How not to react to social media is found in a famous exchange between Alice and the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.”
It might seem obvious that you must know where you’re going to get anywhere. But because social media is a disruptive technology shift, it is leaving some wandering aimlessly creating noise and others euphorically promising unicorns. A common mistake is failing to draw the distinction between developing strategy and copying tactics.
Hammering out a coherant communications strategy is hard word. But only after a clear strategy is developed is it possible to determine how your communications mix (i.e., public relations, advertising, promotion, and direct marketing) will work together to achieve your communications objectives. Only then can specific tasks and message delivery systems be assigned to each of these disciplines so that their combined efforts are mutually reinforcing and inspire important audiences at opportune times.
Social media is not a magic bullet that enables you to ignore timeless communications principles. It is a tactic or message delivery system, not a strategy. Copying any tactic without a strategy is a waste of time, a recipe for activity without accomplishments. (Sure, copying social media tactics may have worked when social media was in its infancy and the element of surprise was on early adopters’ side. But audiences, like bacteria or opposing football teams, eventually become immune to tactics.)
In the words of Geoff Livingston, whose blog posts are famous for applying timeless strategic principles to social media and Web 2.0 communications:
“Let’s hope that amateur hour is over, and that unknowledgeable social media communicators go the way of the dodo bird. Unfortunately, while some will be forced to shutter their doors, the real answer lies in educating the marketplace and upcoming professionals about the basic fundamentals and ethics of communications.”
Of course, communications dinosaurs who underestimate social media will become extinct too. The future is in creating innovative and integrated communications strategies reflecting the wonder of the Web 2.0 “real-time” shift. Another Lewis Carroll novel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, contains a memorable dialog illustrating the way today’s communicators must adapt:
“`Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’
‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’”
Do you think social media is a magic bullet changing all the rules of communications? If you disagree with my analysis, challenge me.