How passivity and overreliance on the digital world are leading to our downfall as Comms Pros. It’s an ironic threat

Trends by nature come, go and come again. Like Lemmings, it’s often the path of least resistance we follow and it tends to be a big loop. We assume the person in front of us knows the right way and it negates our desire to think for ourselves. As Comms Pros I wonder whether this fear of breaking away from the pack is becoming an epidemic.The pervasiveness of digital communications only serves to highlight the point and it has to be asked, has ‘digital’ become the default because it’s better, or because it’s easier? Of course, the answer is “it depends”, but I’m not comfortable with leaving it there, and here’s why.

Ever contemplated the inception of today’s leading social tools? As a rudimentary example:

– Facebook, was of course invented by Mark Zuckerberg, a software developer

– Instagram, was invented by Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, both software engineers

– Twitter, was also invented by Jack Dorsey a web developer; and

– WordPress, go figure, was invented by Matt Mullenweg, another web developer

I have to be clear I am making a broad presumption to illustrate a point, but how is it Comms Pros sit on the sidelines, while engineers are front and centre of the communication revolution? Surely I’m not the only one that has an issue with this. Surely this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse!

It seems we are at a communications crossroad. How to best converse in this new media world is hotly debated and there is no doubt the rules have changed, but have people? Or… are we just lazy!? Do we just use the digital world as an excuse to disengage because it’s effortless? It’s a far reaching issue – across a variety of industries, but my ask is this… where is the leadership from the Comms Pro fraternity?

Let me give you an example. I’ve heard on more than one occasion from people in the PR game that media relations has changed. They make the point you don’t need to go and have a meal with journalists anymore because email is sufficient. Gotta say, email is good for some things, but not for relationship building. I once was a journalist and the number of emails you get a day from spruikers is silly. Those that follow up with a phone call are also often deluding themselves. It’s not to say an email or a phone call aren’t good, but if Mr Journalist doesn’t know who you are – seriously – to look at, eyeball to eyeball; if they don’t know a bit about you because you’ve taken the TIME to know a bit about them (beyond watching their Twitter stream), why would they take the time to read it? You only serve to reinforce the thoughts of many in the media who think Comms Pros, or particularly those in PR, are a waste of space. Whether they work in the media or not, people are people! The same rules apply with in any relationship; the more you put in, the more you get out.

I recently read a report that extends this hypothesis. It stated Australians are less engaged on social network sites. I wonder if this is true, or if they are just watching and not participating. I call it white noise, where everyone is just spitting information out into the ether. People watch, but they’re much more reticent to respond. Still the flood of dollars pore unabated into the social stew. Nielsen figures reveal Australians spend an average of 24 days on the internet a year, but… they spend far more time in the pub, on the sporting field, or… in the pub watching sport! The sums just don’t add up.

Today sure, we have reality TV on every channel, where we seemingly like watching people cooking in the kitchen more than making the food ourselves. And yes, we have a more diverse palate and we’d simply prefer someone else cook for it, but the net result is Australians eat out far more than they ever have. There is something about personal connections that the digital world is yet to figure out. So, as Comms Pros, what does it mean for us?

Lead from the front! Share what you know! Don’t you know more than most about this stuff!? You should. You’re paid to. I read this article on SMH last week: Stop stalking me, Facebook, it’s over, and you can keep my 3448 friends. It shows what can happen when Comms Pros aren’t offering strategic counsel to digital developers. We mustn’t forget, the medium is not the message. The explosion of social media doesn’t negate the need for other forms of “traditional engagement”.

Get out there – Be a human. Take the time to build relationships, beyond the superficial. Let the computers talk to computers – Cisco calls it the internet of everything! It’s time we took the high road – don’t be a scrooge with your time, or your money, take someone out for a nice lunch! Don’t you like it when someone does it for you? While the SMH article pokes fun, it’s grounded in fact. Australian social media users have 227 friends and followers on average, however they have seen less than half of them face-to-face in the past year according to AIMIA’s Yellow Social Media Report.

Understand the psychology – There is a massive amount of science that sits behind relationships and our desire for good ones. You may find it both interesting and disturbing to know that Psychiatrists are treating more people for so-called ‘Truman Show’ delusions – named after the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey as a man who spends his entire life unwittingly at the centre of a fictional world that’s being broadcast to millions of homes. With a blurring of lines between the digital and the physical, these cases result in people developing paranoid fantasies that they’re being filmed at all times and that the world that’s in front of them isn’t real. You don’t have to draw too long a bow to see the connection between social voyeurism, online personalities and illusion.

Think before you act – When you recommend a strategy, are you saying what you think they want to hear, or what you believe is best based on serious analysis. Twitter is a buzzword, not a default. As Comms Pros, it’s important to weigh up every activity against a strategic objective. Sometimes, the ethical thing is to walk away when you know your manager or client wants a Twitter program, and you understand it won’t achieve what they hope it will. Comms Pros have never been more valuable. It’s time as a community we started believing it and owning it. Effortless is not the answer – balance is! Building relationships that enhance communication is not something that can be done watching on from the bleachers.

– My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

One thought on “Are we a society of voyeurs? How lethargy has become the deadliest viral trend

  1. Pingback: From whence we came – lessons from three Social Media trailblazers |

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