals who work in museums, casinos, publishers, convention and visitors bureaus, wineries, parks, hotels and just about everything in between.  (They get to hear from Scott Ginsberg tomorrow!)

In my talk on social media, I used this graphic as one of my slides and talked abut my cocktail party rule of social media.

I thought you might find it of interest as well:

Imagine we meet at a cocktail party and strike up an initial conversation.  As soon as we introduce ourselves, I begin talking.  And talking.  And talking.

The topic?  Me.  And then a little bit more about me.  For some variety, I then tell you some great stories….starring me.

You’d be running for cover in about 5 minutes, wouldn’t you?  No matter how fascinating I am.

Social media is a lot like a cocktail party.  Imagine a large room, filled with interesting people.  There are many conversations happening at once.  People are talking about themselves, asking questions about the other person and then a common thread is discovered.  Something that both people have in common.  That’s when the conversation gets very lively and a connection is made.

And yet, when some businesses foray into social media, they are still operating under the old broadcast methods of marketing and communications.  I talk about me (sell) and what matters to me (selling you stuff) and pretty soon, you’re tuning out or desperately looking for the exit.

That doesn’t work at a cocktail party and it doesn’t work on Twitter, Facebook, your blog or any other social media venue either.

If you want to be a part of a community or build a community — you do it online just like you’d do it offline.  You mix and mingle.  You share what you have — interest, expertise, connections, and your attention.

Then, when it’s your turn to talk — they’ll actually be ready to listen.

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15 comments on “The cocktail party rule of social media

  1. Kyle,

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. What do you mean by “I rarely engage with the people using social media services like myself?”

    Are you saying you typically use social media from afar…reading but not diving into the conversation?


  2. I get this Drew. But what about when you are social networking with people who you already know? Doesn’t it give them the opportunity or heads up to something you’ve written that they might be interested in?

    I have never written with the intent of building readership. It’s not worth most people’s time to see what Dave has written. Every once in a blue moon though, I’ll have a topic that stirs interest. If they see a Tweet or FB message of interest they can click right in. A few people have told me that they have deep sixed their RSS feed in favor of Twitter.

    I do think folks could find my Tweets interesting if I chose that route, and still not click over to my site.

    If I am a business I wouldn’t necessarily go this route. I’d just pump out tidbits of value and info, like Guy K does.

    Maybe too much coffee this morn. Does this make sense?

  3. Drew,

    I totally agree. You might like this book on the topic I wrote last year:

    Welcome your thoughts on it.


  4. chris uschan says:

    Hey Drew — It’s odd that there has to be a rule for how to have conversations using social media when the rule of communication should just apply for all conversations (social media and face-to-face).

    Great article and love that you follow up (e.g., conversation style) to peoples comments.


  5. Joy Levin says:

    As observed at a cocktail party, it is also important to be an active and attentive listener. Is there anything worse at one of these parties that talking to someone who is looking over your shoulder for someone else who might walk in? Organizations inadvertently sometimes make this mistake too (although probably not for the same reasons as at a cocktail party). Participation in social media doesn’t just mean setting up an account on a tool and watching what is said. It also means responding in a way that suggests you truly understand what is being said and what the customer wants.

  6. Bart Stewart says:

    It was 25 years ago now that I first read the following snippet from a longer poem by Jonathan Swift, but it’s always stuck with me:

    Conversation is but carving!
    Give no more to every guest,
    Than he’s able to digest.
    Give him always of the prime,
    And but little at a time.
    Carve to all but just enough,
    Let them neither starve nor stuff,
    And that you may have your due,
    Let your neighbor carve for you!

  7. Rob Burns says:

    Sounds VERY similar to Perry Belcher’s message in his “Social Media Mastery ” course. Actually it is exactly his idea. Give credit where credit is due.

  8. Dave,

    I hope most people in the social media space don’t just write to write or talk to talk. Certainly in the B to B space…that feels wasteful.

    But, I think if you go in with the old “broadcast media” mentality — sell, sell, sell because they can’t talk back — pretty soon you will be alone in the room.

    So hopefully even though we create content with intention and that intention is to share our knowledge, sell our talents, etc. — we’d better remember to make room for everyone to have a voice.

    That’s why I think people keep coming back to see what you write. Because they know they’ll learn from it and they also know they get to participate.


  9. Jim,

    Thanks for jumping in. Here I thought I was being so original!

    Then, I got an e-mail from someone else who apparently used the analogy on their blog a month or so ago, so out of curiosity, I googled the phrase and discovered your book. And about 500,000 other references to the phrase!

    I’m definitely going to check it out. Based on the Amazon reviews, it looks like it has been very well received!



  10. Chris,

    Agreed — if people only viewed social media as a tool for fostering communication. But most businesses, when they enter the space, have an ROI focused mission.

    So, many of them come barreling in, thinking it’s the place to sell their wares. And it can be…but it has to be handled correctly.

    Hence the rules.

    I appreciate your compliment on the comments conversation. I think that 9 times out of 10 — the comments are the best part of the blog post!


  11. Joy,

    Excellent point. It’s a balancing act, like most of life I think. When you give…the other person is usually more than happy to let you take a little too.


  12. Bart,

    A perfect bit of literature to make the point. Thanks for sharing it!


  13. Rob,

    Believe it or not, I have never heard of Perry Belcher or his Social Media Mastery course. And of course, by now you’ve read that Jim Tobin has written an entire book with this idea as his title and theme.

    So, I think it’s safe to say….this isn’t a new idea. But then, I am guessing there aren’t too many of those around any more.


  14. Tracy says:

    Thanks for sharing that bit of poetry Joy! These comments have made for an interesting and entertaining read.

  15. Tessa,

    It’s about balance, I think. How do you balance the talking versus the listening? How do you balance engagement versus the volume of noise?

    Tough but important questions.


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