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Monday, July 12, 2010

It Can’t Be Said in 140 Characters

It goes without saying that social media – such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and numerous others – have changed the way we communicate with one another, share information, and learn of breaking local, national and international events. Who can forget the barrage of tweets coming out of Iran in June 2009, following the presidential elections and subsequent protests and violence that broke out after it was announced that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected. Then Twitter and YouTube brought us the news that a young woman named Neda was killed by Iranian forces during the protests thus bringing to the world a human face to the terrible violence. More than half of the world’s population now gets its information – everything from national news to sports scores to weather reports – from the Internet or on their smartphones. Couple that with the rapid exchange of ideas via social media and you have an environment where everyone, everywhere in the world, is not only a consumer of content but a publisher of content as well. You may have a poor experience with valet parking at your favorite restaurant and decide to share the event on Foursquare. Your friend sees your post, and decides to eat at a different restaurant the next time they’re in the city. They in turn give the new restaurant a rave review and within months the new eatery has a weeks long reservation list. Instantly, the fortunes of businesses can be changed as a result of social media. But some people are beginning to question whether the Internet and our dependence on digital information – everything from Google to Twitter – is actually stunting critical thinking and sound reasoning. In his recent book Shallows, Nicholas Carr explains, “how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is the ethic of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption – and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.” As someone who works with B2B technology companies, and produces content for them on a variety of topics, I know that there is some corporate information that can effectively be communicated via social media and the Internet, while other information is simply too complex, and requires too much explanation for this medium alone. Here’s a quick example. A B2B company is involved in a complex software licensing agreement with a company in France that it both competes against and does business. The European Union questions whether the licensing agreement impedes fair competition and decides to bring both companies before a commission to study the situation in more detail before making a final ruling on whether the licensing agreement can continue as is, if it needs modification or if it is breaking the law and must be scrapped altogether. This type of situation happens all the time with B2B global technology companies and explaining the intricacies of these situations to the audiences who need to know what’s going on simply can’t be accomplished in a 140 character tweet, 750-word blog entry, 20-page bulleted eBook or 2-minute YouTube video or Podcast. That’s why any comprehensive content-centered public relations plan needs to account for white papers, technical documents, financial reports, legal briefs and other lengthy tomes that provide enough room to adequately cover a complex subject in detail. The majority of the world’s people may be communicating with one another at speeds faster than ever before in human history, but the issues and challenges facing business today are as complicated and complex as ever before and demand our ability to concentrate, contemplate and reflect before we make decisions that could affect the future of our companies. Despite access to social media and instant information, we as professional communicators must take the time to slow down, think, capture our thoughts in detail and share them in documents that provide ALL of the pertinent information available; not just the 140 character sound bite.

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