The Age of Social Media: Can Facebook Set Us Free?
Facebook might not be thrilled in claiming responsibility or heroism for Egypt’s freedom. In fact, it’s quietly trying to stay under the radar so it can likely eventually expand into countries like China.
Nonetheless, it’s actually quite mind-blowing that Facebook served as a catalyst for the people of Egypt to join together in a fight for democracy.
We should still move forward with caution, though, even as we marvel and delight in what has happened. Mass connectivity has its advantages and its consequences.
As corporations, we have an obligation to transparency and to not skew messages for our benefit. We’ve seen what happens in the past with mixed messages and the reputation management crisis that ensues. I’m sure we can all remember the crisis communications problem BP had with its spokespeople, Tony Hayward and Carl-Henric Svanberg.
When you think about it, Facebook itself is in the process of crisis communications and controlling its message to curtail being the hero for Egypt.
Present-Day Communications: Who Controls the Message?
Over time, we have learned that with all the new means of communications, people have a hard time deciphering truth from fallacy.
The regulations and standards are waning, the gatekeepers no longer exist. So that puts the responsibility on us – the communicators.
On the same note, while governments used to be able to control the news and communications in their countries, those walls are coming down.
Governments no longer have full control of the message. They can’t control satellite signals; they can’t control communications from the ground as events are happening.
The same goes for corporations; while you can try to control the brand message, with tools like social media, it becomes harder and harder.
But, the goal should not be to try and control what people say about your business. The goal should be to use social media to have a conversation with your audience.
Gone are the days of one-way communication, when mass distribution of messages came flying at you without a chance to respond.
Social media has given us a way to create two-way conversation between companies, governments and the people (even when the government is not an active participant like Egypt).
So, it’s plus 20 points for social media for being used in a very productive, positive way.
Social Media and the Future: Is It All Good?
Let’s keep in mind that just as there are people who will always want to use social media for good, bad people will eventually get good at social media to push their own agendas.
We should all stop and ponder this for a moment. Would you put it past a government or corporation to use social media to affect or control the masses?
Social media is an added channel to inundate the masses with information about your brand, so as businesses, we have a responsibility to communicate carefully.
On a side note, Glenn Beck recently decided to boycott Google because of the power it has and its perceived involvement in the Egypt revolution. I agree with the author’s suggestive conclusion in the post that Beck’s opinion is less of a boycott and more of a scheme to get people to write about it online and therefore, rank well in Google News.
Yes, a search engine like Google has tremendous influence on the masses. But, Google’s motto has always been “Do no evil,” because it attempts to understand the impact it has on the world and its responsibility to it.
We’ve seen what happens when technology falls into the wrong hands — hackers get into sites and leave messages of propaganda behind; hate groups manage to find a webmaster to dispel atrocious messages across the Web and coordinate events.
Many of us in the industry are either part of or contributed to the social media phenomena that lead to the liberation of so many people in Egypt (peacefully, I might add).
So, our own professional knowledge of social media’s impact obliges us to begin thinking of solutions to the problem of what will happen when social media falls into the wrong hands, before it begins.
Social media as a new form of communication is something we’re all trying to understand on a deeper level and what it means to the way we receive and distribute information worldwide.
As businesses, it’s our duty to communicate carefully, to listen when we’re being talked to and to use social media as a way to connect with our audience, not control it.
About the Author
Chris Hart is director of eastern region operations for Bruce Clay, Inc. You can contact him via twitter @Chris_Hart.