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Back in darkest history when humans worked out how to communicate more efficiently, perhaps with smoke signals, it not only changed the way people communicated; it changed the way we thought. In the new world of the internet and social media, in many respects we need to change it back.

Go back to a time when humans hung out in caves or out on the savannah, and it's not hard to imagine how life-and-death situations relied on some fairly good inter-personal skills and clear conversations. The limits on how effective a communication might be and the number of people communicated with, were largely determined by how many could hear a voice speaking.

Enter mass media

Enter printing presses, radio and television, and suddenly we might dispense with some of the limitations of conversation, and broadcast to large numbers of people. While it is a very efficient way to communicate, if numbers are important, it generally communicates only one way, it assumes we're pretty much the same and its relatively high cost made it perfect if one had the resources to use it. In a sense it's most powerful benefit has been the ability to reach so many people, so that it didn't often matter too much if a vast majority rejected the message – if enough responded, it could be deemed a success.

The avalanche of opportunity in online and social media communications are, in a sense, taking us back to a time when we could communicate effectively with each other through simple conversation. But the really good news is that nearly anyone can participate, with only the cost of time. And instead of being limited to the reach of a spoken voice, conversations and interactions can be shared with hundreds, thousands or millions, instantly.

Perhaps the best thing about online and social media communications is that it is slowly forcing us to give up some of the old 'power-and-control' ways of thinking, which were the hallmarks of traditional mainstream media. Just like on the savannah, interpersonal skills and clear conversations are important again.

Some of the changes worth noting in your activity:

  • The organisation no longer dictates all of the brand characteristics – if it ever did! Smart marketers allow audiences to create their own desirable perceptions, while actively and rapidly managing negative perceptions
  • An organisation's online activity needs to be about more than one website. It can range across multiple sites to encourage optimal use of specialist platforms and to encourage interactions and sharing.
  • Online activity is treated like any other important activity to an organisation – with a plan, measures and all areas having input and receiving benefits
  • All of new media requires people to think creatively, freely and with greater collaboration. While many years of management coaching may have advocated these things, now it is analogous to success.

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About the author

Fraser Carson is a respected communications and social media consultant, and commentator. He has particular experience and interest in community building, the not-for-profit sector and business development.

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