The Communicator’s Challenge: “We” Are Not “They”

Last week I briefly touched on a big issue that, on reflection, is the bane of communicators across various disciplines:

Communicators plan activities to reach our key audiences. However, we often don’t represent those audiences.

We may not be the same demographic as the target audience. We may not have the same interests, or hobbies, or lifestyles, or problems.

That problem is exacerbated when it comes to social media. As new research shows, social media practitioners have a different perception of social tools than do “average” users.

  • They don’t build networks like ours
  • They don’t consume information like us
  • They aren’t influenced by online events like us
  • They don’t care as much about corporate involvement in social media as we do

“We” are not “they.”

There’s no doubt that these tools are powerful. The Dominos Pizza uproar of the last few days is a prime example of the potential of social media to derail a company, while you only need to look at companies like Dell, Zappos and others for the postitive potential of these tools.

However, as I’ve evolved from purist to pragmatist, it’s become more and more clear that we are way further along the curve than they are.

That means we need to be careful. Just because we think something is cool, catchy or relevant, doesn’t mean they will.

In an ideal world we would take concepts out and do market research around them. However, as communications budgets shrink in a recession this becomes less and less feasible.

On our own web properties we can run A/B tests to see which concepts and messages work better. However, in the world of social media that’s more difficult. Throwing out different messages on Twitter to test them, for example, might be awkward and ineffective., and quite frankly anti-social. 

That’s why the first step of social media engagement – listening – is so important. Not just listening to the things you want to hear, either; listening to everything about your brand and how people feel about you and learning from it. There are plenty of tools to help you do that, too.

By listening and learning, you can help to close the gap (a little) between them and us.

What do you think?

  • I’m pretty happy to see an attitude shift in the PR Industry away from thinking that every campaign needs a blog/podcast/shiny social media tool and towards questioning if the audience that the PR pro is trying to reach even uses those tools.

    Everyone got excited about social media over the last few years, and now that the excitement is dying off, they are starting to become just another tool for reaching people.

  • Agree. It is all about ROI and efficient communication. Part of that is getting the story right before we tweet/blog/podcast/FB to death.

    And, by “story,” I mean right message for the right person, delivered the right way. Highest ROI. Throwing stuff to see if it sticks, is throwing money away, and that isn’t going work in this economy for anyone.

  • From personal experience I know you’re right on the money on this one. I teach seminars on social media to nonprofits and small businesses, and one of the hardest things for me to do is remember that their level of engagement and/or understanding of social media is light years behind mine.

    Online, my networks consist of people who are on my level. Then I go out into the real, 3D world and encounter people who usually have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. It’s frustrating but by tuning into my audience and listening, I am able to better construct my next seminar. I always have my feelers out when I talk to people face-to-face so that I can get a better overall picture of the level that those around me are on. Personally, I don’t do very much online listening of what my audience knows about social media, because as I’ve found — most of them aren’t very engaged yet. For example, a little less than half of my last audience was on Facebook, but most of their questions indicated that they were clueless on how to use it. Listening online is important, but before we (as educators) tell others to listen online for what’s being said about their company, we need to assess how comfortable they online in general, and take one thing at a time.

  • We all have “rules” or guidelines we try to live by. One of mine is “seek first to understand”. So I couldn’t agree more that listening is the first (and I would add most important) step of social media engagement.

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