Gerry Storch, former night news, sports and business editor of USA Today, and now editor of a new combination of blog/book called Ourblook, recently interviewed me regarding social media, journalism and the future of online communication:
You work with corporate execs, politicians and other leaders in public speaking … what to say and how to say it. How do social media such as Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. figure into this?
ME: Social media are an integral part of communicating today, and will evolve. The single biggest question I hear, whether from a political or business leader, centers on “I want to use social media like Obama.”
My first question: “What’s your message and why would someone who doesn’t know you, live in your district, or use your product care?” Herein lies the fundamental secret to effectively using social media to communicate as a legal, business, nonprofit, academic or political leader … just as in public speaking and presenting, you MUST have a clear, compelling message, or social media won’t work for you .. it just won’t be an effective medium.
My second question: “Do you have $750 million to spend?” That’s what the Obama campaign spent, very effectively, to spread its message. It wasn’t a Twitter and FB page put up in a vacuum; there were thousands of hours and millions of dollars behind creating an unbelievably successful social media program.
So my advice to leaders is the same advice I try to follow myself … put out fresh, compelling material, message it well, start with friends, customers, supporters, associates, etc. and slowly build a following. Make it easy to connect to you via your web site. If you are running for office, put your social media info on your material … if a company owner, on your product packaging and advertising. Remember, social media complement what you do face to face, they do not replace it.
By extension, do you foresee much impact from social media in major news operations such as newspapers and TV news, or in the future of journalism generally?ME: I do, although I disagree with a number of my colleagues in that I believe major news operations will always have a fairly prominent place in our society. Major media bring legitimacy to a story, and that won’t change. What will change is reaction. Everyone has an opportunity, a real opportunity, to voice an opinion and express it in a very public way. However, mainstream media still matter.
Why? Sheer reach. Mainstream media still reach more individuals than any other single medium. So when a major national daily (the New York Times, Wall Street Journal , USA Today) runs an eye grabbing headline, the public pays attention. Statistics indicate that the reality is that for every five people who read a headline, on average only one reads the actual story and content.
The reality is that a political campaign will use a positive headline in a major daily in paid broadcast advertising over an endorsement from my blog, or any one of the millions of bloggers out there. The difference now is that a candidate’s “blogging army” of 2 or 20 or 200 can relentlessly comment, post and generate their own content and get it listed on Google news, Yahoo, Bing, etc.
Of the various social media, do you see any one in particular as having the greatest potential on the media or generally in society? Any that will fade?ME: I speak quite a bit in high schools and colleges, and when asked who tweets, uses Facebook, e-mails and texts, texting is always the hands-down winner both in popularity and number of students involved. Most use Facebook, and most use e-mail. Why does this matter? This is the generation that has literally grown up with the web, and I believe that their preferences will, to a large degree, determine what succeeds and what fades going forward.
I believe Facebook will have a long and prosperous life because it helps us connect to those we know and interact on a somewhat deeper level with acquaintances. Communication is not an announcement, it is a discussion. Facebook provides for that. Twitter does, too … however FB is much more personal and much more conversationally focused, and I believe those two traits really, really matter. The recent Twitter study saying that 10 percent of users account for over 90 percent of tweets is telling.
Do social media represent a dumbing down of America , a liberation of new possibilities, or both, or neither?ME: I believe they allow us to enter into conversations with people we might never have met, and find people who share common interests with us.
As with anything, I think there is a tendency to overgeneralize the effect of social media. Pick a position, yea or nay, pick a social media topic, and there are countless statistics either confirming or questioning the validity of that position. As an aside, I see this regularly with a statistic that is commonly referenced when discussing communication … the “7 percent, 38 percent, 55 percent rule.”
Prof. Mehrabian released a study nearly 40 years ago, and among the conclusions was that when determining the meaning of a message, 55 percent was based on body (or facial) language, 38 percent based on tone of voice, and only 7 percent based on words. Very powerful, and this is cited ad nauseam as “proof” that the words you use are not that critical. All well and good except for the fact that the statistics are taken out of context. Prof. Mehrabian was studying a very specific communication experience. Unfortunately, many people have assumed that words don’t matter.
What does this have to do with your question? As with anything, I don’t think there is a definitive answer … it depends on the individual and how he or she chooses to use social media.
Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit complained that players on the team bus were texting each other rather than speaking face to face. Your reaction?ME: Reality. I think this is one of the drawbacks of social media … when they are used to replace face to face communication rather than complement it when face to face communication is not possible. Being able to relate and communicate with another individual face to face will, more often than not, determine your ability to succeed.
What do I mean? You will rarely be awarded a raise via e-mail, win a congressional seat on Facebook alone, become CEO via a text message or acquire a company or major funding over a tweet. VC’s and bankers will always want to meet with you, as will a corporate board, voters, etc. Social media can certainly be extremely beneficial to all of these … however, face to face communication will always be crucial.