Social Media: Something New or Just Another Channel?

MB Deans, a Women in Consulting member and a friend in my Facebook network, asked me a great question on Facebook in response to my “Skeptic’s View of Social Media” post:

“Great perspective. I agree; you can’t NOT communicate…. (Or you can, and let your customers and competitors do it for you.) Are social media just another channel, or are they really something new and reshaping communication?”

My quick answer: yes to both — social media is another channel and it’s reshaping communication.

The question and my answer remind me of a similar question I was given in college for a classical rhetoric midterm: Does Aristotle think rhetoric is ethical or unethical? During review prep, I asked my professor, “What if you think the answer is neither?” To which, she replied, “Great, I’d love to hear more about it. Build your argument.”

At the time, this annoyed me to no end, because I wanted to be told what the correct information was so I could spit it back out on the test and get an “A” just like kids are trained to do through most of their schooling. In hind site, it’s the best learning experience that I’ve ever had (thanks Anne!), because she taught me to:

  1. Think critically, don’t just absorb ideas
  2. Develop well-reasoned, well-supported arguments
  3. Not be afraid to go outside established parameters

How does this story relate? Because my answer was that Aristotle didn’t think of rhetoric as ethical or unethical, but rather as a tool that could be used ethically or unethically. Similarly, social media is a channel, just another channel. However, that channel has the capacity to reshape communication, just like other new communication channels that marked a dramatic departure from the status quo: the printing press, radio, television….

As a channel, social media shouldn’t be ignored. Social media should be assessed like any other channel for effectiveness with your target audience. If you decide it’s a good fit, it should be entered into with the same level of commitment that you give any other channel, and it should be integrated with your overall communication strategy.

As a dramatic departure from the status quo, social media demands your attention. Follow it. Assess it. Keep track of what’s happening, because at some point it may impact your business. As I mentioned in my “Skeptic’s View” post, you don’t have to like social media, but you should pay attention to it. Time will tell whether it’s life-altering or a fad; but if it’s the former, you don’t want to be left completely out to dry. So keep tabs of what’s happening where, make decisions based on you and your audience and not just what’s the latest and greatest, and don’t ignore it just because you don’t like it or think it’s just for kids.

A side note on MB’s statement, “…you can’t NOT communicate…. or you can, and let your customers and competitors do it for you;” I think this underscores a core characteristic of social media that you don’t control — nor should you try to control — the conversation. Just because you’re not participating doesn’t mean your customers and competitors aren’t. Nice point MB!

I have a slightly different take on the “you can’t NOT communicate.” Even when you do or say nothing, you’re still sending a message by the very act of not doing or saying anything.

So, let the discussion begin…. Of course, I would rather have the discussion face to face over tea or wine or at WIC meeting featuring a panel debating the topic…. 😉' About Avery Horzewski

Principal of AVE Consulting, Avery is a marketing and customer communications consultant, and serves on WIC's board of directors as president. As a consultant, she works with companies of all sizes to develop compelling, persuasive, and effective customer-centric marketing and communication strategies that encompass everything from websites to social media to print collateral. Avery assumed the role of WIC president in January 2010, after overseeing the organization’s marketing, PR, social media, and website initiatives for three years.

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