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LISTEN UP: Four Reasons to Care about Social Communications

The Economist, as it often does, sums up a business trend succinctly: In the introduction to its special report on social networking, its author argues "Lastly, it will contend that this is just the beginning of an exciting new era of global interconnectedness that will spread ideas and innovation around the world faster than ever before."

If that is not reason enough, here are four other arguments for caring about social communications (For the contrarian perspective, you can always depend on Paul Seaman blogging at 21st Century PR Issues, who believes "Social media is looking less glossy after bruising encounters with business, personal and political reality"):

  1. Major brands are beginning to invest heavily in social media projects. Unless a company or organization creates a strategy based on an analysis of its readiness, balancing of the opportunities and risks, and designing a road map to social success it could easily be out-manoeuvred.  Although missing the point about Twitter, even venerable Procter & Gamble apparently has dozens of projects underway looking at how social media can benefit their marketing programs and reputation. If coldly sober P&G is taking social media's measure, it's evidence that this isn't kids stuff.
  2. If you don't listen to what bothers people about your organization, and don't recognize how social communication has become the midwife for organized anger, you could easily be out-gunned by someone who doesn't like you and knows how to use social networks and social communications to do something about it. This is simply the lucid logic of effective issue management playing out on a new battlefield.
  3. People are becoming hardwired to react, take advice, learn and challenge ideas differently. A whack of research studies have identified that the most trusted source or information for people today is someone like themselves. People find people like themselves in social networks. This is unlikely to change, even if the social networks or social communications infrastructure within which they seek the advice. Such an evolutionary reconstruction of culture is always hard to accept since it happens slowly and often finds itself questioned by short-sighted talking heads. But organizations who need a public license to operate should recognize that the zeitgeist of engagement is bending differently today.
  4. The marketing and corporate communications vocabulary in social media is also shifting, and some marketers insist on speaking the wrong language. An example: Marketers have slapped the social media concept of 'engagement' on top of their beloved 'brand' and come out with a concept called "engage with a brand". Engage generally means to interact with or attract (It can also be defined as 'to enter into combat with'). It is personal and reciprocal, and it is only wishful thinking when it comes to the relationship between a person and a product or company. Avoiding this type of awkward and alienating juxtaposition of a social communications reality with a marketing communications ambition happens when you recognize your word-stock doesn't fit anymore.

I'll leave the conclusion to David Carr writing about Twitter in the New York Times at the start of the year in an agreeable precis of the personal pleasure and business opportunities of social communications that is better than anything else on the subject I have read recently . . . "The most frequent objection to Twitter is a predictable one: 'I don’t need to know someone is eating a donut right now.' But if that someone is a serious user of Twitter, she or he might actually be eating the curmudgeon’s lunch, racing ahead with a clear, up-to-the-second picture of an increasingly connected, busy world."

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