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The pseudo-communication facilitated by social media

Whilst doing my dissertation research and interviewing PR professionals in UK and US regarding reactive vs. proactive PR, I came across an answer that surprised me, when it shouldn’t have. One interviewee expressed his opinion about social media, saying because of social media, brands can now communicate with their stakeholders.
Now, this is something I’ve heard from everyone, whether they are in PR, Marketing, they own a business or work for a company, etc. But I’m also starting to see people who have now discovered the other side of the coin regrading social media and its impact on communication. I thought the world of business has already admitted defeat in regards to Facebook and it’s gang of social media platforms.
I mean, c’mon, it’s been a while since brands have started using the platforms to broadcast and consumers have been b***hing about anything and everything, for the sake of it.

In reality, to me, social media has caused a regress in the corporate world regarding companies’ efforts to engage in a two-way type of communication. Instead of actively seeking information from stakeholders through meaningful interactions, it’s easier to just release something into the tweetosphere, hoping that everyone will (or won’t, as is the case of failed attempts of Twitter campaigns, see McDonalds) pick up on it. If a lot of people just re-tweet your tweet, that’s a tick on the measurements sheet for your campaign (assuming the campaign has a manner of evaluating impact of tactics employed).
Erm.. Wait a minute, so real communication between a brand and its stakeholders is now defined by how many people take the message you’ve sent and broadcasts it further? So, basically, things have evolved to a stage where PR is in the hands of consumers or other stakeholder, where publications can be bypassed and all one needs is followers who are willing to press a button and broadcast your message further?
Great, less hassle for PR. Or, should I say, less jobs for PR?

Either way, the issue at stake here is: how does that indicate an existence of meaningful communication with your stakeholder(s)? What exactly have you found out about your customer/investor/competitor/etc., if they pressed the magic re-tweet button? Do they agree with your message, want to broadcast it in a sarcastic manner, think that it will look good on their profile or have they just hit the button by mistake? My question is, I guess, how exactly do you quantify that? And if you do find a manner to quantify it, what’s the use in doing that, instead of the good ol’ research?
I’m not saying social media is something bad and most of all I’m not saying Twitter is useless. Au contraire, Twitter happens to be the social media platform I’d single out as a great means of broadcasting (broadcasting being the key word here) for brands, irrespective of their targeted audience, because if I want to keep up to date with what a company does, I rely on Twitter and expect that particular brand to satisfy my desire for knowledge using Twitter.
But from that, to saying social media, on a whole, allows communication to flow between a corporation and its publics, it’s a farfetched thing.

I don’t communicate with a company I follow on Twitter, I think the term follow in itself says a lot about the type of interaction Twitter allows, meaning I watch the actions of a brand closely, to see what they’re up to, and el fin.
As a consumer, to me, this is much more useful than seeing adverts on the TV, as I can customise, with a click of a button, who I want to be targeted by.

Do I engage in a meaningful exchange of information with that brand this way? Not really… Would I be more willing to express myself in an anonymous survey ? If I was interested in the improvements that can be brought to the services or products of a company, probably yes. Could Twitter be useful for that? Well, yeah, because if I follow a company, it means I’m interested in what they do, so I’d probably care about what it is my input could change.

So, here is a claim I think suits social media:

If used correctly, social media could be a method to recruit the right audience to engage in meaningful communication else where.

Tell me, if you had to choose between cheering (with pom-poms) for FB, Twitter, Instagram, Vine & Fancy or being very skeptical about the potential of these platforms in communicating with your stakeholders, which team would you join?

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