Home Blog Uncategorized The dying art of small talk in the social media age–and the implications for communicators

The dying art of small talk in the social media age–and the implications for communicators


We’ve all witnessed this scene in any number of public spaces, right?

People using smartphones on a train platform

Not uncommon at all in 2019. In fact, I might say this is the new norm.

Here’s a specific scenario. Let me know if it sounds familiar to you parents out there. You’re in the car for a family road trip. The kids are in the back. They quickly pull out their phones and ear buds. Your husband pulls out his phone and headphones to listen to his favorite podcasts. You’re left alone at the wheel to drive without any conversation.

Or, what about this one: You’re attending an industry conference in (INSERT NAME HERE). You head to your first session. You sit down at a table full of other attendees, hoping to meet a few new folks. To your dismay, however, you realize they all have their phones out, with heads down, scrolling away.

Yep, these are all common occurrences in 2019.

And, situations like these may be leading to the death of the art of small talk.

Think about the experience of being on a plane in 2019. You sit down, get situated and plug in your ear buds. That’s what literally everyone on the plane now does, right? How many conversations do you hear on a plane anymore? When was the last time you struck up a conversation with your seat mate? I literally can’t remember (I sat next to long-time PGA Tour golfer Ian Poulter last year and said NOTHING!).

For a FANTASTIC read on this general topic, I suggest reading Shelly Turkle’s New York Times piece dubbed “The Flight From Conversation.”

Why does this matter? Why am I bringing this up today? Because it has implications for the work we do in marketing and communications.

Think about people in media relations roles. How do most PR folks connect with editor and reporters in 2019? You got it–email. Or, text. Or, Twitter. Or, (INSERT SOCIAL NETWORK NAME HERE).

How many people, in 2019, actually call reporters? If you polled 100 PR folks I’d be willing to be the numbers would be in the single digits. And, if you polled PR folks under the age of 30 the number would almost certainly be zero. And that’s a shame. Because so much good can come from a phone call in the media relations game. A phone call can nurture a relationship in a way emails, text and social media posts never will.

It’s almost like a good phone call with a reporter is equal to about 20 emails. And, think about the act of pitching on the phone itself. By doing it voice-to-voice you can overcome objections. Shift the conversation based on the reporter’s tone. Or, change gears entirely and go a completely different direction based on what the reporter is saying. Yes, a simple phone call (and the small talk that goes along with it) are a complete game-changer for media relations–and they have been for years.

On a larger scale, think about your career path for a moment. Many people aspire to VP and executive roles, right? What do you think those types of folks do all day? Well, I can tell you since some of them have been clients over the past 10 years. They sit in meetings. They build consensus. They work to convince colleagues of their point-of-view. In short, they’re using interpersonal skills and conversation–ALL THE TIME. In fact, I usually have a hard time getting their attention via email. They rarely text. And, it’s like pulling teeth to connect with them on social media. So, if you want to someday be a VP of comms, you’re going to have to learn how to master the art of small talk and conversation.

So, as technology continues to kill the art of conversation and our ability (and desire, in many cases) to interact with others, think about the ramifications of that shift for your career. And remember, it is acceptable to be active on social media and text your friends and colleagues and STILL have the ability to hold a conversation with eye contact for more than two minutes!



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