How to break free from the echo chamber

Last week, I wrote about my company's thinking about social media, technology and why it's time to transform.  Here's another idea worth elevating and reblogging to continue the discussion.

"As a relatively new blogger, I am also just getting the confidence to post really thought provoking stuff. I think sometimes when you are new on the scene it can be terrifying to write something that may be more 'out there' or might spark conversation (ack…what if you are wrong!)"

Quite a few reactions to my earlier post were from people taking offense to my comments about the echo chamber and participation therein.  That's unfortunate, because I gather that many of these people shut down and failed to read the entire post.  The Lazysphere works in two directions – both writers and readers.  Steve covers the angle for writers.  Let me explain why it applies to readers.

When I started writing syndicated research in December 2005, a larger conversation about the format of our documents had already been in motion.  I remember Chris Charron (a co-author of Forrester's key Social Computing report) commenting at the time, "people don't read every word anymore. They skim – and most people don't even do that."  The same behavior applies to social media, especially where Twitter has users trained on 140 character sound bites.

No, I'm not trying to intentionally offend you.  If you're bristling right now and the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up, I've got two words for you:  toughen up.  If that's too much to handle, then please unsubscribe from this blog and find some feeds that won't challenge you to think harder.  But before you go, let me leave you with this advice from Lifehacker's Gina Trapani:

"[The first day Lifehacker went public], out of necessity, I started growing the thick skin anyone who has any exposure on the intertubes requires to stay sane. (In the beginning, that growth process didn't happen as quickly as I needed, and a troll could ruin my weekend. Today, I can chuckle in the face of the worst kind of online name-calling you can imagine.)"

I've discovered two rooms so far in the echo chamber – the Lazysphere and the Nice-o-sphere.  The Nice-o-sphere isn't just a matter of style, it's a matter of intent.  Some people are hesitant to post a difference of opinion or leave a critical comment, afraid that some A-list blogger may not send them future link love or be placed on a social media blacklist.  The problem with the Nice-o-sphere is that it tends to suppress genuine participation.  (No, I'm not calling for everyone to start using Strumpette as the new MLA style guide.)  Great blogging thrives on your voice, your opinion, and your passion.  Difference of opinion is healthy, natural, and necessary.

Go ahead and publish that post about Twitter.  (I've read two good Twitter-related posts recently, from Ann Handley and Aaron Strout.)  Just don't step into your own ego trap.  As Stefan Deak points out, we all have our own KPIs; if you are writing to boost stats, that's fine – just be honest with yourself and your readers.  Anyone can get beyond the echo chamber by being honest and authentic.  And as a result, you will be remarkable.  Seth Godin does this with every blog post.

I applaud Michelle Kostya and others who blog, tweet, and participate.  The percentage of people who are creating content is still quite small – only 21% of US online adults according to Forrester.  These are voices we need to hear more from, especially because they're on the client side.  People like Jim Cahill. Tim Jackson. Dave Mastronardi. Chris Hall.

If you and I are going to transform business, we need to get the entire organization going social.  This means breaking free from the echo chamber with circumspect reflection, genuine participation, and the courage to say what we really think.