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Rhetorical Cone Theory & Social Media

Posted at Mar 13, 2013 12:18:45 PM by Nathan Mendenhall | Share

When I was in college, I had taken a few upper level classes in rhetoric and I feel that they set me up for a career in social media. For those who are unfamiliar with it, rhetoric is essentially the art of speaking and writing in an effective or persuasive manner. The definition of rhetoric is very broad, but the granular concepts are actually very complex. One of the first rhetorical lessons I ever learned can be summed up by what one of my professors called “Rhetorical Cone Theory”. My professor used this as a device to introduce us to the complexity of rhetorical communication and I really think it helps put into perspective the importance of clear and effective communication in social media.

Rhetorical Cone Theory states that one message or conversation has at least three different attainable perspectives. This theory is called “Cone Theory” because If you were to look at a cone from the top, you would see a different shape than you would when you look at it from the bottom or side. One shape can be seen from three different perspectives, thus providing the viewer with at least three different interpretations of the shape. If you apply this logic to social media, this means that whatever you post or tweet can be interpreted in at least three different ways, perhaps more.

Let’s apply Rhetorical Cone Theory to modern social media. If I send a tweet, that message can be interpreted in at least 3 different ways. The first way would be how I see the message or how I intended it to be interpreted. The second perspective is how my intended audience interpreted it. The third perspective is how people who have seen the interaction interpret it. Sometimes these three perspectives sync up into a clear social message. Other times, one of these interpretations cannot be the same as the way it was intended, thus resulting in a HUGE miscommunication.

Ok, enough with the confusing mumbo, jumbo. To summarize Rhetorical Cone Theory as it pertains to social media, we must always be aware that any social media communication can be interpreted in different ways. Understanding this is critical to presenting a consistent brand voice and effectively communicating with social communities.

What do you think of Rhetorical Cone Theory? Do you think it has relevance to social media?

Tags: Social Media

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