Social Media Are Hot, But Not For Everyone

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.


5 Responses

  1. Robert – good points to remember! My husband is in technical sales and I always tease him that his cell phone is his mistress. But the reality is that he is most successful because of his face-to-face meetings, problem-solving and being accessible by phone. Building the business relationships not only help him be a successful sales rep; it was a factor in him obtaining a job after he was laid off before Christmas.

    I’m a firm believer that is the blend of the old and new that makes each individual communication plan or strategy successful. As we have discussed before, each person/client is different and cookie-cutter plans are a no-no.

  2. Well said, Robert!

    I think Facebook and its ilk are great for me to keep up with friends but realize some people are “just not gonna go there.” That will be the challenge for developers. Perhaps when it becomes more video-now oriented (think Skype) it will attract those who are reticent with the written style of the current technology.

    This sort of reminds me of the Five Love Languages. Some people are more visual, other more auditory, or tactile. No one type is best. Just different.

    There are those whose comprehension skills find the sheer volume of Facebook, MySpace intimidating also. It’s good for communicators to bear in mind the effectiveness or shorter paragraphs to not visually exhaust the readers, also. I see that happen all the time (not HERE, of course). 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I agree and think that’s why my boss Kris and I work so well together. She loves the face-to-face and shies away from the other stuff, and I hate the face-to-face and love the other stuff. It’s a good fit and hopefully we’re representing our employees well too.

  4. Communication theory and models tell us that face-to-face is the most effective form of communication, though it is not the most “efficient,” i.e., if you have to reach a million people. But sometimes social media are used as a substitute for IRL communication, which they are not. As I’ve said before, it’s concerning that some people, especially young people who have grown up with 2.0, think online friends they have never met are the same as IRL friends. It ain’t so.

    One of my pet peeves is people who communicate exclusively via email and pretend it is two-way communication. It is one-way, then one-way back. I can’t judge your tone, inflection, body language, etc. on email, so it’s not really a very effective communication tool other than for basic information. But it saves time.

    The bottom line to me is that face-to-face communications, email, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest are simply communication tools that are available to us, but they aren’t all the same, and they aren’t interchangeable.

    Good article, and good insight.

  5. This is an excellent subject, Robert, and one you have treated well. The above comments greatly add to the discussion. Wise thoughts all.

    Truth is, it’s a mix of tactics that works best. Period. Each medium available for our use has its own features and benefits. No one works best all the time. This is true for social media as well.

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