Social Media’s (Very Old School) Secret Weapon

Like everyone else in the PR/advertising/marketing business, I’m trying like hell to keep up with the constantly shifting sands of this era’s shiny new toy – social media. And, while it’s frustrating at times to sort through what really needs to be understood and what’s irrelevant (Google Wave, anyone?) on the whole, I love what’s happening.  Social media is definitely a game-changer, communication tools that help David compete with Goliath. Not that they can’t help Goliath too; companies large and small are realizing the benefits of honest, two-way communications with customers and constituents.  As a PR guy, I also love being able to take my story directly to the audience, without having to rely on editors, news desks and other capricious media gatekeepers.

So, yeah, I am a social media fan. No question…like punk rock, personal computers and the pill, it has changed the paradigm. It was woken people up. All good.

But now, a criticism. I’ve noticed a tendency among many co-workers to over-rely on social media and e-communications in general, including email and texts.  On both an individual- and group communication basis, there is far too much of the “we’ve posted, we’ve tweeted, we’ve sent the email…so now we’re done” attitude.

C’mon people. Get real.  First of all, unless there is interaction (be it responses, re-tweets or whatever) you’ve done nothing except shout into the wind.  Secondly, even if the communiqué is received, how deep is the understanding?  Let’s face it, 140 character tweets don’t have a lot of meat, nor do most text or email messages. But that’s not their function.  They are merely a way to start the ball rolling.  It’s the follow up communications that really matter.

Which brings me to my quaintly old-school point: the best follow-up tool I’ve ever used–and most efficient social media channel–wasn’t invented by Mark Zuckerberg, the Twitter guys, Steve Jobs or Al Gore.  Nope, we’re talking Alexander Graham Bell.

Like it or not, the telephone can be a communicator’s ace in the hole. I love it when email or social campaigns hit and immediately start to hum…but let’s face it, that doesn’t happen every time.  Sometimes you’ve got to work a little harder to get the fire lit. I’ve had numerous instances recently where social and “e” initiatives needed to be saved by working the phone.  That’s not always easy, nor is it always a solution.  But it can be incredibly effective. Think about it–what other tool gives you the opportunity to be completely authentic, transparent, and work in real time? Maybe that’s why people shy away from it. If you aren’t engaging, sure of yourself, and quick on your feet, you’re dead. And if you crumble into dust when someone snarks at you, you’re dead too.  But if that’s the case, what are you doing in this business?

Admittedly, email, Facebook and Twitter correspondence all allow one to show personality, counter objections and delve into individualized areas of interest. However, I’d argue that none of them does it as effectively, or with as much nuance, as the phone. (Sorry–exclamation points, words in caps and emoticons are just not the same as reading someone’s voice.)

So next time you’re organizing an event, working a press release, clarifying something with a client or following up with the girl you met last night, don’t rely solely on social media or e-communications–pick up the damn phone!