Fragmented discussion on fragmentation

The post PR 2.0: Distributed Conversations and Fragmented Attention by Brian Solis is, perhaps ironically, only one place where the fragmented discussion on fragmented discussions is taking place.

The “conversation” on this topic has revealed several aspects relevant to public relations.  How can the  meandering, disconnected thread of thought and comment possibly be monitored?  What will be the impact of new technology that enables conversations to be hijacked without possibly credit or linkage to the original source?  And how could professional communicators engage in such disparate conversations on behalf of clients?

What I find interesting about all this online chatter about chatter is that the Internet is simply echoing what goes on with real people in the real world.  We all talk about all sorts of things to different people – normally individually, but in small and large groups too.  This is the fragmented discussion of life. 

Indeed, if you have conversations with my mother, they are often fragmented in time and place too, necessitating a guessing game about what she is talking about before you can respond.  Because she, like most of us, is engaged in a conversation in her mind before she talks.  So, like most bloggers, her starting point of a conversation could come from anywhere – something she has seen out of the window of a car, music on the radio, doing the washing, or reading a book.

As I wrote in my last post, people are complex – so in getting to grips with fragmented discussions, we need to remember that the web is simply reflecting back the type of conversations that humans have always engaged in.

The difference is that PR practitioners don’t feel compelled to monitor these, or worry about the intellectual property of people telling others about what they’ve read.  We do recognise the power of word of mouth and try to stimulate such conversations, but tend not to muscle in on them like some over-enthusiastic salesman.

Of course, the issue of intellectual property can be more of a concern because everything online can be copied without any reference to the source – but again, the original can be found thanks to the same technology.  Offline, such conversations may rarely offer that opportunity – and it would be rather bizarre if we all peppered our discussions with citations of sources.

Can we monitor real life word of mouth?  Well with talk about listening CCTV monitoring what we say and not just what we do in our everyday lives, how long before the brands want to eavesdrop on what people are saying about them in the supermarket too?

I think we need to retain a sense of perspective about the volume of information and chatter online.  After all, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Grey:

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “Fragmented discussion on fragmentation”

  1. I completely agree with this!
    It seems that everything being talked about is being posted online, whether it be fact or fiction.

  2. Megan – you are right, so online offers a great opportunity to listen to what maybe we would never normally hear. The challenge then, is what to do about it.

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