For starters, it truly gave me an understanding just how far behind communication-related fields — advertising, marketing, public relations, communication, etc. — are from other industries. Yes, I pay attention when various colleagues on the marketing speaking circuits consistently report how few communication professionals are active — only 10-20 percent of their audience is engaged in social media, they often report.
Engaged communicators are ahead, but the industry is behind.
My experience was amazingly different. When I asked an audience of hundreds, primarily consisting of recruiters and human resource directors, how many were engaged in social media, the answer was amazingly different.
• 90 percent of the audience participate online
• 75 percent are members of at least one social network
• 50 percent are active members of one or more social networks
• 15 percent of the audience lead a social network or maintain a blog
Interesting. There doesn’t seem to be an online social media bubble for others, as communicators insist while they continue to argue about the validity of social media. As I’ve said before, social media exists. And therefore, it cannot be ignored, especially by communication-related fields.
Is it any wonder why more companies implemented internal communication programs in 2007, programs managed by human resources departments as opposed to corporate communication? According to Watson Wyatt’s 2007-2008 Communication ROI study, 53 percent of employers used communication to increase enrollment in benefits programs, up from 25 percent in 2003. As other departments continue to expand their roles and actively participate in social media, communicators may find themselves asking the same questions over and over again — how do we get a seat at the table?
Ridiculous. This reoccurring question is only asked by people who missed their opportunity to set the table in the first place.
We must erase the notion that online - offline networks are different.
After taking the spontaneous room survey, I pointed out that 100 percent of the people in attendance were members of a social network — the room, for a few hours — was a social network, indistinguishable from any online community.
Several hundred people registered to attend, filled a space, and then randomly met each other based on nothing more than a nametag and proximity of their seat. Funny. For all the discussions about whether to “friend” strangers online, not one person in attendance refused to shake hands with a stranger when a hand was extended. Online, people present much more than a nametag. Many of us present complete resumes, profiles, and years of thought on blogs.
We might as well be walking around with sandwich boards outlining who we are and what we do. So why do communicators remain skeptical?
Sometimes network exercises reveal more than intended.
One of the first exercises presented by Sumser and his team was an ingenious one designed to simulate an organic search. They had passed out little pieces of paper, each with one word written on them.
Then, he instructed the room to find five other people with the same word and introduce themselves to simulate an organic search. As chaos broke out in the room with people converging toward the middle, one person created a sign with his word and held it above his head. Others quickly followed suit, each holding signs above their heads.
“Did you notice how quickly others adopt innovation?” Sumser asked. “This is exactly the way innovation is adopted online.”
But there was something else, I noticed. The people who held signs above their heads may have expedited the exercise, but in doing so, met fewer people. And once people had found the word they were looking for, they felt gratified, forgetting to fully engage themselves in the sub-group they had created.
It reminded me of many online social networks. Sometimes the speed in which tasks are performed — such as attempting to increase the quantity of connections or increase traffic — undermines our own ability to truly engage people in any meaningful relationship. It’s quality of engagement, not quantity of engagement, that counts, online or off.
I worked some observations of the exercise into my presentation, remembering some great advice I had gleaned from Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang. When you’re engaging in social networking activities, you don’t want to be the person with a sign on their head and megaphone as much as you want to be the person who joins the party and engages people on their terms.
This also presents a challenge in teaching people how to engage in social networks. I know many people who keep putting together bullet points for advice, but relatively few who remind people to ask the right question on the front end. What do you hope to accomplish?
For recruiters, I suggested they abandon the notion that social networks are technologies. It makes more sense to think about social networks as physical spaces much like the room where we had all assembled, with an emphasis on meeting people that may deliver mutually beneficial relationships.
• If you want to know more about the recruiting industry, join a recruiting network like RecruitingBlogs.com.
• If you want to engage prospective clients, invest more time in social networks around niche industries you specialize in, whether it’s health care, education, or whatever.
• If you want to engage job candidates, find social networks that consist of people within those specific industries or develop your own network within a larger network, much like people do every day on Twitter.
Above all, never discount online relationships as less than those you make physically. It’s the number of engagements with people, sometimes across many social networks, that deepens a relationship, much like life. Except online, you often have a greater chance to know about someone well beyond the nametags that decorated everyone’s apparel around the room.