Communicating in the Social-sphere

DavidVGoliathSocial is no longer the bouncing baby boy of media, yet so many businesses still get it wrong. What makes the social-sphere so different and so seemingly difficult to conquer? The answer is pretty simple: UNCENSORED FEEDBACK. The major boon of the social-sphere is actually the major bane of so many corporations. Putting the concerns of PR managers the world over – but more specifically within the Caribbean – into words, the conundrum they face sounds something like: “How do we meet our consumers where they are, handle their concerns and make ourselves available to them while ensuring not to draw any negative publicity given everything is public and ready to share?” My response: R-E-S-P-E-C-T2.

Reader: “Respect squared?”

Me: “Yes!”

Reader: “Ummm… I still don’t get it 🙁 .”

Me: “That’s understandable. That’s why I’m doing this post. Stick with me and we’ll get there together.”

I believe that the production of content, and verily, any strategy to do with the publication of content MUST begin with the intended audience and the context within which they operate. If that is true, then (step 1) any venture into the social-sphere must first consider digital culture and the predominant characteristics of Digi-terrans. Our goal however, is not simply to understand a few characteristics of the audience, it is to understand how the audience communicates so that we can (step 2) navigate within the social-sphere and (step 3) ensure the efficacy of the messages we produce.


Key Elements of the Social-Sphere: Digital Culture and Digi-terrans

For much of the 20th century, only the approved media was responsible for communicating global realities and forging the foundation of international culture. With the introduction and entrenchment of the Internet, a new culture emerged. One that was founded on a simple yet profound idea: “I am the audience… yet I am the media”. This shift in power and the recognition of the same has been the defining factor for Digi-terrans, and after many years of exposure to this climate, the ability to speak and be heard have become expectations. Don Tapscott in his 2008 publication “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World” recognizes this phenomenon and extrapolates eight (8) characteristics common among the Net Generation (the predecessors of Digi-terrans):

  1. Freedom: DTs value their ability to choose and move without restriction. This is one of the major draw of number portability and pre-paid mobile service in the Caribbean to this group.
  2. Customization: DTs want to be able to change their world to fit themselves and not be forced into something the other way around.
  3. Scrutiny: Given the large volumes of information DTs are exposed to every day, they tend to have fierce real and digital content filters in order to only give attention data that is “worth it”.
  4. Integrity: Simple – do what you say you’re going to do when you are going to do it. DTs form routines quickly around consistency, but often lose interest even faster in those things which are erratic.
  5. Collaboration: DTs love to share. Whether it is Facebook or a cause – doing “it” together is what is important.
  6. Entertainment: Arguably due to shortened attention spans, DTs will usually give closer attention for a longer period of time to that which is entertaining rather than anything else.
  7. Speed: N-O-W, not later.
  8. Innovation: DTs are always finding new ways to do and use established objects.

With this in mind, it becomes obvious that treading into the social-sphere cannot simply be a matter of “going where the consumers are”, but instead requires a clear and sophisticated strategy for connection, engagement and relationship building.


Navigating within the Social-Sphere: The Ego-State (PAC) Model

ego1In its simplest terms, this communication model suggest we interact with each other across three dimensions: Parent, Adult or Child (P-A-C). In an environment where the context dictates that we are all equals, as long as the parties involved speak to each on from similar dimensions (P-to-P; A-to-A; C-to-C) then there should be no additional issues in communication. However, as soon as the dimensions get crossed, problems occur. Further the more extreme the difference in the dimensions (P-to-A is 1 dimension difference; whereas P-to-C is a 2 dimension difference) and top-down (P-to-C rather than C-to-P)

This is the foundation of the respect paradigm. Want your social endeavour to be successful? Remember to either (a) meet and communicate with your consumers at their level; or (b) allow them to invite you to speak with them from a “higher” position, but never impose the same.


Ensuring effective communication: The R-E-S-P-E-C-T Model

At the end of it all, one of the only sure ways to ensure effective communication within any context is to deepen the relationship between the parties involved. “But we have TWO MILLION Facebook likes – how do we accomplish that?!!” – is usually the response from the PR team or C-Level person in charge of the business’ social engagement. My offering for this is Welch’s (1998) submission towards furthering a patient-focused, service orientation in health professionals. The R-E-S-P-E-C-T model of Cross-Cultural Communication focuses on the systematic and linear progression of a relationship by:

  1. Developing a Rapport: make an explicit effort to connect;
  2. Displaying Empathy: remember this – “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” (T. Roosevelt);
  3. Giving Support: move beyond speech and commit to action;
  4. Acknowledging Partnership: be cognizant that the consumer is just as, or even more powerful than your best advertisement. The reason you have even gotten this far is because they want to help you make your product/service better – come to terms with the idea, then give them the necessary power to do just that;
  5. Encouraging Explanations: the worst thing a service provider can do is to assume he knows/understands what was said by the consumer without allowing for an explanation or providing some feedback;
  6. Recognizing the [Context]: one size does not fit all. Get to know you market segments and the unique conditions each faces. (Welch refers to this element as Cultural Competence);
  7. Building Trust: THIS is the promised land. The simple truth is this: every consumer that voices a negative experience in social-sphere in a way that could obviously cause embarrassment or injure your brand is a consumer who does not trust you to fix the problem otherwise.


In summary, the Internet not only connected businesses to an ever-expanding marketplace – it gave consumers a voice and a platform from which to air their concerns. Digi-terrans make it a point to exercise this “newfound” right to be heard and where your business either prohibits or restricts this ability, the consequences will be dire. Instead, provide the platform, but manage the multiplier-effect of both dissension and praise by deepening relationships based on respect…squared!

I hope the above helped you in some way – please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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