It is interesting to see posts in Twitter of people chronicling their constant fight to empty their email inbox. It is equally amusing to hear people say “you should know, I sent you an email yesterday.”
Email communication inherited its protocol (and the “Carbon Copy” metaphor) from Memorandums of earlier corporate paper communication. An email message is a uni-lateral communication from the sender to the captive audience. The acknowledgement of an email message is implicit in its receipt.
The protocol of email communication asks for sender discretion to ensure that the message is relevant, balanced, and appropriate. When senders don’t exercise that judgment, email becomes less effective.
Social Media inherits its protocols, instead, from rich direct interaction. Like in live conversation, to communicate effectively in social media, you must first get someone else’s attention and focus. Once you start communicating, the channel is bi-directional and the recipient is not only allowed, but encouraged, to interject and co-lead the conversation.
The social media protocol is of recipient discretion. There is no implied assumption that the receiver of a message has to acknowledge or even become aware of every message. The receiver sifts through the talk and find what is relevant. Because there is so much noise, the filtering happens through established social connections (I pay more attention to people I know and trust what they say or who they connect me to).
Why is understanding media protocols important?
Email, brochures, paper memos, websites, Twitter are communication tools. They all have specific functions, strengths and weaknesses. If we understand the differences and respect the implied protocols, we can all communicate better and avoid spending too much time trying to empty our mailboxes and tweeting about it.