An Apology: My Social Media Confession

On behalf of myself as a professional communicator, I want to apologize.

If you are a company, I’ve misled you. If you are a consumer, I’ve
used you. And as much as I’d like to change the future, there may be no
turning back.

Somehow I managed to take the most engaging and exciting
advancements in communications since Gutenberg and turn them into
something cold. I took what used to be called “stories” and changed
them into “content.” I used technology to communicate, and in doing so
turned communication into something technological – not “read” or
“watched” but rather “consumed.”

The more that people like me use words like Content, Engagement and
Post to represent how we tell stories and connect with each other, the
more distance we create. Calling social media a “tool” is just another
way to emotionally detach.

Instead of bringing us closer, the words we use and the values we
assign to them are pulling us apart. Even Edelman, my employer, has
hired a Chief Content Officer – I can only hope that “telling stories”
will win out over “creating content,” and that helping clients be
“media companies” is secondary to helping clients be storytellers.

Content may want to be free, but content should not be free of context. Narrative has a place.

This is our job and our responsibility as communicators. Here’s how we can start:

  • Employees are at the core of a company’s story
    – they are both manifestations of and conduits for the brand. Encourage
    employees to share if they choose, starting with creating clear “social
    media engagement guidelines” (don’t call it a “policy”) so employees
    feel empowered and supported.
  • Find your best customers – better yet, make it
    easier for them to find you via search and social interaction online.
    Their stories are the companies’ stories, and in many cases are more
  • Drop the Veil – in other words, be human. Companies aren’t buildings, brands aren’t logos. Even the Tin Man discovered he had a heart.
  • Be Real – all good stories have conflict and
    drama, so embrace yours. If there is a crisis, attack it head on; if
    you screw up, apologize and show how you are correcting the problem.
    Transparency and even some humility are the clearest paths to a happy
  • Play – innovation thrives in the unknown; play
    around, do something new, have adventures, fail often. It may not
    always work out, but think of the stories you can tell.

So let’s return to stories and narrative. That’s how brands will cut
through the clutter. Tell a story and stand for something. Be in the
conversation for the long haul, not just the product launch.

And who knows — maybe we can change the future after all.

3 thoughts on “An Apology: My Social Media Confession

  1. I am always amazed at how sterile the stories are that are derived from “consumer insights” and “public engagement”. Not to sound too granola, but if a story doesn’t have emotion, truth and human connection it’s not much of a story. Yet those elements are rarely framed into the brainstorms and roundtables that make up our billable hours.

  2. Weird how it almost feels like we have to apologize for wanting to tell stories, connect with people, be honest.
    Hope your idea catches on, it’s a good one.

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