Thursday, August 26, 2010

You HAVE to Engage with Social Media. Well, Not Really.

Haven’t you heard?

“You have to be on Facebook.” “You have to use Twitter.” “You have to check in on Foursquare.” “You have to broadcast a YouTube channel.”

You have to. You have to. You have to.

No. You don’t.

I admit, I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face in making this admission because creating those avenues are some of the services we offer clients to help distribute their messages.

Another service we offer our clients is being open and honest with them and not selling components they don't need.

We work with our clients to understand their goals, understand their audiences, create messages based on the client’s need in relation to reception by the audience, and establish ways to effectively and efficiently present and distribute those messages.

Sometimes, that may not include new/social media.

New and social media outlets are all the rage right now. Why? Because they’re still relatively new methods of interaction with targeted audiences, and when something’s new, it’s often popular.

They’re also relatively inexpensive ways to distribute messages.

Employing new and social media may cost as little as nothing for a do-it-yourselfer to throw up a Twitter page or Facebook account (I don’t recommend this), or it may cost a modest investment to have a professional firm or boutique agency use those same tools but tailor images, messages, and visual themes to be consistent with a client’s brand and goals.

While I’d recommend inclusion of new and social media components in most of our clients’ overall communications programs, I also know they aren’t for everybody. They aren’t a collective one-size-fits-all or the be–all end–all of communications vehicles.

Both of my sisters-in-law work in PR in New York. For the past couple of years, I’ve evangelized social media to them, but ultimately they convinced me that for their clients, employing social media wouldn’t provide the benefits associated with the cost. Both of them tell me repeatedly, “Our clients and media contacts aren’t using social media yet, and we don’t deal with our clients’ end-user audiences.”

Fair enough.

They know their clients better than I do. One thing we all know is that you can shout your message all day long, but if there’s no audience to hear it, you’re creating a lot of extra work with little prospect for return.

I’m certain that one day and one day soon, my sisters-in-law will see their world change. With 500 million people now using Facebook, roughly 200 million using Twitter, more than 100 million people broadcasting on YouTube, and approximately 3 million people using Foursquare, somebody somewhere is employing new and social media components – maybe just not in their niches, yet.

For many or even most people, campaigns, organizations, companies, brands, and causes, social and new media outlets can be powerful tools, but it’s important to remember that these tools aren’t a silver bullet for distributing messages. It’s only one total medium. Just as newspaper advertising may not be right for one client or radio may not be right for another or a trade magazine may not fit another, social and new media (or at least a part of it) may not be for you.

Don’t let someone sell you a service that won’t help you achieve your communications goals. Don’t let someone tell you, “You have to.” You don’t – especially if it doesn’t help you.

The bottom line is that if you have a message you want to distribute, know your audience. Know what they think and feel and believe and how they get their information, and make sure the professionals you work with understand your needs. If you don’t, you may be spending a lot of time and money to yell in to an empty room.

Taft Matney, is the president of TM Public Relations & Governmental Affairs. He can be contacted by e-mail at You can also follow him on Twitter at You can “Like” TM Public Relations on Facebook at


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