Virtual Communications: Using Lessons Learned Elsewhere

Moviemakers of the suspense, horror and drama genres learned long ago that in order to build tension in the audience, slowly lowering the sound makes moviegoers start to strain to hear the dialogue (and yes, music and other sound is added to build to a crescendo). Tension builds, the muscles in the bodies of the audience tighten, they begin to lean forward slightly and THE HAND FLIES INTO THE SCREEN, GRABS OUR HERO AND THE AUDIENCE JUMPS IN THEIR SEATS SCREAMING!

Works every time.

Now take a technology we’ve used for a long time — conference calling on the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) — and realize that people calling in on a variety of devices (headsets, cell phones, office phones) add noise and the telephone system (and conference bridge) sample at only a measly 8khz. The result? Tension builds, our muscles tighten and we actually shift our attention (you know who you are….you surfin’ the web folks when you’re supposed to be listening to us on the call!) and the quality of the conference and what we’re trying to communicate to one another suffers.

Let’s look at Skype and how using it decreases tension and increases the quality. Sampling at 16khz means the quality is substantially higher than POTS and is so good that you can hear people breathe, move something on their desk or even click their mouse. The “resolution” of the audio is much higher and thus the call quality is better. The result? Lower tension (or none at all), the callers are relaxed and the communication is higher. Thankfully there are emerging conference bridges that can handle call-ins via Skype and sample at 16khz to maintain call quality (e.g., HighSpeedConferencing).

Let’s take this one step further to other forms of social media: Imagine you hosted a party and when your guests arrived, no one greeted them at the door, clusters of people were broken up into little cliques ignoring them, and as you glanced over at them in the doorway thought, “They’re on their own and are just going to have to figure out how to participate.

Unfortunately, that’s the current state of most social networks and forums (and I hope not your parties and if so, please don’t invite me!). Even if you’re invited in or can easily join one, you’re on your own. There have been modest attempts at shepherding people through a network (Zaadz, now Gaia, is a good example. If you join, there is someone ‘assigned’ to you and makes attempts to connect via email and in-network messaging) but 99% of companies offering social networks or forums just set up the network and it’s up to you to participate or not (or there is an expectation your friends will show you around).

How could this be done better? By ensuring that your network or forum has hosts who can walk people around the party network and get them engaged. By having systems in place to analyze the frequency of logging in, the level of active vs. passive participation, and have ways in which those people who are in-network guides can ensure that care is taken with newbies or wallflowers and that they’re taken care of and made to feel welcome.

Gaia is doing something right as evidenced by the nice increase in members since last December:


Lastly, I’ve been highly interested in protocols as I’ve been engaging with others over various social media. As more of this media becomes intertwined with our daily lives, our attention and our social circle, the more possibility there is that it can do damage, be interruptive or so “noisy” that we just turn it off.

One great example is that savvy Skype users instant-message the person whom they’re calling before launching the call. This matters since many of us wear headsets and might be jolted or startled, we could be on a mobile phone, landline or in a meeting, or simply deep in thought or a project and even a quick chat would derail us significantly.

Another is a lesson learned from my friends at Heartland Circle and their Art of Convening. What they teach is how to convene meetings and gatherings that respect each and every individual while providing a process for authentic discussion and attention; create a level playing field of intellect, emotion, and power; and use methods to dampen or lower the insertion of ego into the mix.

The result surprises many who embrace what Heartland offers. They experience and quickly learn that any meeting or connection between human beings — whether in person or virtual —  can be set up almost as a group of friends sitting around a campfire, relaxing and letting pure and authentic thoughts and ideas flow. How’d you like your virtual interactions (or meatspace ones) to work like that?


We all know it takes time for new technologies to be adopted and assimilated in a culture. It’s becoming sort of a running joke on Twitter and in blogs that people giving a talk will ask an audience, “So who here is on Twitter?” and often no hands go up.

Once early adopters have internalized a technologies use, evangelized it to others, began to build use-cases on how others might use a Twitter and told others about them, then it is adopted by others. How fast is that adoption?

A partially finished Wikipedia article on the diffusion of innovation helps us understand that time is necessary for adoption:

The study of the diffusion of innovation is the study of how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. It applies, for example, to the acceptance of new technological products like the wristwatch and the personal computer, foods like tomato sauce and sushi, music styles like opera and bossa nova, dressing styles like the top hat and blue jeans, ideals like democracy or feminism, and so on.

Everett M. Rogers in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations, theorized that innovations would spread through society in an S curve, as the early adopters select the technology first, followed by the majority, until a technology or innovation is common. According to Rogers, diffusion research centers on the conditions which increase or decrease the likelihood that a new idea, product, or practice will be adopted by members of a given culture. According to Rogers people’s attitude toward a new technology is a key element in its diffusion. Roger’s Innovation Decision Process theory states that innovation diffusion is a process that occurs over time through five stages: Knowledge, Persuasion, Decision, Implementation and Confirmation.

The problem with analysis of “S curves” to try and get a handle on adoption of technology TODAY is that all bets are off in a day when cultural memes move at the speed of electrons and early adopters — and those who read their blogs or follow them on Twitter — can influence instantly.

Just remember as you drive the adoption of some new technology in your company, family, social circle or create a new communications offering of your own, there are real humans out in the world that need help, guidance, insight, coaching and to be taught how to use all this stuff and how to use it in a social way.

If you’ve read this far, YOU are just that sort of leader and can make a difference in how social media is adopted and, once adopted, used in the real world.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.