I read a Guardian post a while back by Jeremy Heimans and Tim Dixon on how politics is still at the adolescent stage of understanding technology, most notably social media. Their core message was that in the end, the reality is that the people behind the workings of this relationship whether it’s the politician or the constituent following their politician are the ones with real power and they must learn to harness the features that social media and emerging technologies offer.
My Original Stance
The pair weren’t the only ones looking at the relationship. 2 months ago I spoke to Tom Chatfield, a British author and technology and cultural commentator. He interviewed me in my past role as an elected representative and asked me several questions on how, if at all, social media had helped with communicating to the members I represented.
My response?… I felt that the emergence of social networks made it easier to reach out and essentially help market to our members, however I had the view that it was now much harder to communicate with individuals and more importantly, the skill and general practice of communicating was being lost by both senders and receivers of communication.
So why convert ?
On reflection of my initial response ( which I gave 2 months ago), I realised I was essentially blaming social networks / media for the demise or decrease in the applied use of communication skills, a stance I’m now retracting for the following reasons:
- Social Networks are communication tools, just like the telephones, letters, emails or even an IM (instant messenger) client. They don’t govern how we communicate, instead they offer us options or alternatives given the possibilities now available through new technology. Like most good tools, social media amplifies our reach and ability to communicate and this may be in an explicit way (tone/style of writing) rather than implicit (emotions), however it all still falls under the umbrella of communication and variety has always been a good thing.
- The reason for it’s fast expansion over the past 9 years isn’t because it’s slowly eliminating other channels of communications but instead, it’s meeting a need that evidently wasn’t being met prior to it’s advent.
- Social media is enhancing the activities of people and organisations around the world with many large companies incorporating it into their internal and external communication strategies to bring a more personal perspective to their activities. You most likely got to this blog post via a social network and 40% of the traffic for my site comes from social netowrks. What about news that is broken first on social networks or how easy it now is to follow a movement campaign or event online through social media.
- Social media can also develop communication skills.The 140 character constraint requires you to be concise and focus only on relevant points << 140 characters.
Time to Embrace it.
OK so yes some people tweet about the mundane subjects and there’s more to communication than “pokes” and “likes’ and let’s not forget that social media has furthered the use and existence of the “txt” dictionary but this has always been the way with slang or poor communicators. It’s the way language evolves and it’s why Google’s a verb as much as it is an organisation.
Instead of fearing the unknowns within social media, we should embrace the benefits it’s already offering. Yes there are large challenges ahead, privacy being one of the most current and prevalent ones, but it’s an extremely young communication tool and it’s bound to evolve at an even faster rate from here on as the offerings diversify from our desktops, onto the vast array of mobile devices being used daily. The way to make sure it works for you is to engage with the offerings and get involved with feature suggestions, a standard and best practice across all good social media tools out there.