The Original Social Media- an advertisment

Back noise is so 1880’s

The Original Social Media- an advertismentSocial Media & Social Storytelling.

I’m renaming the 38th National Storytelling Festival to “The Original Social Media Outlet.” The event, held in quaint and charming Jonesborough, TN, left an indelible impression on me.  For this sojourn, I expected to hear highly talented people recount stories and share the funny, the sad, the poignant; to be with strangers; to engage anonymously; to hear great content; to be entertained.   I was not disappointed.

What I did not expect was to liken the festival and its roots to Social Media.  But in fact, today’s ubiquitous storytelling has moved from the small town, in person, to the online social media outlets.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn all serve as the local store where you’d get your mail, hear the news, buy some wares, and send a telegraph.  Faster than the pony express.

But then again, let’s not forget it was at the local store where you’d get the local town gossip. Also faster than the pony express.

Good or bad, gossip has its place in society.  And gossip most often is what is said About you, not To you.   To serve this very function, social media offers us BackNoise.com. This site allows people to actually write commentary while a presentation is being given, allowing the attendees of the conference to read the comments real time.  (The irony here is that people writing often critique the content of the speaker while speaking.  It is possible that the nuances of subtle, valuable information get missed by the people who themselves are doing the critiquing.)  At times, the commentary flows into personal commentary about the speaker.  But there’s a more interesting, new social conundrum about Backnoise.com.  Most of the comments posted are anonymously.  And anonymously, they flow. Like town gossip.

But is the anonymous part really new?  And is it really bad?

As Chris Brogan stated “There’s always truth in the negative.  The only thing wrong is that the negative doesn’t tell you how to fix it.”

Twitter, with bots and avatars and created identities, has been the “back noise” since its inception.  While it gives people the opportunity to learn, share, and build community, it also gives outlets for the angst of an individual or the venom towards a brand, an individual, or social groups.   And those avatars and characters are often not with the person’s real name.  But this isn’t new.  Many authors in the last century and long before have written under pseudonyms.

Different perspectives on BackNoise.com were shared in a well written blog by Stacy Williams at http://bit.ly/MR8Uk.  She depicts the effect of being disturbed by what people were willing to put into writing  and the conflicting desire to actually read it while it was taking place.   The responses in the blog also give insight to the numerous reactions ranging from:  “Don’t bore your audience” to commentary supporting that the behavior is not effective.

While content is exceptionally important, to easily claim that one was “bored and therefore excused to behave differently,” relinquishes one’s self control to someone else.  It also lessens the responsibility of an individual towards another individual. This back noise is in a face to face environment.

Multi-tasking itself diminishes one’s ability to listen, pay attention, and finally determine if content was quality or not.  It’s necessary to multi-task, as we have a bombardment of IM, texts, phone calls, emails, DM’s, @Tweets.  But let’s not forget the value in focus.  Giving someone your attention shouldn’t be a rarity.

Backnoise vs Feedback

Each, back noise and feedback, is critical to the success of a brand and a storyteller.  “Back noise”, as a term, doesn’t exist in the “urban dictionary”.  But various forms of it do.  In effect, they mean feedback that is negative, unseen in the mainstream, or discussed and shared by a specific group.

Is this all bad?   Not if you’re the company “listening” to what is being said about you in websites, microblogs, forums, and in every social outlet there is.  And if you’re the brand who listens AND responds or adapts, you become master of controlling your social media messaging.  What you do with back noise is what matters.

But back noise is different than feedback. And luckily for the storyteller, feedback tends to be more courteous.  For example:

If a portion of a story hadn’t been captivating, the response from the crowd was unintended “silence”, and it’s a dreaded silence to the storyteller.  Feedback also included the smiles, the laughter, or the tears in response to the story itself.  Anonymity had nothing to do with this type of considerate interaction.  Each person at the festival was “anonymous” in that they didn’t wear name tags, and mostly knew but a few people there. They simply comported themselves with courtesy.

Social Responsibility

Companies have now- more than ever- a compelling reason to be engaged in social media.  The “town” is online and the community is thriving.  Best to be a part of the community.

But people, individuals, you and I, us- we also all have a responsibility.   Each of us as individuals has the distinction of being considerate to others.  If companies must listen, perhaps we need to also hold ourselves to this standard. At the festival, 95% of the story tellers’ content was good, but 100% of the audience gave instant, anonymous, direct feedback.  Not Back Noise.


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