It may seem like heresy to say in certain PR agency circles, but social media isn’t a silver bullet

March 1 - social-media-waste-of-time I’m more convinced than ever that social media is merely one in a series of ‘tools’ with which to engage in conversation. I say this at a time when advertising agencies, digital, shops and PR firms alike are battling for every available client dollar being allocated to social media. I say this at a time when PR agencies in particular are stressing out that their advertising and digital brethren will ‘own’ the big social media idea and, hence, the relationship. I say this at a time when two large clients of ours recently pulled us aside and said, ‘Hey, just a heads-up, but you no longer have to worry about only PR competitors calling up to get my business. Now, ad agencies and web designers are doing the same.’ That’ll do a number on one’s getting a good night’s sleep.

It’s all merely subterfuge as far as I’m concerned. A consumer (regardless of whether he is a consumer or B-to-B purchaser) will make a buying decision based upon trust. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer says consumers surveyed now check five distinct sources (digital and traditional alike) before engaging with a brand. That sounds a tad excessive to me. Who has the time to check five distinct sources about anything nowadays? I sure don’t. I think our very own Sam Ford comes much closer to the reality of the situation when he says social media isn’t a silver bullet. It’s merely one part of a brand’s arsenal of communications weapons with which to build trust, become recommended and, eventually, stimulate purchase.

I recently addressed two very different corporate groups on the subject of social media. The first was comprised of 25 ‘next generation’ fast trackers in the corporate communications departments of Fortune 500 companies. They stopped me in my tracks by saying social media wasn’t growing in importance as part of their overall marketing spend, nor was it being seen by the C-suite as a panacea. The second group was composed of human resource managers at very large professional services firms. They had the opposite point-of-view. They’d been told by their executives to figure out what was happening in social media and to ‘get something’ installed for employee communications ASAP.

I told both groups they were missing the point. The Fortune 500 communications executives needed to be more vigilant about listening to what was being said about their brand in the online world and, if it made, sense, figure out ways to engage in the conversation. I told the human resource executives they needed to ask their employees how they wanted to be communicated with (i.e. Were they already burnt out from way too much social media discourse? Would they prefer face-to-face meetings, snail mail, podcasts or something else entirely?).

The Edelman Trust Barometer provides valuable insight into the way consumers perceive brands. But, brand managers aren’t necessarily leveraging social media in the right ways. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Nor is it about figuring out the five distinct sources of information a consumer will check before trusting a brand (just imagine the time and effort needed to track that information down!). It’s time we woke up and realized that, dare I suggest it, social media might not even appropriate in some situations! Trust is earned by a number of things: truth, honesty, transparency and, critically, listening. Ask your various stakeholders the questions a journalist is trained to answer before filing a story: Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How do they wish to be engaged? Maybe social media will be the answer. I’m betting it will be just one of many answers and, in some cases, rejected outright.

8 thoughts on “It may seem like heresy to say in certain PR agency circles, but social media isn’t a silver bullet

  1. I totally agree. Too many people are relying solely on social media for their interaction. It’s an accident waiting to happen. People, especially employees, need face-to-face contact.

  2. I still believe nothing substitutes for face-to-face meetings. If I was an HR manager for a large company (heaven help us), I would train the department heads to communicate critical information to their direct reports in small group gatherings where questions and concerns could be addressed.

  3. Isn’t that the truth, Julie? So, if you were a human resource manager for a large company, how would you attack information overload vs the employees’ need to know what the company’s up to?

  4. Communications professionals and, in particular, public relations professionals are responsible for understanding the conversation. It’s our job to understand the best ways in which to engage in conversation. Technology will always be a critical component of the dialogue. How large or how small a part will be determined by each audience in each setting. And, every setting will be different.

  5. Most employees don’t even have time to read all the email they receive daily, whether it’s from HR or not… I doubt they would have time to “listen” to HR through the social media channel.
    One thing I know for sure – with all these various new ways for people to communicate with each other, the quality of communication is deteriorating. I frequently see people having dinner or drinks who are too busy engaging with their mobile devices than to actively engage with the person sitting across from them. Now THAT’s true social interaction.

  6. I agree with most of your thoughts about social media and I’m curious as to your thoughts about the then inevitable shakeout or reorganization. We will never have enough time for face to face meetings if we are too busy updating all our online profiles? No doubt social media is here to stay, but in what form? Smaller specific groups or the larger all encompassing sites? Will social media morph and change based on available personal technology? Should communication professionals be trying to figure this out in order to be prepared or just wait for the dust to settle? Neither?

  7. Thanks Agrinavich. If one were to live one’s life based solely upon the glowing articles being written about social media, one would stop all other forms of communication. Someone asked me what I thought social media’s role would be in the overall communications landscape two years from now. I said it would be just one of many. Watch for a big comeback in face-to-face enagement.

  8. I’m glad you wrote this post. I’ve been having a lot of the same thoughts. I just don’t buy into putting all the eggs in the social media basket. Like you said, it’s a tool. An awesome tool, but just one of the many we can use.