Our Hormones Rage Over Social Media


Remember when you were a teenager and a new girl (or guy) started coming to your school? We guys would practically drool all over ourselves just because there was a new female face in the crowd. We wanted to know all about her and show her how good we were at figuring her out — fast — so that all the other guys would be in awe of us. When we found out she was pretty much like all the other girls, our fascination faded and we were on to the next cutie. (Girls exhibited similar behavior over new guys, but I’m speaking here from my perspective.)

The same is happening with communicators and social media.

Communicators are still drooling over social media. We want to know everything about it — everything, it seems — and we want to figure it out fast so all our peers will be in awe of us.

And before long, we’ll realize that social media are pretty much like all the other communication vehicles out there and we’ll move on to the next thing. For now, however, we’re still in the high hormone stage.

Here’s the thing about hormones, though. Sometimes they cause us to lose our sense of judgment and to lose sight of what really matters. The fundamentals, the things on which everything else rests, sometimes become overwhelmed by the passion of the moment.

That’s what I’m afraid is happening in the communication professions today. Too many of us have become obsessed with social media, treating them as if they’re the last cute girl (or guy) that will ever come our way. It’s clouding our judgment and we’re losing our grasp of the fundamentals.

I get that social media have changed communication forever. I get that social media have caused a significant shift in how organizations engage and interact with their stakeholders. I get that it’s important for communicators to have a working knowledge of social media including some technical skill. I understand social media’s impact and importance. Last summer I told my public relations students that the change in communication brought about by social media was like that of the Gutenberg press.

But come on! You would think social media had solved global warming or cured cancer.

I’ve been on Twitter for about six weeks now and I’ve gained great insight into the strutting and posing over social media that’s going on out there among communicators. I only follow a few more than 30 people so far (I’m choosy), but every day my Tweetdeck is filled with tweets promising everything from a formula for social media success to the worst mistakes you can make on Facebook to the latest apps. It’s just too much.

As I said, I only follow a few more than 30 people. I’ve seen others list thousands of people they follow. Even with the best content management tools, they must spend every waking hour monitoring their Tweetdecks.

Meanwhile, the things that really matter are left unattended. In my next post I’m going to throw out for your consideration the fundamental skills that I believe are most important for people working in the communication professions. For now, though, I’m interested in your thoughts about what I’ve said so far. Are communicators acting like starry-eyed kids when it comes to social media? Or is all the fawning justified?

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8 Responses

  1. Well, Robert, I’ve written about this extensively and exhaustively, while using every social media vehicle under the sun.

    Not sure communicators are fawning too much; I just think we’re all very much at sea about how seriously to take, for instance, 400 hits on our blog vs. two column inches in the local business section. One is more targeted, one is broader, and we don’t know how much energy to put into trying to achieve either.

    And of course those are only two of dozens and dozens of possible avenues for publicity, etc.

    My take on your analogy: We’re acting like we’ve figured out the new girl at the school, but we really don’t even know her real name.

    • I agree with your assessment of communicators being “at sea” about social media, how to use them and especially how to measure them. But I also stand by my assertion that communicators are in love with social media at the moment. Social media are just a collection of tools — yes, they’re interesting tools and remarkable in the way they’re changing how communication happens, but tools just the same.

      I just don’t buy into the idea that communicators must immerse ourselves in social media, know how every widget and app works, and that we must become expert in every social medium out there. A working knowledge is enough for the typical communicator. A few will choose to become experts in social media and that’s fine. But the critical mass of communicators are allowing themselves to be swept up in all of this — at the expense of what I believe are more important fundamental skills. I’ll write about what those skills are in my next blog post.

  2. Obviously we need to be familiar with the technology in order to be able to take advantage of it as appropriate. But I think the value of Twitter may be overestimated.

    Maybe the target demographic isn’t teenagers, but my son has never used it and looks at me funny when I mention it. Today’s teens are the early adopters. They take technology for granted and use what works. So I would question exactly who Twitter is supposed to be targeted to. I’m sure there’s research out there, which would have to guide strategy decisions, but I wonder if it always does.

    • Interesting you should mention the research, Ray. As a matter of fact, LinkedIn and Harris Interactive recently reported results of a study about Twitter, which were quickly debunked by Shel Holtz, whose insights I trust based on his years of experience as a PR technology (and now social media) expert.

      Your observation about teens as early adopters is also something to think about. Maybe they know something we don’t know.

      Regardless of Twitter’s effectiveness as a communication tool, though, I believe the bigger issue is how our profession’s obsession with social media is diverting our attention from the things that really matter. I’ll address those things in my next post.

      • Indeed. Like face-to-face communication. When you care enough to send the very best, as they say. When the message is critically important, nothing can beat that. Bet that has a lot to do with why politicians knock on doors when they’ve already sent tons of junk email to the same neighborhood.

  3. Great post.

    Robert, I’ve been asking myself many of these same questions about social media. Much of it has been brought on by Twitter, everyone’s current darling. I want to know as much as I can about Twitter, just like any other medium that a communication/PR professional can use. I am a practitioner/user and a university mass comm professor. Therefore, I must keep up with the latest.

    But as I get older (and hopefully, wiser) I do not get carried away with the newest and greatest. When Twitter crashed last week, did the world stop? No, it did not. In fact, I’ll bet many people, myself included, found out how easily we can get along without tweeting every action or thought we have or reading the same from hundreds of others.

    In the end, I believe that Twitter, etc. are all simply media that we can use tactically to communicate and to gather information. But the overwhelming volume of links and suggested reading that one gets from Twitter is too much. Any person who is trying to hold down a good job can’t use all of that. Much of it then is wasted effort.

    Les

  4. […] Our Hormones Rage Over Social Media […]

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