The Pros and Cons of Real-Time Communication

In the days of yore, companies suffered few consequences when neglecting patron concerns. They accumulated unanswered phone lines, voice mails, and emails. No big deal. You’d lose a few customers, so what? “After all, what do these people understand about the important work we’re doing?”

But now, in the advent of Web 2.0 (a.k.a. social media), one person’s compliment or complaint can be posted on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and countless other sites to hundreds of other people, which can be commented on and reposted to hundreds more per profile, and can realistically spread to thousands overnight and until forever.

A lot of bosses fearfully know this which explains why they often disable the comments feature in blogs, censor posts on their Facebook page, or never participate in social media at all. This is a shame of course – To want the positive effects of mass attention and then not want to own up to the responsibility of having an open line of communication with the people who love your work the most.

Often times, when fans gripe, it’s because they care, because they are invested. We should feel fortunate to be able to hear them. We could otherwise be quietly losing public support – one disappointed buyer at a time – and never find out until it is too late, i.e. when we are forced into an unexpected retirement.

The upside of getting over our inflated egos is that we have the opportunity to demonstrate that we are listening, that we do care, that we are available, and that we are more than happy to speak with (not just talk at) our followers. It’s what business visionary and author, Gary Vaynerchuk, calls The Hugh Grant Effect, named after the actor whose career blossomed after an embarrassing scandal that he very sensibly acknowledged and for which he genuinely asked the public forgiveness for. Smart guy. Now if only the rest of us would follow suit.

A Case Study

A great of example of The Hugh Grant Effect in practice happened recently with Asian American arts and culture magazine, Hyphen. Read the contents of the following screenshot.

Talk about “the writing on the wall”. And on the Facebook wall, no less. Looks like a PR disaster in progress. Now, who among you would have the courage, the patience, the humility, and the grace required to properly manage this situation? Let’s be truthful. Some of you would go on a delete button frenzy; Let’s pretend this never happened. Others would flood with defensiveness and serve a mean tongue lashing. And then there are those who might bend under the pressure and backpedal in haste. What did the good folks at Hyphen magazine do? Read on.

Brilliant!  So, what transpired? Human connection. Protestors became partners. A potentially ugly situation became a space for understanding. Hyphen shared in their supporters’ concerns and very skillfully articulated its values. And in so doing, fortified Hyphen’s brand as a media outlet with plenty of class, integrity, and realness. I, for one, can say I became a bigger fan of the magazine for the way they handled this public dialogue. Bravo, Hyphen, for showing us the true gold in social media!

Lots of companies are rushing to social sites like Facebook strictly to capitalize on the possibility of increased revenue without any concern about also increasing the quality of relationships. Which is misguided and unlikely to produce the desired results.

So don’t rush in backwards. But don’t be so cautious and trepidatious either that you never begin at all. Web 2.0 is here to stay and honestly, it can be a lot fun! Worst case scenario, if your heart is in the right place, you’re given the chance to correct some misconceptions about your work. Best case scenario, if your heart is in the right place, you get to know your people a little bit better and vice versa. It means you get to say thank you more often and you get to hear thank you more often. And in this frenetic world, who couldn’t stand to have more of that in their personal and professional lives?