“Potatoes. Boil, ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew.”
“LMS for 2 words about you. :))”
“People are the worst. Grr.”
“Need Chinese food. And Juice Stop. #studying”
Those are just a few posts I gathered from Facebook and Twitter that are examples of phatic communication. It’s a digital version of small talk and a concept that really hit home for me.
In Small talk in the Digital Age: Making Sense of Phatic Posts, the authors identified four types of phatic posts from a study of trending topics on Twitter.
1. Expressions like right, LOL, hmm… or smileys imply approval or disapproval in a short way, similar to nodding your head or rolling your eyes.
2. Mundane posts that are designed to trigger a conversation. It my seem pointless but the message might contain information that would lead to others commenting on your post.
3. Posts that both to make a public statement but protect privacy at the same time. This is common with teenagers who want to communicate with each other but hide any real information from their parents.
4. Posts that “indicate online connected presence”. These posts simply say, “I’m here” and ask “Is anybody else out there?”
The concept certainly has ramifications for the world we do in University Communications, especially with regard to recruiting students and communicating with current students and young alumni. As a former reporter now in public relations/marketing, I’ve lived with the mantra that “Content is King”. But Vincent Miller suggests that for many people, connecting is king and content is secondary.
Although providing compelling and relevant content will continue to be important, we need to keep in mind the importance of constant connection.