Marketing Social Media

Social Media Conflict and Controversy Can Damage Relationships, Impede Conversation


Content managers who spur interest with controversial content on social media have a new study to chew on. It points to the potential destructiveness to relationships of intense, emotional conversations on social media. The recent survey of 2,698 respondents shows that people are witnessing more hostility in conversations on social media, and that unresolved social media conflict is damaging relationships.

According to the study, 88 percent report that “difficult or emotionally charged conversations they have held over social media remain unresolved.” And 19 percent have reduced face-to-face time with another person “because of something they said online.” Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations and one of the conductors of the study, says social networks are now the “default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot.”

This points to the volatility of conversations on social media and emphasizes that there is real-world fallout from careless digital debate.

In fact, mere controversy doesn’t dictate that something will generate discussion. A study conducted at the Wharton Business School last year looked at the relationship between controversy and discussion. It found that “low levels” of controversy can spark discussion, but “beyond a moderate level of controversy, additional controversy actually decreases likelihood of discussion.”

What is important is whether or not the people know each other, and what the relationships are. The better people know each other, the less likely they are to engage in controversial conversation, even though the topic itself may be more interesting. People discuss controversial topics much more freely if they are talking to strangers. It seems that high participation in a controversial discussion may in fact indicate that the participants don’t know each other, and may point to a lack of “community” between them.

Since content marketing via social media can involve building a community, there’s a fine line between providing interesting, controversial content, and providing content that fosters true discussion. Throwing very controversial content at an audience may lead to hot engagement, but that engagement could fizzle more quickly than an engaging dialog. And since, as Grenny’s study shows, intense conversations on social media can lead to hurt feelings among people who know each other in the face-to-face world, content managers may want to consider fostering an environment of respectful conversation in order to keep people coming back.

Image Source: Wikimedia

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