Digital Marketing

Priestley’s paradox and social media strategy

The story goes that in 1957, speaking about the relatively new invention known as television, the English novelist, playwright and broadcaster John Boynton Priestly commented:

“And the spectators, when we are not watching, we begin to whisper to ourselves that the more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”

Or when interpreted by modern academic types:

“That as the number of communication methods increases, the quality of communication decreases.”

This is Priestly’s paradox.

While this comment can be variously seen as cynical, technophobic, outdated, or just plain wrong (get up to speed and stop being so negative, you’re wrong!); I argue that, in many cases, in the digital social space we inhabit, Priestly hit the nail on the head.

You do not believe me? Imagine explaining the concept of social media to someone in 1957 (or even 2007):

  • express yourself – in 140 characters or less
  • Show appreciation towards a statement – clicking like
  • Laughing out loud – actually don’t laugh just write LOL
  • Keep friends – with people you’ve never met

Is it fair to say that the quality of communication has decreased?

Yes, but this is a ‘glass half empty’ example, it lacks context and doesn’t begin to touch on the positives. Social media is a powerful tool for businesses and can be hugely beneficial from a customer engagement, B2B networking, PR, and marketing perspective, depending on how it’s used.

It’s the way I want to focus.

Do you have one of ‘those people’ on your company’s Twitter or Facebook who share every single link related to your field on any given day?

“9 Ways to Generate New Leads”, “App Must Use Social Trend Tracking”, “33.3 Ways to Instant Success”.

In a misguided attempt to be seen as an informed credible source or thought leader in their industry, these accounts can be seen as annoying, self-absorbed, and screaming for attention. strangers like or retweet, but this method rarely prompts meaningful communication. What’s worse is that you’ll probably be one of 50 people in the same vaguely related field sharing the same thing on the same day. It’s impersonal, it shows a lack of ideas and, in this case, it proves Priestly right.

I like to think that social tools can be used to increase the quality of communication, so when designing a social media strategy for your business, think: How can I prove Priestly wrong?

Here are some ideas:

  • A ‘no link without context’ policy: When sharing a link, relate it to your company, your customers, or your industry and explain why it is important/relevant/applicable/good/bad, etc. That’s easier said than done with 140 characters, but that just emphasizes the need to think carefully before posting anything.
  • Creation of our own original content and comments.: Pretty simple, as much as possible try to produce your content in-house.
  • quality over quantity: You’re probably not entirely interested in what your customers had for lunch or what funny video someone found on their break, so why bore them with these details? This is largely related to the previous two points.
  • use manners: Thank people for retweets, welcome new followers and friends, and stay friendly no matter what medium you’re using. You may not communicate in person, but you can still be nice.

There will always be some degree of distance in social media interactions, but following these simple guidelines (and remember they are just guidelines) can help you create more relevant, engaging, personal, and effective business communication in the social space.

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