I’m sitting here this morning, going through my usual morning routine. Check email, reply to a few. Log onto Twitter, say good morning to people, see what’s going on. Check Facebook, reply to messages, comment on a few posts. Move over to my Google Reader, read a few of my faves, make note of some things to read later. This process leaves me energized and feeling connected with others, gives me some new information to take forward into my day, and also has the practical benefit of catching me up on my correspondence.
But what if all of this ended tomorrow? As unlikely as it is, imagine for a few minutes that you wake up tomorrow and there’s no Internet. No email, no blogs, no Twitter, no Facebook. No Google Chat, cloud computing or podcasts. It’s all gone.
Let’s pretend that this isn’t a catastrophe, that nobody is panicked about it. Let’s pretend that life goes on (because it does).
What would we take away from the online experience we’ve had?
We’d be better listeners. You know that experience when you’re at a loud party, and there’s so much noise in the background that it’s hard carry on a conversation? Social media is like that. We are bombarded with information on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. 90% of it is noise. Other people having conversations that you’re not involved in. Links to stuff that you don’t really care about (but that others are passionate about).
Have you noticed at the noisy party, that the conversations you do have require a great deal of concentration and focus? You listen more intently. You work to filter out the background noise.
The social Web has taught us how to filter, how to zero in on those conversations that mean something to us. It’s taught us how to study what people are talking about so we can understand our customers better, and create better, more human-focused businesses. The social Web has made many of us much, much better listeners.
How do you think our newfound filtering abilities would work in a world without the Web? Well, I think we’d all be paying more attention to the things we care about. We’d stop focusing on things that weren’t our concern (like gossip, and negative people). Our noise filters are finely honed instruments now. Try listening outside the Web with the same filter in place. You’ll start to hear the conversations you need to hear, and find the opportunities you need to find.
We’d appreciate each other more. I’ve had many a conversation with non-Web inclined people about having online friends. There are plenty of people around who don’t believe that you can have a “true” friendship with someone you’ve never met in person, or have only met a few times.
Jon Swanson and I were friends for a year before we ever met in person. About 15 minutes before we met for the first time, I called him on the phone to get directions. Up until that moment, when he picked up the phone and said “hello”, our friendship had been entirely based in text on a screen. A few minutes later, we found ourselves sitting across from each other at lunch, and it was like we’d been having lunch together for years. The in-person conversation picked up right where it left off on the screen. And after meeting that day, the conversation moved seamlessly back to the computer screen. Online friendship is a funny thing – it makes no difference how you connect. It’s only important that you connect.
If the Web ended tomorrow, I think it’s safe to say that certain connections would fade away. But that happens anyway – people move in and out of our view all the time. Sometimes you have friends that you talk to all the time, and sometimes you drift apart. That ebb and flow exists whether we’re online or not.
But in a Web-less world, the real relationships would endure. I think the Web has taught us how to be better friends with people. It’s widened the scope of our world. We have now had the opportunity to see life through so many others’ eyes. Jon and I have quite different lives. It’s highly unlikely we’d have ever met if it wasn’t for the Web and connecting through a mutual friend. Even at that, we met on Twitter, so it was sort of left up to chance.
I think the Web has made us more curious about other people, and less afraid to reach out. Seeing what’s going on in other peoples’ lives makes us more caring, compassionate, and helpful.
If it ended tomorrow, I have no doubt that the relationships would endure. Maybe we’d go back to using the phone more. Maybe we’d write letters and post cards again. Maybe we’d have more reason to go visiting. But somehow, we’d find ways to keep the meaningful connections alive.
We’d promote our businesses better. I was having a conversation the other day with a client about promoting their business. Of course, we were talking about online tools, and the potential to use the Web to make real, human connections with their customers. There was excitement in the air as my client realized the possibilities that exist for really connecting with people in this way.
Marketing is no longer about shouting at people about your business. It’s not only about ads in the newspaper or press releases or billboards on the side of the highway. The two-way Web has caused a massive culture shift. Businesses are regularly talking with people now, and vice versa. It’s a magnificent thing. It’s a process that I think a lot of businesses, once they get into it, find very comfortable. Smart businesses have learned that conversation marketing works, and works well.
If the Web ended tomorrow, would this new way of conversing with our customers persist? Or would we fall back into our old habits?
I suspect that we’d find ways to keep the conversation going, don’t you?
If it all ended tomorrow….
The tools will be gone, but the shift will have already taken place.
The conversation lives on.