Two conversations with two of my sisters over the last couple of weeks served to remind me of something that we 21st century communicators often forget. Social media are hot and are changing the way people and organizations communicate — but they’re not for everyone.
You don’t have to convince me of the power of social media. I use them all the time, I’ve helped clients understand how to use the tools, I’ve written and spoken about them. In fact, you might say I was an “early adopter” back in the ’90s when “news groups” and “discussion boards” were as mysterious to some folks as Twitter was six months ago. But even then, as communication technology pundits like my friend Shel Holtz were predicting the scenario that’s playing out today, I believed there would always be a place for more traditional media like print and even face-to-face. (As technologically progressive as Shel is, he has always held this belief, too.)
At a family gathering on Memorial Day, I was teasing my younger sister (who is in her early 40s) about not being on Facebook. I had reconnected with one of her high-school buddies, who asked me “what is her problem” for not joining the 200 million people in the world who are Facebook users. “I don’t have the time!” she exclaimed and I knew she was right. She has her hands full IRL (in real life) with three kids and lots of activities.
Then, over the weekend, I was talking with my oldest sister (who is in her mid 50s) about how I use Facebook not only for personal pleasure but as a business networking tool as well. “I guess it makes sense for you,” she said, “but I just don’t know where I’d find the time to keep up with it.”
I believe my sisters are not alone in their perception that Facebook is — as even some of its fans say — a “time suck.” I also believe, however, that some people haven’t jumped into new media because they prefer other communication methods. Believe it or not, there are some people who actually enjoy the tactile experience of reading a publication. Many people are energized by the human-to-human contact that only face-to-face communication can provide and they just don’t get the same experience through a computer.
We communication professionals would do well to remember this. I know some communication consultants who do nothing except speak, write and consult about social media. That’s fine — we need leaders in our profession who will help us navigate the ins and outs of the technology and who will advocate for its adoption by individuals and organizations. But social media are not the end-all and be-all of communication today. We need to balance the benefits and features of social media with those of other vehicles. We need to understand our clients’ business issues, know what communication tools are available and best-suited to address those issues and recommend solutions with clarity and purpose.
While hundreds of millions of social media users can’t be wrong, occasionally even they would like nothing more than to peruse a publication or talk with a person face to face.