Thursday, November 27, 2008

Social Media: Fatigue of a Fad?

I had an interesting class last week. A social-media expert guest speaker mentioned Twitter and most students in the class did not show any enthusiasm. The sense was that it was just getting too much. Too many tools. Too many updates. Is it too much? When is it too much? Is this social media boom a fad? Is it a bubble waiting to bust? Or will it keep growing in the future? Regardless, one thing was clear for all us--as PR professionals, we had to be familiar with every new tool of communications that's out there, be able to use it and be able to counsel on its applicability and usage to the clients. There was no escaping from that, if we want to be successful.

My online presence has no doubt expanded in last few weeks. I use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, RSS feeds; I follow more than 25 blogs daily and also tried Google Analytics recently. I caught on to social media because I know its important. In every class, everyone talks about social media. Every PR professional I am following, virtual or real, acknowledge some aspect of this new media.

Generation Y, the so-called Millennials, those who are in their early 20s, maybe having a sense of fatigue with social media because they use it all the time. It's the way they communicate, it's an integral part of their life! But there are many, rather, most in the PR profession, that are still starting to use social media. They are the early adaptors who are starting to feel the thrill of these new communication tools. And then there are those, who will not use social media for professional communications. A survey of CEOs in September by Burson-Marstellar and PR Week, only 18% said they used social media to communicate and reach their business stakeholders. Factors they cited were lack of control of their message, lack of relevance to stakeholder groups, concern on the ROI and lack of knowledge and capability of the company.

This was not surprising. But what's interesting to me is, here's a generation of workforce, like me, for whom social media is such an integral part of life, to the extent that it becomes exhausting at times. We strongly believe that social media can be used effectively for professional communications. And there's the leadership, the top management of companies, that perhaps use these social media tools personally, but do not use it for business communications. The C-suite executives are still dubious about using blogs, Twitter or other online tools. This divide, I believe, will fill in coming years.

Companies are fast realizing the value of social media and no doubt, the progressive ones are smart enough to see its power and embracing this new media. There is no denying that technology has indeed changed the world--the world of journalism, the world of communications, the world of business and perhaps, with Obama as our leader now, the world of government. The resistance of top management for use of social media will fade over time, once companies and the CEOs prepare themselves for these changes.

There are pros and cons to everything in life. So is with social media. On one hand, social media has made communications instant, transparent, authentic and targetted. It has "democratized" communications and empowered people. I could feel the power of citizen journalism when I was following the recent Mumbai attacks yesterday. I got more relevant and faster updates on Twitter than CNN-IBN. Bloggers were blogging about it, there were "Tweets" from eye-witnesses for donating blood, calling hotline for friends and relatives etc. This article from WSJ today sums it up well. On the other hand, since most companies are still "figuring out," the concerns mentioned in the BM survey by CEOs are legitimate. Lack of control of message is always an issue for communicators. ROI is important. And building capabilities for a company to adapt social media tools is ofcourse, the first step. But all of these concerns can be addressed over time by effective social media usage.

Yes, I still find the need to shut off all gadgets and take time to think and reflect on my life without staring at any sort of screen in front of me. But rather than being on the sidelines and watching this social media phenomenon unfold, I have chosen to jump right in and experience it at its best.

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