Dealing with Media – digitally

child with iphoneAre you afraid that your child knows more about media than you do? Do you have to ask your 10-year-old to teach you how to use MixIt and Twitter? If so, you are not alone.

There is an innate conservatism – based on fear of the new, I think – that prevents corporate communicators from experimenting with social media. I found this on the workshops that I have recently facilitated for scientists and PRs. You can’t blame people for not staying with the curve if they are busy on “other important things” but a point I have been forced to make is that unless you get with it you will soon be trailing in the dust and your career will suffer. As will your organisation.

One of the brakes on social media usage is the myopia and restrictivenes of organisations themselves. They erect firewalls against using social media in working time. That’s understandable if you are trying to prevent clerks and dispatchers from chatting to their friends on Facebook all day long. But it is self-defeating in the case of communications staff. They must be allowed access to the networks because that is where the game of communication is now being played. IT policy makers must be instructed to free up the access for communicators.

If you take your eye off the social media ball you are lost.

obama linkedin debateYes, it’s as bad as that. TINA – There Is No Alternative – to learning about digital interactive social media. The reason is simply that the internet and its outgrowths in the form of networked technologies have fundamentally changed the ways in which organisations communicate, and many more changes are to come. In the past few months I’ve given several talks on Dealing with Media for scientists and their communication personnel, in Pretoria, Potchefstroom and Johannesburg. These occasions were organised jointly by SAASTA (South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement) and the IAJ (Institute for the Advancement of Journalism).

If you make a habit of following journalists, and you engage with them over stories that you can offer, they will follow you. This is the most direct line to the media. Journalists have taken to Twitter in particular as the best source of news topics and the best way to disseminate their own news stories.

What I discovered in workshops was that the majority of communicators knew little about the professional uses Twitter and YouTube. Facebook they were more acquainted with, but mostly for personal networking. LinkedIn was used by some to advertise their professional skills but mostly it got them nowhere. Let’s get this straight. Twitter is perhaps the most poweful information alert ever invented: in its 140 characters a Tweet can pack in a message, source, keywords, comment, and further reference, giving a completely new perspective. Twitter is subject-driven, and this is its great strength (compared with Facebook which is people-orientated).

Most participants in my workshops were delighted to see how simple Twitter is to use. They went home and signed up – so by next morning almost everyone was tweeting and all of us had new followers (each other). I demonstrated how Twitter multiplies the audience for genuinely interesting and original subject matter (my followers retweet to their followers; and their followers to their followers etc – a huge multiplier). The key here is the quality of the tweets, provided your followers are serious and not just interested in what some Bimbo had for breakfast!

Kaltura-Video-Platform-Video-Building-Block-for-Blackboard(1)You Tube, meanwhile, is one of the greatest instructional offerings the world has ever seen. Want to know how to cook a lasagna? or mount a thole pin on an oarboat? Watch a video online. Want to use Blackboard (a tool that allows faculty to add resources for students to access online), or discover how to promote a corporate launch of an obscure high-tech innovation? Search YouTube or Vimeo or any of the other dozens of general or specialised video services.

There are tried and trusted techniques for using services like LinkedIn to advance your career and network with professional communities. Like all else in social media, it takes time, persistence and some ability to handle computer functions, in order to progress. But these things can be learnt and, wonderfully, experimented with until you have your own personal way of doing things. There is no one correct way into the social media realm: just your way.

There is much more to be said about corporate communications and digital interactive social media (DISM) but perhaps this is enough for now. If you want to know what I think are the main factors driving change in this area click here for the outline of a talk I’m giving at North West University.

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