Synchronicity in modern communication

Twice now over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself talking about the concept of synchronicity and modern communications (social/digital etc), and what that means when choosing what should go where.

Ultimately every network is either asynchronous or synchronous. Some may have elements of both, but almost all fall one way or the other.

Synchronous networks are when ‘stuff’ happens in real time – people are communicating with each other (after all, that’s what a social network ultimately delivers!) in a time-oriented manner. Their communications get old, or limited in reach, as time goes on – as, often, does the value that they provide.

Asynchronous networks are when ‘stuff’ doesn’t need time to be in the equation. It might still discuss ‘real time’ information or material, but you don’t need to have your social graph (the ‘people’ in the equation) there at the same or similar time for it to work and produce value.

A few examples below.


  • Forums
  • Facebook walls
  • Facebook groups
  • Email
  • Blogs
  • LinkedIn
  • tumblr


  • Twitter
  • Chat rooms and similar (including Slack)
  • Instagram*
  • Facebook messenger*
  • Snapchat*

The asterixes indicate networks that I think are a bit blended – for example Instagram is ultimately synchronous in terms of how content is posted and consumed, but comments are perhaps a bit more asynchronous (although do they really serve that much purpose? Are people really interacting with each other, or just alerting each other by @mentioning each other to ‘prod’ others to see an image?).

The easiest way to grok the concept is comparing a chat room with a forum. In a forum, people don’t need to visit all at once – it’s a platform best used in a way that is convenient to the user, consumed at times when they can think and consider, not just flick through on the train. A tool like Slack, the internet’s favourite “chat-with-a-few-twists” has the same limitation – while it is great for always-on people who enjoy being always connected and follow a stream 24/7, it’s not suited to people who need a quick update about what’s going on – there is no easy digest for those wanting asynchronous information. A topic for another time.

The synchronicity is usually what confuses people the most when first joining Twitter. What do I do with this? What’s with this continuous stream-of-consciousness on my feed? It’s this concept of everything being done in real time that people find difficult to conceptualise.

Modern communicators need to understand synchronicity.

Why? Because it brings you to the ultimate purpose of the platform, and how it can be applied. It’s hard to schedule out a week’s worth of Twitter ‘synchronicity’ (let alone a month!) – if you’re really struggling to find anything relevant ‘now’, you probably shouldn’t be there.

Evergreen content does not belong on synchronous networks.

The content marketing industry (cult? I’m not talking ‘people who produce content’ aka marketers/communicators, I’m talking about ‘content marketing guru’ types) wants you to think about evergreen content. What will be around forever? Some of this will be on your asynchronous networks, like your blog (maybe this blog post? Although the networks can and will change over time, and it’ll become outdated). But this idea of evergreen content sells you the concept that you don’t have to write fresh, new content – you can just repackage, copy-paste or otherwise plagiarise your way into content marketing success™, and it’s a farce to be discussed another time.

But this kind of content doesn’t really belong on synchronous networks. And most importantly, it should not be repeated on synchronous platforms.

“ERMAHGERD,” you might hear people [gurus] say, “but what about my followers on synchronous platforms? How will they see my content if they’re not there, at the time I write it? I need to re-post the hell out of everything so that I can squeeze out as many clicks as possible for my piece of crappy content!”.

A small, fluffy, cute kitten dies every time you use #ICYMI or #repost on Twitter.

But these networks aren’t built for people to consume content that is timeless. They’re built for people to do things in real time – discussing politics, TV or a major issue for example (Twitter’s most common use cases).

Sure, you might find that people will click more of your links if you continually repost content – there is a valid argument that posting once during the day “Australia time” and once during the day “US time” would mean minimal overlap. However that’s easy to say but harder in reality, and of course, if you are scheduling content when you know you’re asleep, will people expect a response? To a degree, scheduling content for a personal account somewhat ruins the premise of social media. The rules are a bit different for brands of course, because it’s less of a “one-to-many” platform, instead it is “brand-to-many”.

Ensuring that you deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right people is a hard thing to do. Don’t just spray everyone with a firehose or think that a tool or communication style that suits you will suit others.

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