Mark Zuckerberg (that’s the wee lad who gave us Facebook) says that privacy is no longer a ‘social norm’ – triggering panic selling of stocks in the net curtain and bathroom door sectors – and Robert Phillips (CEO of Edelman, a PR enterprise of some note) adds that “we, the people, have become media in our own right; and everyone………can now participate in the conversation, anywhere and at any moment in time”.
All well and good, but, unfortunately, the removal of privacy gives people an ill-advised sense of liberation and the belief that it’s OK to bare their souls (some of which must be, according to the laws of probability, dark, diseased, twisted, bitter and mis-aligned) and simply giving people the opportunity to participate in the conversation, does not automatically confer upon them the capability to do so. Worse, because of the insidious and ubiquitous nature of t’interweb, often it’s not conversation that we’re seeing – it’s more the foaming rantings of those whose extreme opinions stem from irresponsible journalism and too much free time.
You’ve only got to have a quick trot around the net to see that the vast majority of the ‘conversation’ is not worth the bandwidth it sucks up – it’s of no value to anyone except those involved in perpetuating it. To see that a large proportion of what those advising businesses on social media strategy would term ‘conversation’ is little more than Q&A – where can I get your product and what will it cost, are your trains running on time, can I get tickets to your sponsored gig – all questions that can (and should) be answered on a website. To see that even in those media where you’d expect to find value-adding debate, the conversations are fuelled by a lack of experience and a lack of knowledge – by the anti-privateers who believe that because they can, they should. To see that, even in 140 characters, it can still be all about them to the exclusion of everyone else.
Two things, from a comms perspective.
All of this new-age nonsense about ‘the conversation’ is simply an abdication of responsibility. From where I’m standing, it’s an excuse to give up trying to control the message. Lest anyone be unclear on this, the role of the communicator who is paid to communicate on behalf of a brand, business or organisation IS TO CONTROL THE MESSAGE, THEREBY ENHANCING REPUTATION, THEREBY INCREASING PROPENSITY TO ENGAGE (PURCHASE). All this ‘conversation’ crapola is the foundation of a nice new excuse for a failure to deliver hard, tangible, value-adding results. It – and all the wibbly nonsense that goes round it – is a nice way to get out of selling, which is, after all, what communications is. No-one likes selling and – eureka – now we don’t have to.
And as a reminder, ‘vox populi, vox dei’ is part of a bigger quotation. Which includes the word ‘insanitas’. Look it up.