We are in the midst of a 21st century conundrum. Should we, as change managers and PR professionals, stick with tried-and-true social science approaches to problem solving based on years of study and proven effectiveness? Or should we “go with it,” throwing away all the old school concepts and just accept that our world now belongs to social media? In other words, should we do it “right,” or is it more important to do it “right now”?
The practical answer may be that we must combine both old school and new. Perhaps we must understand that our historic, strategic approach based on research, applied social science and experience now has a new tactical tool—social media—which can, possibly, make us even more effective.
Today’s addiction to 24/7 immediate access and constant connectedness—not just at work, but in social interaction and even on vacation—is reportedly affecting our ability to make effective decisions due to information overload and the frenetic pace of its delivery.
Some companies are reported to be so concerned with reduced productivity and the seeming inability of employees to focus on the tasks at hand as a result of constant interruptions of social media, that they are attempting to restrict access to the Internet to specific periods during the day and for only specific purposes. This may be like trying to put the lid back on Pandora’s box.
Historically, traditional media reporters, editors and broadcasters were assumed to have the education, ability and experience to fulfill the responsibilities of the fairness, objectivity and accuracy of their communications. Through attrition and downsizing, what’s left of those media seem to have lost, misplaced or perhaps abdicated their role as the arbiters of thought, fact, ethics and news.
To fill that vacuum, we now face a media environment increasingly filled with a hodgepodge of people with Internet access who believe themselves entitled to provide not only the “news” but their opinion to go with it. These self-appointed purveyors of information seem convinced that everyone within the reach of their “voice” cannot live without knowing what they had for breakfast and where they last “checked in.”
Combine this with the blurring lines between professional and personal sharing of information and the tendency to combine social media platforms, we’re witnessing a media atmosphere tailor-made for wreaking havoc on either professional or personal reputations—and sometimes both.
There have been many recent instances of inappropriate posts costing the jobs and reputations of those in government, politics and entertainment. Most instances seemed to be the result of immediate communication at times of high emotional turmoil. A few, however, seemed to occur due to individuals forgetting that “friending” someone on social media does not make them your friend.
This leads to two new suggested foundation rules.
1. Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut and your finger off the send button when you are upset, emotional, and not in full control of your faculties or thought processes. Words, thoughts, deeds and opinions cannot be retrieved once said, written, blogged and sent.
2. Never write, send or copy others with words or pictures that you don’t want the whole world to see—forever. Once in the ether-net, always in the ether-net.
The newly minted mantra that social media demands immediate response is only true if we allow it to be. In fact, social media’s credibility is contingent upon people believing in the trustworthiness of the information provided and for that, the race goes not always to the fleetest.
To build that trust, we have a responsibility to master the social media tools and marry them to the foundation of ethics, information and truth—backbones of PR.
We must, before we push the send button:
• Understand the immediate situation that confronts the organization or individual.
• Draft messages points in simple, straightforward language that explain the reality of the events and information concerning the situation that we understand and know to be true.
• Review the statements and responses through at least two other sets of eyes to assure that they are free of error, factual, not defensive and crafted to attain the trust and supportive response of the reader or listener.
While these seem like simple steps, they seem to be too often neglected in the rush to “do it right now.” PRN
Mike Herman is CEO of Communication Sciences International, He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.