Following recent discussions about the use of social media by analysts, I thought I would throw something into the mix that I has been referred to a couple of times but has not been particularly highlighted. This is the way the ‘public channel’ works in tandem with the ‘back channel’.
Consider, for example, that while it is obvious when a blog post or a tweet on Twitter sparks an open conversation in public, it is not so obvious when it prompts a private exchange via email, instant messaging, the telephone, or some other mechanism. Indeed, it is quite common in my experience for two related threads to be running in parallel, one in public and one in the private back channel. More commonly, however, the back channel exchanges are spin-off conversations that have their roots in the public discussion, but take it down a different route.
So why am I bothering to go on about this?
Well, it’s because I think it is easy to under-estimate the significance of some of the apparently casual social media exchanges that go on in public. The fact is that they are the tip of the iceberg. When I recently tweeted about a problem I was having with desktop software, there was very little in the way of public response, but it resulted in a briefing request, an offer of technical support, and couple of separate email conversations with others who had experienced similar issues – all of which contributed to the case for creating a new study in which we gathered feedback on the topic from a few thousand IT pros.
This is perhaps an extreme example, and it is more likely that back channel exchanges are used to compare notes and ideas on things you are already working on, or perhaps even to indulge in a little private gossip. Then, of course, it works the other way around. A private conversation can migrate into the public domain – which then prompts further back channel exchanges.
The point is that it is a mistake to think of social media in isolation. It is just part of the overall communication mix. And on a related note, we must not forget that the ability to converse in private is still an essential part of managing relationships and doing business.