Priestley’s Paradox and Social Media Strategy

The story goes that in 1957 when talking about the relatively new invention known as television English novelist, playwright and broadcaster John Boynton Priestly remarked:

“Already we Viewers, when not viewing, begun to whisper to one another that the more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”

Or when interpreted by modern academic types:

“That as the quantity of communication methods increases the quality of the communication decreases.”

This is Priestly’s paradox.

While this comment may be seen variously as cynical, technophobic, outdated or plain incorrect (get with the times Priestly and stop being so negative, you’re wrong!); I argue that in many cases in the digital social space we inhabit Priestly was right on the money.

Don’t believe me? Imagine explaining the concept of social media to someone in 1957 (or even 2007 for that matter):

  • Express yourself – in 140 characters or less
  • Show appreciation toward a statement – by clicking like
  • Laugh out loud – don’t actually laugh, just type LOL
  • Maintain friendships – with people you’ve never met

Is it fair to say that the quality of communication has decreased?

Yes – but this is a ‘glass half empty’ example, it lacks context and doesn’t begin to touch on the positives. Social media is a powerful tool for businesses and can be highly beneficial from a customer engagement, B2B networking, public relations and marketing perspective – depending on how it is used.

It is the how I wish to focus on.

Do you have one of ‘those people’ on your company’s Twitter or Facebook who share any and all links in any way related to their field on any given day?

“9 Ways to Generate New Leads”, “Must Use App Tracks Social Trends”, “33.3 Ways to Instant Success”.

In a misguided attempt to be viewed as an informed credible source or thought leader in their industry these accounts can be seen as annoying, self absorbed and crying out for attention.With this technique there is usually little engagement (except for large companies), perhaps the odd like or retweet but rarely does this method incite meaningful communication. What’s worse is they are probably one of 50 people in the same loosely related field that will be sharing the same thing on the same day. It’s impersonal, demonstrates a lack of ideas and in this instance proves Priestly correct.

I like to think social tools can be used to increase the quality of communication so when devising a social media strategy for your business think – How can I prove Priestly wrong?

Here are some ideas:

  • A ‘no link without context’ policy: When sharing a link relate it back to your company, your customers or your industry and explain why it is important/relevant/applicable/good/bad etc. This is easier said than done at 140 characters but that just emphasises the need to think carefully around posting something.
  • Creation of our own original content and commentary: Quite simple really, where possible try to produce your content in-house.
  • Quality over quantity: You’re probably not entirely interested in what your customers had for lunch or the funny video someone found on their break so why bore them with these details. This relates heavily to the previous two points.
  • Use manners: Thank people for retweets, welcome new followers and friends and remain amicable despite the medium you are using. You may not be communicating in person but you can still be personable.

There will always be some degree of removedness in social media interactions but following these simple guides (and remember they are only guides) can help you craft more relevant, engaging, personal and effective business communication in the social space.