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The Problem with Social Media – Too Many People

The Problem with Social Media – Too Many People

I’ve come to this conclusion over the weekend.  I mean, you have to agree that over the last year the explosion in the number of Twitter and Facebook users alone is out of hand.  My tribes are co-mingling… I’ll explain below.

Use all the charts you want, you ROI number crunching types, when your in-laws start following you on Facebook, enough is enough.  That, my friend, is a buzz kill.  I remember when I was the freak at the annual family holiday dinner years ago.  “Social media, what’s that Al? A new channel on cable? There’s a channel for everything, what will they come up with next?”

Or remember “Podcasting? Do you need an iPod for that? My kid’s been bugging me for one of them  things and I’m wondering what’s wrong with this Walkman.”

Or the recurring “who the hell would be stupid enough to put a picture of themselves drinking on the Internet?” conversation. Ok, the brother-in-law had a point there, up until my reply. “Your old girlfriend.” Ooopps.

Now the “out-laws” can’t drink enough of the Facebook Kool-Aid.  How does that impact me?  (comic pause before reading on)    You are kidding right?  I mean the question alone is enough to incriminate me, I plead the fifth.

It’s Not Just In-Laws

The proliferation of social web users and the seamlessness with which the web intermingles our networks (tribes) has reached a point where there is tribal conflict.  It’s not just that the In-law tribe does not mind-meld with the Social Media Breakfast Twin Cities tribe. It’s the Memphis resident and client of a PR executive who was offended by the line, “I would die if I had to live here“.

Twitter is an excellent example of what I learned in a college communications class from Father Joseph Hamernick, the great Jesuit educator.  He explained that communication is two parts, sender and receiver, once the communication leaves the sender it is now in the control of the receiver.   Yikes.

The other day I saw a tweet from a colleague in the PR business complaining (maybe just commenting, but remember, his comment is in my control now) about how small clients require a lot of work.  An innocent comment, posted in a moment of frustration…  Unless his clients follow him.  His smaller clients will internalize the comment, while his larger clients will wonder why they aren’t getting the same bang for the buck.   This tweet is a lose-lose.  What’s the point?

The more your social media universe of friends, followers and earthlings expands, so too does the likelihood is there will be differences.  Differences in culture, perspective, agenda, and these differences reinforce the human nature at the core of social media.   Some of these elements reflect positively for social media.  The need to connect, for example, or share ideas… The curiosity to learn and be part of something larger. But less desirable elements, such as ego and greed, often shine through as well.

This sets up a potential dilemma.  Due to the limitations of the media we are using to communicate, the potential to say the wrong thing, or to have the right thing misinterpreted as the wrong thing, abounds.   Combine this with society that seeks a quick conclusion, and jumps to them frequently, and you have a recipe for disaster.

A) The first part of the dilemma is easy to remedy.  A sender should appreciate the limitations of the medium, and alter their message, or point to a different medium with greater depth of content.   B) The second part of the dilemma is tougher to remedy.  It requires understanding, which is in short supply regardless of your tribe. You’ve heard this before, seek first to understand, then be understood (I think this is either Stephen Covey or Aristotle… One of those guys).  It requires patience (“what’s that?” my son asks, as he multi-tasks while firing off a text message).

The Breakdown of Tribal Language

The commingling of my homogenous tribes (all my early adopter friends as separate and distinct from my In-laws) may require a change in the language I use.  It may also require the sender to choose their words more carefully, and to be more sensitive.  It may mean that the recipient of that message takes the extra time to ask, “What do you mean by that?”

If you are a transparency zealot and think I’m off the mark with this article, please comment your exact response when your significant other asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

Does the concept of transparency mean “men’s locker room”, or “cosmopolitan-Sarah Jessica Parker girls’ lunch” candid? Or does it mean “church social” candid? Or how about “prospect” candid vs. “client” candid.  Yeah, I went there, you agency types.

At minimum, it’s the kind of thing that should make you think twice before you hit ‘Enter’. Everything you digitize is forever.  Before you post, think “do I want my name associated with a tweet that has the word ‘ass’ in it or should I choose butt, rear-end, or derriere?”  Hmmmm… Decisions, decisions.

Let’s go with ass.  I only have 140 characters.

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