Emotion doesn’t trump reality

In recent months I, along with many other people, have voiced concern about the influx of “social media experts” with no real background in communications but a strong enthusiasm for social media tools. We’ve worried publicly that they lack real-world experience and strategic communications insight and that these two things will lead to their failure and, by extension, to them damaging the fragile reputation of the communications industry. 

Yesterday my attention was drawn to a post by Phil Butler from Pamil Visions PR, entitled According to “Experts” – Normal Communication Is Dead? which takes aim at Twitter as a communications tool and at social media more generally.

I take issues with a few points in the post, although I wholeheartedly agree with Phil that some people are falsely building Twitter up to be some kind of silver bullet solution to companies’ problems.  

Twitter isn’t a silver bullet

I’m NOT one of the people who thinks that every company should be on Twitter (last week I told one company that it probably isn’t the right tool for them). However, I do believe that Twitter and similar tools (it’s just one tool in the social media toolkit) are useful for companies in the right situations.

Perhaps more importantly, I do not agree that traditional communications is dead. I’ve written several times in the previously that social media tools add to our communications toolkit; they don’t replace the old tools. While the growth of the Internet is changing the influence levels of our different tools, traditional tactics are still critical for most companies, and in all but a few cases are central to the success of promotional efforts.

Emotion doesn’t trump reality

I have a strong concern about posts written from the perspective of someone who admits they “hate” Twitter. I’m fine with the sentiment – I’ll be the first to agree that no tool will work for everyone, and Twitter takes some getting used-to. I’m also conscious that I come from the opposite bias.

Still, people contemplating such posts should remember that there are other perspectives, and that pure emotion doesn’t trump reality:

  • Butler’s post implies that while journalists may be on Twitter, you can’t engage with them there. While relationships should extend beyond tools, I and many other people have appeared in tier one media outlets thanks to journalist connections made on Twitter, I’ve developed solid relationships with journalists and, thanks to these tools, I can often see if it is a bad time to be contacting those people with story ideas.
  • Butler also says that Twitter is mainly a conduit for the already famous and that you can’t learn anything from using it. If all you’re trying to do is broadcast, then that’s right – as if you have no voice then broadcasting doesn’t work. If, however, you’re trying to connect with people in your market and your target market do use Twitter, then it’s possible. Companies like Freshbooks, Zappos, Radian6, Fairmont Hotels and more are taking that approach. Note that I’ve included small companies as well as big ones to demonstrate that you don’t need to be huge to engage effectively. 

Business benefits

The post also asks whether businesses have benefited directly from using Twitter. Bottom line: ours has. While I can’t give specifics without getting a red-hot poker inserted somewhere painful, I can tell you that we have landed large corporate accounts thanks in large part to our Twitter presence.

We’ve also seen corporate outreach through social media tools, both Twitter and others, to have a noticeable effect, especially when solving problems for people. Simply put, it’s the personal touch that most people no longer expect – by exceeding their expectations, you can delight people with little cost.

Senior management adoption… huh?

Lastly, you point out that most CEOs don’t use Twitter. To that I say, “do they sit in their offices writing the news releases, too?” No, because they have communications staff to do that while they run the company.

It would be lovely if every CEO could spend time blogging and twittering. Some do – they make the time to communicate on behalf of their company. Others, meanwhile, are more policy and strategy focused. That’s fine – that’s what the communications function is there for. What’s more, demographically, most corporate CEOs aren’t likely to be the users of social media tools, so why is this surprising?

Companies don’t write-off the importance of HR because the CEO doesn’t write all the job descriptions. Social media is somewhat analagous to that – you need top-level support for HR and social media approaches, but you don’t need the CEO to be doing the tactical work (although it would be lovely if they could).

Bottom line

While some people over-state the importance of social media, it’s important not to write these tools off based on emotion. Logic, experience and results will determine their success or failure for companies in the long run. Until that time, the early adopters will continue experimenting.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.