One of the great things about social media is that it lets you so quickly and easily connect with others and communicate with them. But we need to keep in mind that online conversations are really public conversations. And they aren't one-to-one, they have three sides.

We've all heard that there's two sides to every story. But when it comes to social media, I think we can add a third side to the story. For example, companies that blog are often worried about how to handle a negative or abrasive comment from a reader.
But while the blogger has to consider how to respond to negative or attacking comment, they also have to consider that the blog's other readers are watching to see how they handle the situation. When the smoke clears, the blogger might have their version of the exchange, the commenter has their version, and the readers see how both parties reacted, and come up with their own account of the exchange. This is why it's so important for companies (and individuals) to keep their cool and respond sensibly to potential disagreements.
A more obvious example is Twitter. I will often see someone I am following arguing with someone else. But if I'm not following the person they are arguing with, I can only see one side of the conversation. So my opinion of the exchange is only based on seeing one-half of a conversation. Companies, as well as individuals need to keep in mind how others are viewing their interactions online.
Remember that when you are online, you may be directly communicating with one person, but you are indirectly communicating with everyone else.

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Social Media and the Three-Sided Conversation

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier