I send a lot of emails. I post a lot of messages on my blog or on Facebook.
One thing I have noticed over the years: there is an invisible rule that seems to reign on the online world, regardless of the medium: the more care you put in a message, the more chance there is it generates an answer (email) or interaction (social networks).
Take email. When you send a newsletter, if you get 50% of people opening your message (as we do at Lift) you can be pretty satisfied. The industry standard is more around 20%. That is what you get for sending messages that have not been specifically written for the recipient. They feel that, and have no pressure to answer whatsoever as it has been sent to thousands of people.
In a typical one to one communication, answer rate is probably closer to 95% as long as you write to people you know, and who are at the same “level” than you.
Now for my editorial job at Lift, I get to invite pretty busy people as we try to convince them to join us for the conference. We don’t always succeed in having them, but at least I get around 80% of answers to my messages, positive or negative. I get this answering rate by carefully crafting my messages to make the recipient feel I value him or her, as I invest a lot of my time in reaching out. If I send a quick message, it is likely I will not get an answer. If I take time to research the person I am contacting, find out what their recent projects are, add a few personal sentences about the city they live in, the chances for a response get much higher.
My point here is that it seems that electronic communication is not totally deprived of context. When you talk to someone, your body language gives hints of how you feel, and influences the answers you get. In electronic form, these implicit messages can also be conveyed. I care about the discussion we’re having, I’m willing to invest time in reaching out to you. That matters.
I noticed the same happens on my blog and on Facebook. On the blog, articles where I simply pass a link (as I often do to set them aside for my personal archive) receive little feedback, while longer and more personal articles generate more comments. On Facebook, I have an even more tangible proof. For a long time, the Lift page was managed manually. I would replicate each article carefully, adding a custom message different from the title of the news I was pushing to the community. As soon as we installed an automatic app (RSS graffiti) to republish articles automatically, the number of interactions almost halved. It was the same content, but our followers felt we were not putting as much energy in the process of pushing the information to them. They felt less engaged, maybe less cared for, and the number of interactions dropped.
That’s why social technologies will never be magical. They promise us more personalized interactions with followers, as we know who they are. Truth is, mass updates will always have a different feeling from a message written specifically for a recipient. Nobody can escape the time consuming task of writing personal messages. And if you have 10’000 fans, that will take a while.