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Social media is NOT that important

by Frank Strong

Social media never sleeps; therefore PR is a lifestyle not a profession.  This pushes responsiveness to the top of the priority list.

In my heart of hearts, I believe this is true, but I’ve also come to believe that social media is entering a period of normalization.  It’s something akin to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, where expectations were exceedingly high — beyond possible — but are now starting to normalize.  And normalization is sorely needed.

The compulsion to respond immediately with top of mind thoughts is slowly ceding to responding in a timely fashion, but with greater consideration.  Social media can wait.

Last week, I just left traffic court (unfortunately, I have a heavy foot, one of my many faults).  I’m stopped at red light that is malfunctioning and traffic is backed up in a serious way.

I’m late for a meeting so was literally calling my boss (on a hands free device of course) to tell him I wouldn’t make it.  @JayBaer, @DannyBrown, and @MorganBarnhart had a Twitter conversation going that mentioned me and so my iPhone was flashing alerts with seemingly psychedelic colors imploring me to pay attention to Twitter.  Meanwhile, some crazy old guy, impatient with the light, bumps my fender trying to squeeze by in a space not nearly wide enough to fit his vehicle (remember: I was stopped at a light) and then proceeds to drive off — leaving the scene of an accident.

It all happened at once — and what did I feel?  I felt like I needed to respond to Twitter first.  Talk about misaligned priorities!  What is wrong with me?  Probably nothing; rationally, I know I’m not the only person in the world that feels like this sometimes.

Now that said, I’m not stranger to pressure either.  I sort of thrive on it; and generally, perform well in a cooker.  Always have. It’s like a runner’s high or an adrenaline junkie’s fix.  It’s both a strength and a weakness.  And to be sure, I’ve been in far more dire situations.

Try spinning ridiculously out of control at 8,000 feet while falling at 120 mph out of a plane — it’s amazing how quickly that needle on your altimeter drops altitude.  Just don’t pause to admire it too long.

My chute opening on that jump was so violent it litterally popped my helmet off my head and was claimed forever by a farmer’s field somewhere in central Virginia.   I knew it was going to be a rough opening when I pulled the pilot — twisted lines like a telephone chord from 1996 — but good grief, I loved that helmet.  It was my first skydiving helmet.  OD Green with my last name on the back.   Strong, baby, that’s me.  B+ if I ever need it and there’s still a vein intact enough to get the flash.

Or try this one — stopping perilously close to the first IED my team almost rolled over not far from Tikrit, Iraq in 2006.  Again, training kicks in and our eyes go immediately scanning the surrounding area looking for a potential secondary device — and next and rapidly scanning the the buildings nearby concerned the bad guys would be covering the obstacle with PSAF — precision small arms fire.  I remember that moment like yesterday.  Indeed, I’ve dreamed about it more than once.  I’m lucky:  the event didn’t ended badly and neither do my dreams.

My instincts in these situations were dictated by muscle memory.  Autopilot.  I’ve done it a million times in training.  The moment from cognition, to recognition, to action, happened in a blink of an eye.  Repetition counts.  Experience matters.  When we see a sitiation evolve that we’ve seen before the synapses in our brains trail a beaten path rather than blaze a new one. Fractions of a second mean a difference between living and dying.

I wonder if my prior training is actually what feeds the overwhelming desire to respond in social media.  Because I feel so passionately about my work, because I view myself as the defender of the corporate reputation, because I believe our products do add value, it somehow triggers a part of my mind to be responsive.  Immediately.  I  can hardly bear the thought of an email, a tweet, or a comment that calls for a response.

Still logically — and I’ve studied Aristotle; I can converse in syllogisms — I know this is ridiculous. It can wait.  As mentioned before, I know I’m not the only person that feels this way.  I know I’m not unique.  I know my training has nothing to do with it.

Need proof?   Just put your mobile phone in your trunk while you drive to work one morning as an experiment.  Watch the traffic around you. It is endemic — and its absurdly dangerous. People are literally dying over tweets.  People are littterally putting their lives at risk to answer emails.  Are we kidding ourselves?  Really?  Over Facebook? Over Tweets? Over an email?

Ladies and gentleman, social media is NOT that important.  Social media can wait.

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I read your blog a few days ago and decided to sit on it a while just for the sake of fighting my desire to respond too quickly.  Talk about a challenge in social patience! I wasn't even sure I could do it, but what I found in the process was that by waiting, and thinking, and not responding, I was truly able to formulate a better response. And here in lies the rub. God forbid we should hold off on the incoming notifications and risk losing an undefined opportunity, or worse, having our numbers stagnate as a result. Ouch! Many of us are so concerned with providing our clients with a smashing ROI that we sometimes mistake immediacy with efficiency and in rare cases, even authenticity. 


Now, to our defense, because I too am an addict, many articles have been written that prove that our bodies cannot decipher tech time. In fact, our bodies were designed to respond to the rhythms in nature. Even chronological time is something that humans invented and acclimated to by way of a clock. But the invention of digital was the beginning of throwing our brains out of sync and as a result, we're becoming addicted to the pace of technology, and for the adrenaline junkies like Frank (and me) it's even harder to fight something that's physiologically invisible. This explains why we tell our friends that we'll be there "in a minute" while we "quickly" check our e-mail. Two hours later...don't tell me you haven't done this? Right? 


I love social media enough to make a career of it. And though I enjoy it immensely,  I spend my off hours teaching teens the risks of "teching" and driving and how to use Facebook and Twitter to enhance their future, rather than ruin it.  Like Carla Gentry said in a recent post in response to Frank, many wonderful things are happening as a result of Social Media, but like Frank said,  not only are we risking lives when we Tech and Drive, but we're also risking future generations and their ability to resolve conflict through meaningful conversation. We're showing our children by way of example that Facetime is an App, and eye to eye contact is something you see in a mirror.  We're growing a future of children who are distanced and uncommunicative and aren't connecting by way of intonation and empathy.  So do I think that Social Media is Not that Important? On the contrary. I think it's vitally important, because it is most assuredly NOT going away. 





Seeing as how I am late to the conversation, you can see that I've drastically scaled back my social media usage as of lately. It was hard at first, but I had to really prioritize my time at work for my job (where I was recently promoted) and not on fielding tweets and scanning my Google Reader for new posts like an obessive compulsive.


I think we need a self-help book like "I'm OK, You're OK" for the social media junkies!


Nice PSA Frank. When your social behavior endangers the well being of others or yourself it begins to to take on the persona of a social disease infecting entire communities. Sometimes a 'chill pill' is just what the doctor would order.


Good stuff, Frank. I do think we are starting to get to that normalization period. Maybe slowly, but we are getting there. I for one, just recently changed all my phone settings so that I don't get every Tweet, post, email immediately. While I'm not jumping out of a plane anytime soon, I do hear you.


First of all, you scare me. It's one thing to be an adrenaline junkie (I am), but an entirely different thing to put your life at risk every time you go out! Jeez Louise.


That said, we have all felt this way about social media. I remember a time when I would get so stressed out if I couldn't respond to tweets or FB updates in an hour or less. I would frantically check during breaks at meetings or the second I got off a stage. And weekends? I was on there constantly. But this year I decided was the year of focus and I had to do what was important to me, not to everyone else. Now I view social media as I do the phone - it's there for my convenience, not yours.


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