A recent post from Alexandre Henault reminded me that many of us on the social-media scene — myself included — like to talk about the value of “joining the conversation” when citing the benefits of blogging, podcasting, commenting on blogs and podcasts, participating in social-media networks, etc.

But lately, I’m starting to think that we’re using this “conversation” term far too liberally. Ed Lee, who included the word as a wildcard on his recently published Social Media Bingo board, would probably agree with me.

After all, can we really say with a straight face that a blog post with a single comment necessarily constitutes a conversation? Certainly not.

If you’ve started a blog that has 25 blog posts, but no post has more than one or two comments, are you really creating a series of active conversations? It’s unlikely.

If we advise clients to “join the conversation” by leaving comments on other blogs, what are we actually asking them to do? Leave one-off comments on various blogs but then not bother or remember or have time to keep track of the entire comment stream and comment again when appropriate? That’s not very good advice.

So, then, what are online conversations? Here are two good examples:

In both of these blog posts and subsequent comment streams, there’s plenty of back-and-forth, commenting on and adding to previous comments, clarifying previous statements, and referencing other blogs. Read the comments and you’ll get the feeling that the commenters really are responding to each other, as opposed to dropping in one-liners, disappearing, and telling themselves they’ve joined the conversation.

When we talk about taking part in a “conversation,” let’s mean we’re actively taking part in some substantive online dialogue. We want to make sure the word still means something.

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