Of online audiences and modes of address

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.”

7 thoughts on “Of online audiences and modes of address

  1. Dubber

    As someone who used to teach writing for radio myself, my inclination is to avoid the public address mode at all times.

    Most radio consumption is synchronous, so you’d imagine that to be okay for groups (most radio listening is done in cars and cars usually have four seats), but singular second person is not just about the concept of self-identification as ‘audience’ rather than a single recipient of a message – it’s also far more direct and personal – and therefore effective.

    So the way around using “all you cats out there in radioland/twitterverse” is to say “Does anyone know…?” (as you suggest) rather than “Do any of you know…?” or “Do you guys know…?”

    It’s a subtle shift, but you’re still personally being asked whether anyone knows, rather than being overtly addressed collectively.

    Interestingly, 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.

    Reply
  2. Peter Demain

    Synchronity was one of Carl Jung’s more…eccentric interests.

    Good tips, and useful as there will soon be a (perhaps weekly) Dirty Garnet radio hour with guests and banter. Classic, treasured hits like Thomas Dolby, Katrina and the Waves’, Wet Wet Wet, The Goodies, and much more feature.

    Paul Bradshaw: I publicly, or quasi-publicly since this is a blog comments thread, extend the opportunity for you to appear. Due to strict scheduling, we can fit in about 5 minutes of social media natter, the rest will be palaver and music.

    Sorry everyone for this shameless self-pluggage! You cool cats know it’s a necessary evil! Yeah!

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

    Reply
  3. The Worst of Perth

    Well surely it’s OK for bloggers to talk to the crowd if in fact they have a crowd viewing? Both the “hey everyone” and “does anyone know” modes are acceptable depending on the context. Also a single comment on a post is differnt to a reply comment to a single person. Twitter is always to the crowd, but if you have built up a crowd of viewers on your blog, then there is no reason not to address them from the balcony.

    Re: “One of the mistakes that people new to blogging often make is to write as if they’re addressing a crowd.”

    The only mistake they have made in that case is not having built up their crowd first.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw

      Good point about a popular thread. As you say, it’s the ones who assume they have an instant audience that are getting it wrong. There’s also a superiority about the tone that can grate. Great to have you back commenting, Worst btw.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: links for 2010-09-03 | Joanna Geary

  5. The Worst of Perth

    I forgot I wrote that. May have been drunk.

    Still get frequent referrers from comments i made on a post you did ages ago (a year or more?) about how to write a good blog post. Maybe time for an update. How things have moved on from then as the aggregating only style of blog has been (maybe) crushed by Twitter. I still think my points on writing original posts are even more relevant. I have taken that policy to twitter, only writing original material. I have even stopped promoting my own blog posts with tweets. I think Twitter’s value as an original material medium is severely under appreciated.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.