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07/06/2010 A Tale of Two Talkers

I have two good friends both of whom are going through different crises right now. The two have completely different approaches when it comes to talking about what they're going through. As I watch my friends deal with their issues, it seems to me that they represent two completely different social strategies. The results, not surprisingly, are very different.

One of my friends, let's call him J, is going through what I consider a very serious crisis. It's the kind that can turn your world upside down. We're talking big, big issues and decisions that are about to affect J and his entire family in real and tangible ways. And not always for the better.

J's approach is to not talk about it. He doesn't talk about it to us, and I get the impression that he talks only sparingly to his family. As J's friends watch this from afar, we're interested and concerned. We may not be able to do much, but we want to offer help. But when J hears that we're talking about his situation, he goes to great lengths to shut off our discussions.

J's social strategy, it seems, is to completely control the conversation on his terms. The key term here is control. He tries to cut off leaks and avoids discussions. In short, he's acting like a lot of companies when it comes to social media. You know the kind; the ones that communicate only through official channels, who try to tamp down employee leaks, and who rigidly control the conversation.

The problem is that J, right now, feels he has no support. He's actually voiced this on a number of occasions. He's right because he's never developed his network to support him. He's never asked anything and never encouraged participation. It's too bad, because J deserves support and if he'd played his cards differently, he'd have a lot of it. It's a lot like brands that find themselves in a crisis that's made worse because they haven't nurtured an online community to help them out when they need it.

My other friend T is also going through a crisis. T's crisis is serious for T, but it's nowhere on the level of J's crisis. It's a fairly normal crisis with some limited outcomes and choices. However, for T, this is a MAJOR crisis, one that means that T is talking about his crisis with everyone and every chance he gets. T has engaged his entire circle of friends to discuss this crisis non-stop and to pore over every detail and choice over and over again.

T's social strategy (talk often to everyone, then repeat) reminds me of many of the brands I listen to. Those are the brands that fill up our Facebook and Twitter streams with endless comments, so that by the end of the day we just want to turn them off. Which is unfortunate because every once in a while we want and need those comments.

T feels like he has the support of all of his friends. In the dispute T finds himself in, he feels confident that everyone agrees with his ideas. In reality, many of T's friends either don't agree with him or can't stand hearing about this issue anymore. From a social strategy standpoint, T's over-communication has given him far greater support than he might deserve, but has also turned off many friends so that when the "real" crisis hits, they won't be there.

It's often hard to find the right social balance between too much and too little. One way to look at finding it might be to examine where someone else might be able to help or contribute. In J's case there was a lot of missed opportunity due to little talk. In T's case there was a lot of opportunity in the beginning, but once that had passed, there was little anyone could add to a tired discussion. It was time to move on.

If you put it into the perspective of the listener and think about what you'd like them to do based on your discussion, you could find that sweet spot of how much you should talk. Because, at the end of the day, none of us want to be a T or a J.


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