Humour me, if you will, with a little thought experiment.

Imagine that the telephone had only been invented in the past 10 years. That whilst it had had incredible success in the general population, businesses hadn’t really adopted it. They found it a little alien, and couldn’t quite make sense of how it could help their businesses.

Customer service teams figured out that this new device would make a useful new channel for allowing disgruntled clients to raise concerns. Some, rather out there, sales folk were starting to use their own telephones at home to have conversations with prospects and existing customers alike. Most members of the board room thought that it was a thing for kids, and wouldn’t be seen dead with one. They would occasionally ask their IT department to let them know developments, because it’s one of those electronic things…

Marketing departments started to use telephones in the only way that seemed sensible. As a means to play 30-second long radio adverts to prospective customers whenever they could find the opportunity. Some businesses even went so far as to set up “Telephone” departments whose role was to co-ordinate phone use across the whole of the organisation and make sure that they were being used in sensible ways.

Meanwhile the finance department looked on in dismay are the whole organisation seemed to be besotted with spending money to receive a return measured in meaninglessness; “number of customer telephone numbers recorded”; “length of calls made”; “number of times customers received an engaged tone” (a measure of success in a world where volume of engagement was still key).

Now back to reality. But then go through the above and replace “telephone” with “Digital” or “social networks”.

Whilst these new media (and it’s plural – because every new social network has the potential to be a new telephone) can be used to propagate messages in a traditional media way, the fact that they are two-way channels that are facilitation conversations between people makes them significantly different.

Rather than thinking of Digital and Social as being something that the organisation should control, would it not be more sensible to think of them as tools like the phone that individuals as much as the corporate whole need to be able to understand, use with skill, and be equipped to make decisions themselves about new platforms as and when they emerge?


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