~ A guest blog by Isaac Katz
College of Communication student and Lambda Pi Eta member ~
Since the dawn of the printing press, communication as we know it has gone through different eras. In the mid-1400’s, it was that press which brought messages to the rich, and later, newspaper taught the poor to read. In 1860, the Pony Express increased the speed by which messages would be received from long distances, and in later years, the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television were invented, which brought us into the age of broadcast media.
Then, something incredible happened. In 1965, the first long-distance network of computers was created by Larry G. Roberts, giving birth a year later to what we know as the Internet. Since then, the Internet has come a long way, from being used exclusively by the military for missile-silo communication to being used by an estimated 6,845,609,960 e-mailers, bloggers, journalists, marketers, YouTubers, Facebookers, and MySpacers. We now live in the throes of the digital age. The Internet is a powerful tool that, like any other medium, has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at the advantages.
The Internet’s biggest advantage is its interactivity. Printed media has selective audiences that may read an article for a few minutes, maybe even a few hours. Television may interest a watcher because they can select the content, see it and hear it. The Internet, however; captivates the user by forcing them to physically interact with the media, using audio and visual tools, and can focuses on the very smallest fragment of a target audience. This last factor gives the Internet the most locking-power of any medium, and harnessing that power is the goal of communications professionals worldwide.
What is Social Media? Social Media is the umbrella-term given to the vast array of portal websites on the Internet today. An Internet portal is a one-stop shop for the end-user’s communication needs. Examples are Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, QQ, Gmail, and Internet forums. What these platforms all have in common is their ability for sending and receiving messages instantly with people anywhere that have access to the Internet. Social media sites should all have a general broadcast message outlet (Facebook’s “Wall”), a private-messaging service (MySpace Mail), and network-building capabilities (forum “friends lists”).
Now comes the message crafting. Let’s use Facebook for this example because it’s the most widely-used social media in the USA. Depending on your audience, the message you send will vary. As in the case of any well-crafted message, researching the audience as a preliminary step is key and ever-so-easy because of access to consumer preferences listed in many users’ profiles. Taking a look at your audience’s group memberships, likes, favorite music, and stylistic nuances in the users’ own messages points you in the direction of what to say and how to convey it in an understandable manner.
What you say and how you say it also is a direct reflection of the organization or brand you represent. This will make or break you as a successful communicator. Think as if you are working for a company running a coupon promotion campaign. Your coupon reads, “Buy one regularly-priced item, get another 50% off!” What are you getting another of for 50 percent off? Another one of the same item? Another regularly priced item? Or are you eligible for any item at 50 percent off? This type of unclear message constantly aggravates customers when they think they’re getting a better deal than what the store will honor.
How you say your message also presents a difficult problem at times. Subtle nuances of the modern English language don’t always translate to printed/visual text. “I can’t stand this anymore!” means something totally different than, “I can’t stand this anymore lol!” While seemingly similar in literal meaning, the implied meaning of the first one may entail suicide, while the latter conveys humor or sarcasm. Without going too far into a lesson on bringing text to life and giving it emotion (which I’m still working on as a student at Rowan), it’s a good starting point to think about all sides of how your message may be perceived. That brings us back to your audience. Different audiences will perceive your message differently, and they will perceive it differently because of the source that’s sending it, too, which ties us back into why proper brand/organization/personal representation is key for successful communicating.
Another key point that I’ll touch on briefly is creating interactivity, the crux of social media. Interactivity drives traffic, which creates potential for sales, which can increase your company’s bottom line: to make money. Even if you aren’t a PR professional, you may eventually be called upon to be part of an organization’s social media campaign. Casting a message that people are generally not interested in, something that has nothing to do with them and is self-centric rather than audience-centric turns off your audience. How many times have you sat at a restaurant with a date who talks about themselves and doesn’t include you in the conversation? Makes you want to leave the restaurant and never call that person again, doesn’t it? The same goes for crafting messages to Internet-based audiences, especially because the noise potential on the Internet is much higher than other media. Pop-up ads, other people’s posts, and links to other sites all pose threats to the clarity and penetration of your message. In order for you to keep people interested, get them involved! Make a photo contest and have people post photos of your product in use, ask them questions that they’ll enjoy answering, like “What’s at the top of your wish-list for this holiday season?” or post news that is news-worthy to them. If your audience is comprised of girls ages 10-14 (or sometimes even their mothers), anything about Justin Beiber should immediately grab their attention.
Successful communication on the web is not an easy task. In order to master it, practice makes perfect, but exposure helps immensely. The web is such a huge medium with users from all corners of the globe, and to know them means knowing how to talk to them. Surf websites that you wouldn’t normally go on. Venture outside Facebook and see the political news on MSNBC.com or CNN.com. Get off of Perez Hilton’s blog and check out what’s going on in one of the less-popular video-game forums. Become cultured and you will gain an advantage over magic-bullet communicators. You will know your audience and know how to communicate to them. They will know you and they will be receptive of your messages. A mutually beneficial relationship will be formed.