Daily Archives: January 17, 2010

what’s the frequency, kenneth?: (over)use of social communication.

Let’s say you have two co-workers with similar responsibilities. Or two children of similar ages. C1 contacts you all the time. A few times an hour, 20 to 30 times per workday. C2 contacts you about once a day … usually related to the most important thing on their plate.

It’s a Friday afternoon and your office rings with two calls simultaneously: C1 and C2. Which one do you pick up?

If you say C2, then you realize the relationship between frequency of message and perceived importance. If you say C1, I really can’t help you.

It’s a simple concept, right? Then why do communication professionals looking to market a brand — a college, a program, a product — think we really want to receive dozens of tweets, Facebook page messages, e-mails, phone calls, faxes or telegrams from them on any given day? (Please note I’m not talking about personal Twitter or Facebook accounts or the like, because how you use your personal communication is your prerogative.)

The audio field uses a term called signal-to-noise ratio. It pertains to, in a specific device (or recording), the relationship of the signal — what you want the listener to hear — to the background noise, the hiss, the rattle and hum (updated example: the sound of a laptop playing a CD or DVD to the audio itself). If you’re in charge of communicating for your brand, you want a high signal-to-noise ratio, or for your audience to know whatever you’re transmitting is important.

As an editor for a daily paper, I knew the contact who sent one or two relevant news releases per week likely provided more news value than the organization that sent 15 to 20 releases per week of little importance. If you’re running your organization’s Twitter stream or Facebook fan page, the same rules apply. If your college or brand posts proprietary content 20 to 30 times per day — not counting replies, which are important —  you’ll soon become noise, or communication clutter. I’m less likely to notice your scientist winning an award, your student accomplishing something great, your $2 million donation because I’ve learned to scan past your avatar … if I’m still connected to you at all. If your brand only talks to me once or twice a day, your signal-to-noise ratio says that when you speak, you’re more likely saying something important.

What do you think? Whether you’re running or reading a college or brand’s Twitter stream or Facebook page, how much is too much?



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