One of the mistakes that people new to blogging often make is to write as if they’re addressing a crowd. “Hey everyone!” they shout. “Can any of you help with this?”
Speak to people who teach radio journalism, and you’ll find similar experiences.
Radio and online journalism have this in common: they are typically consumed alone. We listen to the radio in the car, or while we’re painting. We may listen to it in the workplace – but unless it is something seminal, not crowded around the set. We read online news at our work terminal, or on our mobile phone or laptop. It’s not a group activity. Television news is the only type we consume in groups, socially.
Or at least, that’s what I thought until recently.
Because it occurs to me that there are some examples in online media when we are addressing a crowd.
Social media is the most obvious example: if you ask a question on Twitter, should you say “Do you know the answer to this question?” or “Does anyone know the answer to this question?”
Although each user is sat at their computer or phone individually, they are also occupying a virtual social space, in which they are a group.
But isn’t a blog comments thread a similar virtual social space? No.
The key to the issue is synchronicity: if people are occupying that space at the same time, then they can be addressed as a crowd. If it is asynchronous – people occupy the space at different times, and return to check communications – then that mode of address doesn’t work.
Asynchronous communication is the dominant form of communication online: email, blogs, forums are all asynchronous. Live chat, some IM and some social media like Twitter tend to be more synchronous.
In those contexts then, is it okay to address people as a group? I think it is.
FROM THE COMMENTS: @Dubber’s further insights from radio are worth incorporating:
“Most online writing seems to fall naturally into the same mode as radio writing: personal, direct, individual – and, most importantly, conversational. If I was writing a style guide for online communication (including journalism), I’d pretty much make those four elements the fundamental rules.”