The Disadvantage of Twitter and Facebook
5:15 PM Tuesday September 8, 2009
by Michael Schrage | Comments (51)
A single question haunts me as I write this:
Will you forward this post to someone you respect?
Every day, people I like and respect — and quite a few I don’t — take a quick moment of their digital time to forward me an article, a blog post, a link, a chart, a URL, a review, a YouTube Q&A that they think I will find of interest. I confess I’m frequently astonished — both pleasantly and not — by who sends me what. When more than two people send me the same thing, I know to pay attention. And furthermore, at least twice a week, these “forwards” trigger something that I will pursue or even change my schedule in order to do. “Forwards” are that useful. I’m happy to get them and I remember who sent them.
I send them too, and whenever browsing online, I always make the effort to find and forward at least a couple of compelling clips and links to colleagues and clients. I want them to know that, not only am I thinking of them but, I’m also constructively acting on those thoughts. I want them to be pleased, grateful, and impressed. An immediate call or exclamatory “Thanks!” in response is a clear “win.” People should feel confident that I’m literally and figuratively looking out for them. That feeling should be core to my “brand.”
Yes, I know that Facebook and other social networking platforms change the posting paradigm and render practices like forwarding a digital anachronism. Perhaps. The real issue here is not the act of forwarding or receiving forwards but the challenge of creative customization. To the extent that posting something on a Wall or a stream or a blog is undifferentiated “broadcasting” rather than a one-to-one exchange, something important is missing. As much as I admire the socialnets, there’s something about the personal quality of the forward — the set-up, the introduction, the annotation, etc. — that makes me feel special when I get one and makes me feel clever when I send one.
I like those feelings, sure; but it’s also good business practice.
Managing communities of colleagues and clients via digital media will come to further dominate our workplace efforts, and smart managers will hone their “forwarding quotient”—their FQ. Unlike mass tweeting, this one-to-one “customized” communication strikes me as a superior business and personal practice. It forces me to be empathetic, anticipatory, and aware. It makes me more sensitive to individual perceptions and needs. And I get feedback telling me how aware and helpful I really am. I even create virtual histories of “forwards” that I can audit, review, and rethink. Imagine if more managers developed these skills.
There’s no simpler, faster or easier way to appear professionally smart and personally attentive than being forward-oriented. Between BlackBerries, iPhones, Google, and Bing, finding and forwarding the goods has gone from technical nuisance to self-disciplined choice. Folks with high FQs are people clever enough to send links and text that make their recipients eagerly look forward to them. Senders build their brands as individuals exquisitely attuned both to the growing wealth of useful information and what their clients/customers/colleagues might need to know. If there’s a quicker or more cost-effective way to make yourself look thoughtfully relevant to people or prospects who matter, I’ve yet to come across it. (Though it can also make you look painfully self-indulgent. Who doesn’t have an idiot colleague or acquaintance who can’t resist forwarding jokes, YouTube videos of kittens, or bilious political commentary? That’s interpersonal brand-building of a different sort.)
As I review my sent mail over the last two years, I estimate I’ve forwarded an average of five items a business day — or roughly 100 a month. When I examine who they were (largely) sent to and the relationships we have, I’d have to say that — on a value-per-unit-time basis — “forwarding” ranks as one of my most productive behaviors either online or off.
You might consider conducting a similar “traffic analysis” and “content review” of your own mailboxes. Do you know your FQ? What’s the FQ of the top five folks forwarding to you? Wouldn’t it be great to have a metric that tracked which of your forwards were forwarded?
And most of all, I’m dying to know: Will you forward this post to someone you respect?
A researcher at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business and a visiting fellow at the Imperial College Business School, Michael Schrage is the author of Serious Play and the forthcomingGetting Beyond Ideas. His research focuses on the behavioral economics of innovation through models, prototypes, simulations and experiments.