25 years ago, I took a magazine writing class with Edward Gubar at Indiana University, where I majored in journalism. His class made such a deep impression on me that I still remember several lessons I learned from him.
One of those lessons was this: if you show the gun, you’ve got to use it.
You know that moment when you’re watching a movie, and the camera lingers on a weapon — maybe it’s a gun tucked away in a bedside drawer. The point is, you just know it’s going to come into play at some point, and in some way, in the film. Sure as shootin’. You know this with such certainty that it would be jarring if the gun didn’t come back into view and get fired.
If it weren’t going to be used in a later scene, why the would the director show it?
So, ever since that class, I have found myself noticing occasional unsettling moments when, as a reader or viewer, I am offered details in a story or film that don’t figure in later. I try to eliminate similar disconnects from my work.
In real life, it’s never as easy as the gun-in-the-movie analogy, by the way. Usually, it’s a description that goes on too long for no clear reason. Or, perhaps it’s a character who doesn’t really add to the tale. It might even be an extraneous sentence. If it’s not essential, it calls attention to itself conspicuously. It gets noticed. In a bad way.
What does this have to do with social media?
When a brand is on a certain social media channel, but not using it — or not using it actively — that’s confusing and annoying to the customers and prospects who see the brand there and try to connect with it. That happened to me recently, and I Tweeted about it.
One of the replies I got asked why customers would expect to hear back from a brand after Tweeting a comment, complaint or question.
“What happened to just picking up the phone?”
Here’s the thing. I really like chatting on the phone. (I have wireless headsets connected to two of our landline phones at home. I use Bluetooth in my car…) And I have some friends and family who would much rather talk on the phone than email.
But others in my social circle, including a few of my best girlfriends, would much rather text.
I’m not going to even try to send a text to my mom. She doesn’t text. And my step dad doesn’t have an email account. So, I’m not going to count on communicating with him by email.
The point is, it’s a good idea to try to converse with folks on a platform they prefer. If you don’t want to use a certain way to communicate, that’s okay. We’ll chat another way.
Brands also have preferences for communication. It’s great if that includes several social media sites. But not every brand must be on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and… so on.
If a brand doesn’t have the inclination, resources or size to monitor a specific social media channel, and be present in a fairly timely way, it should steer clear of using it.
I wouldn’t counsel a client to open a channel that it can’t, or doesn’t want to, interact with customers on or through. The point of social media is just that: to be social. It’s fine to invite a conversation that began on Twitter to continue on the phone or offline, over email. But it’s not fine to just ignore feedback, complaints or comments from customers.
Setting up a Twitter account and then ignoring customers who ask for a reply or to be contacted is an especially glaring mistake.
It’s also very public. Brands are broadcasting the fact that they don’t respond to Tweets or care to interact with customers or others that way. Which, would be fine — except they started a Twitter account. By doing so, they invited that very feedback and indicated they’d be conversing with customers through Tweets.
See what I mean? If a company or organization doesn’t want to communicate in a certain way, it shouldn’t fake it by pretending it does.
Say, for instance, that a company’s customer service staff ignore the email inbox for a few days. That’s not good, but only customers who emailed know it. And if the company’s phones aren’t answered for a few hours, only the customers who called are wise to that slipup. (Along with a few of their friends who they likely told.)
But when a company has an account on a social media channel, such as Twitter — and isn’t present there or monitoring it or responding on it — a very wide audience will know that as soon as a customer being blown off decides to Tweet or blog about the experience.
That normally gets a response. But it’s not the kind of experience a brand wants to go through because it involves the risk of reputation-related damage or at least less than stellar feedback publicly spread across social media.
Back to the lesson that opened the post: brands that do this are showing the gun and not using it. I’d argue there isn’t a truly compulsory social media platform, one essential for every brand to use. But it is an essential requirement that brands actually use the social media platforms they choose to be on. Not just to push out content, but to engage.