On Social Media, A Whisper is Louder than a Megaphone

What good is 300,000 facebook friends, or a viral video viewed by 3 billion people if only a fraction of those people are actually interested in what you have to share with them or sell to them? The answer is, not much. Rather than aiming for a large broadcast audience, rather than taking a broadcast approach to participatory media, those of us without the money or other resources to spread our message far and wide need to be more strategic than that. Those brands that have grown a movement have tapped into just these principles. For this reason, smaller organizations, artists, or individuals probably don’t gain much by focusing on dramatically increasin follower counts over a short amount of time. This type of activity takes too much time, energy and money that could be  better spent on actually growing a small business. Instead, for most of us, it’s better to have 3000 of the right followers- people who are most likely to convert.

an image of a megaphone with the words "speak up"
Speak up, make your voice heard by Howard Lake. Available from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/9rAjnQ
License CC-BY-SA 2.0


If you are among a large crowd is a space like a gymnasium and everyone is talking, it becomes very difficult to hear what any particular person is saying. But if one person has a megaphone, they can be heard above all the others. This is what broadcast technologies originally did for messaging. However, social media is different. What happens if suddenly EVERYONE in the gymnasium has a megaphone and you can’t afford an amplifier? Perhaps large brands like Coca Cola or GE can afford a microphone (in this case, paying tens of thousands of dollars or more to Facebook and Google for advertising) but most small businesses can’t compete with that kind of amplification. If this is you, then you want to take a more subtle approach. In this environment, it’s better to search the room for the small group that is most aligned with what you have to say. Perhaps you move around the room, trying to pick up on non verbal cues such as clothing choices or body language. Then you do what you can to gather that group together close. Once they’re near you – you don’t need a megaphone any more. In this case, a whisper can be so much more powerful.

Why a whisper? A whisper stands out when everyone else is yelling. It’s contrast makes it even more powerful. A whisper is targeted at a single receiver or small group. It has an exclusivity to it that makes people want to lean in. A whisper is dramatic. Used in a theatrical setting, it is a device used to signal information that is of great importance to the audience. And finally whispering serves a social purpose. In the animal kingdom, whisper type vocalizations help a group to communicate with one another while avoiding detection from outside predators or prey. This serves the group, bringing them together in a harsh and uncertain environment.

In some ways our current information environment can feel harsh and uncertain. Some scholars, including my joint research group at Royal Roads University and Mt. Royal University suggest that we think about information and communication technologies and particularly social media as an ecosystem. In this view, there are multiple contested and conflicting layers of interaction which influence the individual platform user or audience member as they engage with technology. And in this ecology, there can sometimes be predators, prey and complicated environments. Online bullies and trolls often serve to shut down conversation on platforms like Twitter or Reddit. Misinformation, fake news and spoof website are as easy to find as grains of sand on a beach, and hackers are waiting to pounce on even the most reliable organization if their information security is not top of the line. And we’re all familiar with Facebook’s recent privacy woes. In any environment when people feel less secure they’re more likely to retreat to small familiar communities or tribes for the purposes of protection. In this type of information environment people are less likely to trust the big broadcast or expert voices, relying instead on the collective wisdom of their social group – whether or not that wisdom is factually correct. And in this environment, a whisper will work much better for most people than a megaphone.

On Social Media, A Whisper is Louder than a Megaphone

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