Social Signals – Unrealistic expectations?


This is a thinking out loud post. I haven’t worked through all of this at all, and am curious to see where writing about it will take me, and whether I’ll get some interesting feedback to carry the conversation further.

As I read about ways to encourage participation in enterprise networks, one of the things I’ve heard a lot is that it is really important to encourage people. If they post and no one responds, people can get easily discouraged and decide that posting was a failed experiment. I have no reason to doubt that is true. I know that for a lot of people, it takes significant courage to post. Writing something and posting it in public can be pretty intimidating, and if no one seems to take notice, what is the point? I’ll go so far as to say I struggled with that before buying my domain and setting up this blog, and still think about it as I write new posts and watch the stats afterward. Fortunately for me, I’ve had good counsel that I can learn simply by the act of posting, and that’s keeping me going.

Back to the topic at hand – social signals. On the other hand, I also know there are a lot of people who read posts and don’t take the time to like or comment on them. For example, I know of some people who have read my blog posts here but have not clicked like or left comments. They have remarked on them elsewhere, and thankfully I know that. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and I’m sure it goes on all the time. But it does make me wonder why we seem to have set up these false or unrealistic expectations around feedback. How did we get to a place where a lack of response is equivalent to (or possibly worse than) no feedback at all? And if we all seemingly value (crave?) feedback so much, why do so many of us shy away from offering it directly?

I suspect that for those of us that use it, Facebook sets up false expectations. We see that people who post there get all kinds of feedback, and perhaps we come to expect the same elsewhere. The fallacy of this, though, is that our work posts are rarely equivalent to what we’d post on Facebook, and the audiences we find elsewhere are of a much different composition.

Maybe it mostly comes down to the medium being new and norms not having been fully defined or accepted yet. We know that our family reunion cookout will be different from a cookout with friends, and different still from a cookout with work colleagues, and we’re OK with that; perhaps relieved for the differences. Maybe we just don’t yet have the collective experience to tell us that these same things are true in online discourse.