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?

10 Comments

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

  1. Just as bad as noise in the social mediasphere is unresponsiveness. Probably the worst possible combination for any organization hoping to have its voice heard online is not listening as well as blabbing all the time. It’s like a bad date talking about herself (or himself) and not listening to the other party.

  2. insidetimshead

    Good point! That’s using Web 2.0 as one-way communication, which is missing the point. Saw a fairly new fan page recently that said something like: Feel free to ask us questions! So someone did. In mid-December. And it hasn’t been answered yet.

  3. I think that there are two sides to this.

    On one side, not everyone looks at all of the tweets from their followers. This means that the more a person posts, the more likely they will receive the intended message.

    On the other side, for those who do look at all the tweets from their followers, if a person posts too many tweets, they will become like noise.

    For me, there are a couple of people I was following in the social media/business sector that I stopped following because they became noise to me and it was annoying.

    So in reality, you need a balance. I think you can figure out that balance by talking to your followers and by creating a poll to find out whether they are OK with the current amount of tweets. Keeping your followers happy is the key.

  4. Fun fact: From BlueFuego’s research, the top 50 most engaging fan pages in the US average anywhere from 11-13 posts in a given month. (One update every other work day).

    The remainder average nearly 30. Some update as many as 175 times in a month.

    A lot.. a LOT of schools are just blabbing.

    Great post!

  5. insidetimshead

    CASSIE: You raise something worth pondering, though I should reiterate that I’m referring to *institutional* posts, i.e. people like me in charge of posting on behalf of their college or company. If a person is tweeting on their own behalf, whether or not I still follow is based on value of those frequent tweets. Often, entertainment value. And yes, I read almost all tweets … sad but true.

    BRAD: Thanks! Those are some good figures! I would agree that a page posting messages every day or two makes me pay attention more. But 175 in a month? Oh. My.

  6. It depends on what your company does. For example, I advise on a local news organization’s Twitter account. If you only heard from us a couple of times a day, you’d assume we weren’t out getting the news. But we go light on the Facebook page — it’s not unusual for us to post fewer than 10 items a week.

    Meanwhile, if you were, say, a paper towel manufacturer, I wouldn’t need to hear from you very often, unless you were running some insanely cool contest with compelling visuals.

  7. A couple of additional things to keep in mind:

    -It’s quantity *and* quality. I pay more attention to an org that offers 5 quality updates a day than one that offers 1 or 2 mediocre updates a day.

    -Personality helps! If a brand is personable and engaging, frequency doesn’t bother me as much. But one university I’m a fan of on Facebook just has an automatic feed dump a few times a day, and I sort of just glaze over those headlines. If they were human updates, spread across a day or week, I’d be much more interested.

    -My coworker told one of her clients “We don’t want to appear in someone’s feed more frequently than their friends do.” I think that’s a good way to think about this. : )

  8. insidetimshead

    JOSH: Media outlets warrant their own special category. Their main purpose is communicating, and I imagine y’all had to really look at finding a happy medium (pun not intended). Obviously, you can’t tweet every story, but you don’t want to look like you’re not covering news. Actually, the Twitter accounts of you and other fine folks affiliated with the paper serve as a de facto filter: I know the really interesting, big or just plain offbeat stories are more likely to be RTed by the P-Sers I follow. Guess that means I’m using you. And envisioning really cool visuals available to paper-towel related contests.

    TRACY: Obviously, there’s way more nuance than I could ever work into a few paragraphs, but *quantity not quality* is one of my buzzwords of social media. Whether it’s the difference between 200 followers one interacts with vs. 2000 followers with whom one never communicates or 10 great updates vs. 1 mediocre update, not all numbers are created equal. And I absolutely agree with the importance of personality! If a college’s social media presence comes across as fun, that reflects on the institution very well. And that rate — colleges as often as friends update — is a good way of saying it.

  9. Pingback: pull vs. push: new media, new rules. « InsideTimsHead

  10. Cyn

    I absolutely agree. I feel as if my tweets will never be seen due to the numerous posts per minute by the others. What are your thoughts on Gary Vaynerchuk’s theories on socail media frequency?

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