“Sales is better than Marketing. Apple is better than Microsoft. Twitter is better than LinkedIn. Paid Marketing is better than Content Marketing.”
All these black-and-white, back-and-forth discussions popped up on my Twitter timeline over the past months.
Social Media is interesting…
It’s a free place where we can participate in meaningful online discussions. We can exchange knowledge and opinions. You could actively learn from others by engaging in discussions about topics you’re interested in.
And yet we often find ourselves talking about “What is best, who is best, why, and why not the alternative?”
It seems like, sometimes, we use Social Media solely to win a conversation. We shouldn’t be doing that.
We persuade too often, we dialogue too little. And yes — I plead guilty: so do I.
The definitions and uses of rhetorics and dialectics
When I studied in Calgary, I followed an Online Rhetorical Communication course. This course made a clear distinction between rhetorics and dialectics:
Rhetorical Communication is the act of persuading someone else. Persuasion is necessary when you want to drive someone into doing or believing something that benefits you. Rhetoric requires simplicity, logic, emotions and authority. And in the act of persuading, you don’t seek an active response from your audience: You just want them to do or believe something.
Dialectical communication is different. It is a back-and-forth dialogue with your public instead of a monologue to your public. When using dialectics, you expect your audience to engage with you: You start a dialogue with your audience.
So dialectics is less about persuading, and more about engaging. But why would you want to start a dialogue with your audience? What’s in it for you?
- You establish and enhance online connections. As result, you’re increasing a network. And that’s extremely handy.
- You learn who your audience is. You will get to know who they are, what they do, what they’re interested in.
- You learn from your audience, because you open yourself to other ideas, point-of-views, knowledge and skills.
- By learning from your audience, you adapt and improve your own ideas, arguments and the way you form your arguments.
The rhetorical nature of social media
In theory, online platforms such as social media and forums are great places to start and maintain a dialogue. In the end, as Social Media Managers we’re all told to talk with your audience and not talk to your audience.
But when it comes to specific discussions on Social Media, it too often seems like we are trying to convince others of what is right and what is not.
And if you convince people: Feels great, but at what stake? Did you learn anything from your ‘discussion’, or was it rather a right/wrong game?
In my opinion, establishing successful dialogue is way more beneficial than realizing successful persuasion. The power of dialogue lies in the quality you win: You don’t win a discussion, but you win new knowledge and ideas from others. And so do the people you’ve discussed with.
How to foster dialogue
I could remember a time when my Digital Rhetorics teacher created an ‘Ideal online dialogue.’ We were asked to discuss about a fairly controversial topic. I believe the discussion was about pipelines that needed to be installed in the Albertan Rocky Mountains. This is how the dialogue was set up:
My teacher created an online forum. She commented first. In that comment, she described why installing pipelines was wrong and she included several arguments.
I was the first one to respond. My task was to counter her arguments in a respectful way AND to open the discussion to others too. In other words: Don’t say ‘This is b*llshit’ or ‘Don’t @ me’ Rather, say: ‘What do you think?’
And so I started writing: “Thank you for your opinion. I respect this and that. But I disagree with so and so. And this is why. And what do you think about this topic? I would love to hear your response”
And then other people did the same. More people started joining the conversations. As result, I was exposed to more comments, more points-of-views, more ideas, and more knowledge.
The difficulty of forming a dialogue on Social Media
Now, fostering a real dialogue on Social Media is harder than it seems. Because if you want to engage in a dialogue, you must grant yourself the time and room to do so.
First: have the time to listen to others, to immerse yourself into the topic (by reading) and to correctly formulate your argument. This takes a lot of time and effort. And we often prefer lurking on Social Media over actively creating content.
Second: Have the room to react to others. Social media both offer and construct your opportunity to provide a well-detailed argument. On the one hand, there are a lot of open discussions you can jump into at any time. On the other hand, the written and unwritten rules of social media might prevent you from engaging properly.
Think of Twitter’s 280 character limit. Or the fact that social media is generally perceived as a place for entertainment instead of discussion. Or the possibilities to ‘lock’ your account or block others from viewing your content.
We can blame Social Media for their shortcomings. But in the end, it is us who can establish persuasion or dialogue. We are the ones who can start or continue a powerful dialogue with a few words:
What do you think?