The more interesting question

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

My wife and I recently had a couple (let's call them Shelly and Michael) over for dinner. Together they run a small press book promotion business. Naturally, we got talking about public relations, social media and about Twitter in particular. "How do people have time for that?" Shelly asked. Politic host that I am, I suggested that she was asking the wrong question. "There are lots of very busy, successful people using Twitter every day," I explained. "So, I think the more interesting question is: 'Why do so many of them chose to use Twitter?'"

It struck me then that many people, like my friend Shelly, fail to understand the value of social media because they simply ask the wrong questions. And, when you ask the wrong question, three things happen:

First, you frame the problem incorrectly. Second, you often bring unnecessary baggage to the discussion. Finally, when you ask the wrong question, no matter what answer you get, it won't be of much value.

As my Twitter pal Melaine McBride points out, it's a question of the frame you put around a concept, an idea George Lakoff has been championing for years.

In Shelly's case, her question carried the implied suggestion and frame that unlike her, people using Twitter either have little to occupy their time or they shirk important work in order to fritter away their days in idle chatter with strangers.

So, the question is also its own filter that pre-screens any valuable input. Without ever using it, Shelly believed Twitter was a service that forces you to waste you workday, 140 characters at a time. Her husband, Michael, was of the same opinion. It was clear that when Shelly asked, "How do people have time for that?" he shook his head sadly and with a little bemused distain.

So, trapped in an echo chamber with the wrong question bouncing around inside it, they've never explored the service for them or their clients, which is unfortunate.

We all do this. I often ask wrong questions like: "Why would anyone hire anyone with an MBA?", "what's up with people using Windows?" or "why do I have to fax anyone anymore?" When we ask questions like this we set ourselves up to learn nothing. The questions I should be asking are:

"Why do I think all MBAs are dicks?", "what features does Windows have that I should value?" and "is my view of the pervasive nature of modern tech completely skewed?" I should ask, but it's easier for me to lob out questions that reinforce my biases. That's human nature.

For example, last week I was speaking to a conference about cancer prevention. The group of extremely bright researchers, educators and communicators had, in general, almost no knowledge of social media tools or communities.

I was encouraging them to dive into social media spaces with gusto. Part of their reluctance was their desire to step back and figure out what to measure when they engaged. The question was: "How will we know we've been successful? What metrics should we establish?"

But, again, in my opinion, that's the wrong question. The more interesting question is: "What conversations are you missing because you're spending time worrying too much about metrics when you could be joining in?" Sometimes you can over think yourself out of a party.

While you're fretting over which cufflinks to wear, other folks are on their second glass of wine and are having a gay old time without you. And again, the question comes from a scientific, authoritative mindset that imposes more gravitas on the social situation than it really deserves. Nobody wants someone with a clipboard at a slumber party.

There was a lot of concern at the conference about control brands and conversations. "How can we maintain authority?" was a question I heard more than once. But, the more interesting question is: "How can I be an authentic, experienced voice in an interesting conversation I don't own?"

When you don't know enough to ask the right thing, sometimes the best question is: "I know what I want to ask, tell me what I should be asking."

As another of my Twitter pals, Colin Carmichael pointed out, in some situations, asking "what do I need to ask" is like "telling someone to wander onto a used car lot and ask the first salesperson what kind of car they should buy." That, of course, would be a great way to get smoke blown up your butt.

But, in a topsy turvy space like social media; where the things that shouldn't work, do, and the things that work elsewhere, don't; it's often best to question your questions.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.