Yet Another Social Media Misunderstanding

Today I saw an article float by in the Twitter river: “Why do only 7% of managers consider social media skills most important for employees?” Go ahead and read the article, because the attitudes are pretty interesting. The author, however, conflates a couple of things and winds up 180 degrees from the direction he should be facing.

First, “social media” is not the same thing as “customer service,” even though the fomer can be used as a tool for the latter.

Second, throwing around statistics of how many people are on Facebook and LinkedIn is useless in this context, because these are radically different usecases than the primary one the author is promoting; namely affiliation between corporations and their customers.

This is, interestingly enough, something I have considerable experience with. It is, in fact, the main purpose of my Doctoral Dissertation (written long ago in another time, when “social media” was called “Computer-Mediated Communication”). In short, here are a few truths that I found way back then that could help in understanding how to interpret the impact of “social media” both as a tool and as a medium of affiliation:

  • The use of social media is not a static, single-purpose communication tool
  • People will tend to gravitate towards one type of communication medium over all others (e.g., synchronous versus asynchronous, face-to-face versus phone, IM vs. Twitter, posted messages on Facebook versus traditional email versus handwritten letters, etc.)
  • Different types of communication, like customer service, is highly time-sensitive; not all social media (like Facebook interactions, e.g.) are highly time-sensitive.
  • Each form of communication – even within social media elements – creates its own culture of etiquette and norms, and transferring one set of norms from one version to another is done at the corporations’ risk. If you are familiar with McLuhanisms, I referred to this as “Lukewarm Media” in a journal article I wrote in the 1990s. Therefore, recommending that managers raise their priority for Facebook-like skillsets for their customer-facing interactions could be disastrous.

Ultimately, it’s important for managers to understand how social media is to be used rather than have it be an end unto itself. It appears the ones polled by FastCompany knew this better than the author did.

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