Shout above the noise

Has social media finally reached saturation point?

It might just be me but I’m seeing a big drop off in interest in blogs, and similarly on Twitter where there are more and more people but less and less good conversations taking place. Trying to start a decent professional conversation online is getting harder and harder.

It has also been interesting to see how many active social media users attempted to “go dark” over the recent Christmas holidays and keep away from all forms of social media for the duration. Some of them probably won’t be back. A taste of things to come perhaps.

At the Sydney HR Tech Fest in December, Bill Boorman (a man who pretty much built his reputation online) suggested Twitter was dead – “robots talking to robots.” I tweeted that of course.

But back to blogging. Another early Twitter stalwart and one of the first people I followed many years ago, Matt Alder, talked in Sydney about how hard it is to get cut through with blogging now. He’s gone down the podcasting route as a way to get heard by more people and perhaps that’s a way forward. But it’s a very different discipline and perhaps not one that’s going to appeal to the average introverted blogger who writes to express him/herself.

So has HR blogging had its day?

Not so long ago I used to see at least one great post a week, now I’m lucky if I see one a month. Instead LinkedIn has become the writing platform of choice for many and is giving us a lot of short punchy pieces littered with poor grammar and spelling mistakes that state the obvious, offer no new perspective and therefore have no real point other than to promote the author. It’s like the whole world is now in broadcast mode.

Often in the past the best part of the blog was the subsequent debate that went on in the comments section or on Twitter. That doesn’t really seem to be happening any more. Views, comments, likes and shares are declining. A quick check with some other regular bloggers has confirmed this, and in particular that comments on blog posts have all but disappeared. I suspect the reasons may be many and varied.

  • Have we reached a saturation point where every element of HR has now been battered, blogged and tweeted into submission?
  • Are our attention spans now so short we can’t read anything more than a one paragraph summary without passing judgement and moving on?
  • Is there simply too much out there that it’s getting harder and harder to find the quality and the different perspective?
  • Are there too many other ways of getting messages out there now?
  • Has the move to accessing everything online via phone made it harder to really take things in?
  • Are people consuming their learning in different ways?
  • Or, are we just consumed by group think and boring each other senseless?

I honestly can’t remember the last time I came across a new HR/business blogger who really excited me with something different, left me wanting to read more or lasted more than a handful of posts before losing interest and giving up. And so I tend to read the tried and tested old favorites who consistently deliver.

But that’s not what I want to be doing. As someone who absolutely loves the whole blogging movement this saddens me greatly. I want to be excited!

So is Twitter also dead or dying? Are we all socialed out? Is there simply too much out there to grab anyone’s attention?

Perhaps there is just too much noise and it’s just time for a little more quiet reflection in the HR and business world rather than trying harder to shout above it.

I would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve lasted this far through the post and can be bothered!

Update to original post

Since publication three days ago, there has been a very healthy level of debate on Twitter in addition to the comments posted on here. That’s ironic really since I was bemoaning the lack of comments and debate in these forums! As Julie Drybrough put it – “Hah! We disproved you! We are listening & responding!” Or as Simon Heath suggested – “It’s been great seeing it doing precisely what it feared ISN’T happening.”

So thank you to everyone who chimed in with comments. There is life in these media yet! As there was so much of it I thought it would be good to add a summary update to this post. A round up of the Twitter thoughts are as follows:

On the future of Twitter

Rich Watts is obviously interested in this area and posted his thoughts on his own blog. Give it a read. He questions whether this decline is industry specific or across all industries. Although I focus on HR, I suspect it’s the latter.

Alen Levis: “Great blog Richard. I’ve felt like this for some time about blogging. Twitter was about having a conversation once upon a time!”

Tim Scott: “Isn’t it a cyclical thing? Sure we’ve had this debate before… I guess it also depends what you use Twitter for – I value interaction as much as blogs.”

Tony Jackson: “It’s nearly over. We’re tiring of Twitter.”

Dave Goddin: “The bubble of the echo chamber has burst so really what is left?”

Kandy Woodfield: “On the positive side it could mean we’re just all getting on with doing it!”

Community catalysts: “Totally agree – I used to have a (positively fuelled) Twitter addiction – but now it disappoints.”

Chris South: “Nice blog Richard. Spot on, Twitter  is on its last legs. Blogging is changing but hard to say if it will be replaced or just morph.”

On the role of blogging

Adam Axon:  “Really good points Richard. I think this is a big reason why I’ve drifted away from SM over the last few years. Too much noise. It’s that much harder to truly take anything in, or to have meaningful convos that take things fwd. Bit like a mouse wheel.”

Julie Drybrough: “Such an interesting blog & debate. I agree, but wonder if it’s not being heard…..I’m with Richard, there’s a sense of little new out there to explore.  I’m not as prevalent as I was….It all seems said.”

Simon Heath (who also wrote in the comments section below) really got into the debate and challenged how comfortable the online world has become: “There’s an unnatural lack of proper robust debate and disagreement. Nobody is pushing. Status quo reasserts quickly. I do try and provoke a response with mine. But that’s cause I’m a pain in the arse.”

In response to Simon, Emma (@onatrainagain) said: “I’ll be honest, there are times when I find the social circles a bit cliquey. I’m sure that someone will come along and do something different. It’s just a case of when. (But) you have a point. Twitter used to be so much more interesting and educational.”

Michael Carty: “Aye – I think it’s probably in a deep lull rather than over. Dismal tidal wave of bad LI posts don’t help!”

Simon Heath: “The democracy of technology. Anyone can blog. But no filters for poor writing and paucity of intellect.”

Alastair (HR Tinker): “That’s why I don’t post, unless I feel I can stand out I don’t feel it’s worth my time. There’s definitely a decline but I’ve stopped as I don’t think I’m adding anything new to the conversation.”

Kev Wyke said he had also seen a decline in blogging and debate and agreed with Alastair but suggested “and yet I feel it is a loss having such a high bar for new voices to get over.”

Michael Carty also suggested: “I don’t think bloggers should worry about whether anyone reads their posts or not. Writing is its own end.”

This prompted Simon Heath to challenge whether the “noise” was the result of too much unfiltered thinking out loud being made public which in turn prompted an interesting exchange.

Peter Hros: “Last post I wrote was 4 y ago. I feel everything is already there & I don’t need to add to the pile.”

Simon: “Why not just keep a journal then. It’s a good discipline.”

Alistair Cockroft: “I like idea of blogging as an aid to reflection, just not sure it needs to be public.”

Richard (me!): “Collating your own thoughts on a subject is part of it. Good to share though.”

Peter Hros: “It might sound narcissistic but I like to know what impact my reflections make on others. I think you can reflect to help yourself and/or to help others. Sharing triggers conversation.”

Some other random thoughts on the subject

Gem Reucroft: “Raising interesting points. At the moment I’ve shifted to blogging about fitness and the like as I’ve more to say.”

Troy Hammond: “I think content marketing in recruitment especially is to blame. Also people don’t have the courage to be real.”

Michael Sleap: “Would love to see more in house HR/L&D people blogging, rather than just consultants. Many LinkedIn posts are poor.”

Sarah Moore agreed with Michael: “My blog is up, but it’s getting the time to write that is tricky.”

Sarah Miller: “Now here’s a post that’s not afraid to call it like it is…”

Annette Hill: “Read to the end! Agree that most stuff has been said. Some excellent blogs still appearing such as most recent @sukhpabial.”

Check out Rachel Kemp’s thoughts about LinkedIn prompted by this post.

And a more oppositional view from Sukh Pabial himself (rolls eyes!)

And a further addition from Kylie Telford.

The last words

I will leave the last words with Andy Spence and Michael Carty.

Andy: “Probably same 20 yrs after invention of printing press “heard it all before…back to my Ox..”

Michael: “Written communication is over. Oxen is where it is at.”

What do you mean we aren’t good communicators or social beasts?


34 thoughts on “Shout above the noise

  1. Rachel Kemp says:

    I too think that blogging has declined in engagement. There are SO many blogs out there (of varying quality) and as you put it they offer little but rehashing the old. LinkedIn publishing drives me crazy in many ways! Might just have to go blog about that….

  2. audreydlucas says:

    Can’t agree more, but I guess it is also our responsibilities to be more demanding and selective in order to identify the music from all the “noise”. Maybe being smart nowadays does not been being able to find information but to filter it.

  3. simonheath1 says:

    There are five main ideologies.
    1) Damn those tree-hugging hippies!
    2) Just use your common sense.
    3) Look! A tree!! *hugs*
    4) Don’t touch anything until you’ve seen the evidence. #CSIHR
    5) You’re all fucking idiots.
    Once you’ve made your case in your own way there’s not really much else to do except find new ways to make the same point. Which is essentially what all management books do. 1 good idea and 700 pages of padding in the form of case studies and mildly amusing anecdote (Pink, Gladwell et al). There aren’t really any fresh ideas out there and stuff becomes received wisdom very quickly. Punk goes mainstream. The doers and true activists are the ones to really pay attention to. Something like Penguin’s decision to dispense with degrees as hiring criteria could shift an entire landscape and, if taken up widely, has the potential to influence education policy.

    1. hrmannz says:

      Thanks Simon. I love the fact that I always have to read your stuff two or three times to fully absorb it which means it makes me think! I think you are right about the ideologies. I read a few books over the Xmas period and one, whose author has been hailed as a hipster thought leader, spent 250 pages saying you motivate people by being transparent with them. I ended up thinking he could have said that in a blog post but what do I know? But I read some good ones as well.

      Are Penguin really doing anything radical? When you and I started work you only needed a degree to be a brain surgeon. I just think things have come full circle and people have realised a degree is no indication of quality or intelligence. Many others are following similar paths and taking students younger and training them up. That’s got to be a good thing.

  4. Vanessa Webb says:

    Very true… I wonder if there’s a mix of things going on here:

    1) HR people being focused on their own thing (we do incredible things and tend to take it all in our stride – maybe we need to celebrate our wins more!)
    2) Perhaps we’re a bit reluctant to put our own views out into the world, for fear of not being innovative enough/scared of looking like a muppet amongst clever people in our industry

    We’ve got a huge variety of perspectives in our HR community (even in a little place like New Zealand!) – let’s get involved and make stuff better!

    1. hrmannz says:

      I agree entirely Vanessa and I started the blog three years ago to do exactly that. I would argue there are very few clever people in our industry. I think many HR people are more afraid of sharing and collaboration and “giving away” IP. That’s what we need to change. No more patch protection.

  5. Peter Bateman, Safeguard editor says:

    If you want sharing and collaboration, HR could take a look at how health & safety people operate. They are driven by a simple imperative (“save lives!”) and are always happy to share new interventions that work. Perhaps HR needs a unifying principle to overcome patch protection? (eg: “make work better!”)

    1. Vanessa Pye says:

      Hi Peter – this is so simple but so true!! Simon Sinek talks about having a ‘why’ the higher purpose and I don’t think most HR people have a collective ‘why’ – that’s aligned to or changing the face of business and the world of work. Make work more humane, creating great employee experiences that value the unique contributions of everyone, treat people as human beings, help create the agile work places of the future – to name a few.

      There is clear identity as a profession – but its in my opinion aligned to old business models. You can cherry pick those HR people not from that school of thought…Amanda Sterling, Richard Westney, Brownyn Hall, Kylie Telford etc. Traditional organisations will continue to recruit traditional HR people

      And we seem to be re producing conservative, risk averse HR graduates who don’t have a clue about 21st Century working Sunhil Mandra from ThoughtWorks says this about education and what is being taught at Universities.

      I started blogging via Linked In because I found I would get 300 + readers to my articles vs my blog pages. The writing is in no way no way different and I often duplicate on Linked in and in the blog – same article.

      What I do find when I post to HRINZ I don’t often get a lot of likes or comments – most of my comments are from non HR people and I am often blogging about leadership. Those that do comment tend to be the same people which incidentally are also within my network (new thinking HR types).

      1. hrmannz says:

        Thanks Vanessa. I always enjoy reading your posts. I should say I have posted a few on LinkedIn, but more as a representative of my employer than as a personal post. I feel I need to keep work versus personal thoughts separate although they are no different! But it’s good to be posting in different places.
        Your point about graduates is an interesting one but a whole other subject. I may do something on that shortly!

  6. HRHybrid says:

    Trust you, Richard to write a blog about the declining lack of commentary and engagement which results in PLENTY of interaction and conversation, both with people whose blogs I regularly read, and some newer voices I’m keen to find out more about! I’m one of those twitter enthusiasts who “went dark” over Christmas, and jeez, it was good to spend the holiday totally focused on real life interaction. Uptake/usage of communication channels will continue to ebb and flow and I agree you have to have strong relationships or a compelling message delivered in the right way to cut through. I’m taking more interest in vlogs, and podcasts too, but really still enjoy reading many blogs, and tend to dismiss the LinkedIn published posts like Rach unless they’re from someone I know/respect (like yours Rach). I agree with Pete re common purpose. Most of the #nzhr #nzrec #nzlead people I have met through twitter are at the forefront and the heart of creating a collaborative community that is focused on a unifying principle of making our work life better, and that will never get old. Hope you keep blogging Richard, and I’ll endeavour to let you know I’m listening.

  7. Meg Peppin says:

    Interesting. What drew me originally into twitter was blogs and the discussions that emerged in the comments. I miss that. When I jumped into twitter, I only followed a couple of hundred people because they had written interesting stuff on comments and I was curious about them. Full of spikey debates, silliness, kindness, idleness and fun and generous sharing. I don’t know if the experience changed because it was changing, or because who I followed/who followed me grew. I dunno, maybe we grow out of it….I had a good conversation with someone last night who ended up in a favourite restaurant of mine in a secret roman street because of a random tweet that I saw when I popped in the stream. We both liked it. Twitter now seems to be coming a marketing tool, self promotion platform, broadcast and debate doesn’t seem welcome somehow. I still like it though; saw this blog and some comments around it there that drew me in.

    Someone once described twitter to me as an echo chamber. It’s not as big as we think it is….

    Most HR folks I come across with in my work are working so hard restructuring and then reenergising their organisations, the last thing they want to do is to read a load of blogs telling them how it ought to be done. They know already – the readership we need imo is business owners, finance directors and boards.

  8. hrmannz says:

    Great points Meg! Thank you. Much of what you say here is reflected in the Twitter discussion now collated in the update to the post. The echo chamber analogy I particularly like and this has been mentioned by others.
    I have to say Twitter has been the cause of many great things and people I have had happen in my life over the last few years so I desperately want it to still be valid and valued. But I agree the balance has got a bit awry with self promotion and marketing.
    Other have also made the point about how busy HR folks are actually doing stuff. But wasn’t that why we popped our heads out in the first place and looked for something different to inspire and energise us?

  9. Grant says:

    Some great questions Richard. The whole blogging via LinkedIn is interesting – I find it not that useful as seems to clutter up a profile. Interested in what makes one of the bloggers your tried and true?

    1. hrmannz says:

      Hi Grant. It’s the people who I have read and followed for ages, who deliver regular and consistently good posts over time, who have strong opinions and are prepared to back them up with debate and transparency. It’s not easy to do well as LinkedIn has proved.

  10. lesleyinnz says:

    Hi, great post!

    I for one tried Twitter, still tweet occasionally, but truth be known I don’t get it, never did.

    I linked in blogged, and enjoyed it. I plan to return in 2016….. And Twitter will have me back…sigh.

    I guess if you express yourself and not be attached to outcome, it’s worth sharing. If someone is meant to read it, they will. After all, I read you!

  11. dougshaw says:

    Hi Richard – it’s great to see your post and so many interesting responses to it. A few thoughts:

    A lot of these channels get more noisy as they become more popular. I’m seeing many more corporate/branded accounts on Instagram lately, and the amount of sponsored and branded stuff on Twitter is extensive too. As a non paying user I feel like I’m expected to suck it up or pay less attention to the channel. I wonder if and when some of these channels will offer a premium service whereby you can filter out noise more effectively?

    There’s also a higher amount of automated stuff on Twitter now. I am mindful that I use Hootsuite to send out a few automated tweets each week relating to Stop Doing Dumb Things – I try and keep a balance with live stuff too. I’ve noticed that some folk use automation a lot, backing up Bill’s point about robots talking to robots. There’s a certain irony in that a lot of Bill’s recent twitter feed is automated tweets about the size of his network.

    Is HR Blogging Dead?

    I don’t think so – my usual method of consumption is quite random – on a train ride I will check Twitter – spot interesting things in the blogosphere and either read and share them – or bookmark longer pieces for later (I use Evernote web clipper for this). There seem to be less comments on blogs (though you and your readers are doing a great job in disproving that currently) and I do see threads of conversation going on in other places too, Facebook for example. Maybe the chat is just ebbing and flowing elsewhere?

    I tend to avoid LinkedIn – I’ve resisted the temptation to post and repost there, haven’t done it once yet, and I find the level of noise caused by the high volume of indifferent material off-putting.

    In case it’s of any interest – I’ve had a look at some previous stats on my blog to see what I can learn from my own backyard:

    2012 I published 169 posts, over 45,000 views and 106 comments

    2013 I published 163 posts, over 35,000 views and 286 comments.

    2014 I published 81 posts, over 31,000 views and 213 comments.

    205 I published 61 posts, over 26,000 views and 69 comments.

    I am currently writing less as I feel I have less to say, my motivation is lower, and I often find the words don’t flow, and I’m not inclined to force them.

    Thanks for an interesting read and for collating so many responses and replies – maybe there’s life in this stuff after all 😉

    1. hrmannz says:

      Thanks for your detailed and informative post Doug. I did notice across 2015 that my visitors and comments declined even though my total “views” went up. However, average views per post were much lower than the previous two years. I don’t understand how WordPress classify views these days as they don’t instinctively make sense.
      Anyway, you make many very valid and interesting points and perhaps it is the corporatising of these sites that turns people off. I don’t tend to post work/professional stuff on Facebook for example because I don’t want to bore friends and family with the same stuff I would be posting on Twitter which is of no interest to them. But that’s just me. I’m sure we’ll figure it out in time!

  12. Dorothy Dalton says:

    Hi – good post. I don’t think blogging has had it’s day. I think the reasons you give for decline in interaction are all valid. People are very busy and there is a lot of content out there. For me a major negative in this process is the high level of poor quality, self-serving posts on LinkedIn and the blurring of that platform with FB. It’s hard to avoid all the rubbish.

    I have always been a Twitter fan and still rely on it to source high quality content . One reason is that it’s easier to sort and block out white noise. Disagree with Bill. At the HR Tech World in Paris in October, the Twitter board showed mainly promo material from vendors. So to be fair it did seem robotic.

    Twitter was also very active during the recession and now hopefully everyone is that much busier.

    Ref podcasts – people have to be really good to do it well and properly trained. Most aren’t. Some are dire. Podcasts also take too long to process.

    Perhaps I will be the last of your readers!

    1. hrmannz says:

      Thanks Dorothy. Judging by the responses there is life in these dogs yet and, like you, I do love Twitter and I do love blogs. But like most things in your life, people will come and go from them over time.

  13. Tim Collins says:

    Yes, there is still plenty of life in Twitter, and good content available on personal and LinkedIn blogs. For me it has always been about the filter, finding people and sites that are worth paying attention to or not. I still love Twitter. I still love to read and share blogs. There has been a lot of bandwagon jumping (primarily on LinkedIn), but I take it as a positive sign. People want to be there. I think the action is to be open in disagreeing or correcting posts that are erroneous, biased, wrong or self-serving. Not in an unkind way, but with facts and clarity.

    Just did it last week on LinkedIn. See my comment on this blog that I found particularly and obviously self-serving. Join me?

    1. hrmannz says:

      I like that you’ve challenged there Tim and I have two actions coming out of this post I am going to do more of. One is to challenge poor or self serving posts and two is to work harder on the filtering side. It can be done I’m sure.

  14. Martin Couzins (@martincouzins) says:

    My question would be: how easy is it for HR and L&D professionals to share stories from the coalface. Real examples of what works and what doesn’t? There aren’t that many who do and who can (think corporate comms and permission to share). Those who do provide huge value to their peers and the development of the profession.

    1. hrmannz says:

      Agree wholeheartedly Martin and I think to say HR & L&D can’t is a massive cop out. Social media provides the perfect tools to share and collaborate. We need more of that.

  15. Tim Collins says:

    Another comment. You’ve given me a forum to vent, bless you.

    One of my pet peeves in HR is “bandwagon jumping” and the HR insider echo chamber. There is too much time spent identifying “best practices” and blindly applying (stealing?) what someone else has done in their enterprise. If all we are doing is talking to each other, and not to business leaders, we’re dumb. We should be talking to business and organization leaders. We should be seeking contrary voices and using the power of collaboration and social media to find threads that can be woven together into creative, purpose-built solutions.

    I am all for building effective relationships amongst peers, but not a fan of the siloed, back slapping chumminess I see exhibited too often amongst HR people.

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