Are we really all goldfish?

Thursday, 27 October 2011, 13:11 | Category : General
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I found Anthony Hilton’s opinion piece (PR Week 21.10.11) a little surprising. I don’t doubt his claims that companies need to question how, when and where to engage with social channels. After all PR folk have been teaching clients to pick their battles and focus their resources where it counts for many a year. This is just common sense.

What I don’t understand is how Mr Hilton appears to have come to the conclusion that social media engagement isn’t really worth it, when his entire argument appears to have been based around the notion that web users instantly forget anything they read.

I quote:

“The astonishing thing about the internet is not that no-one takes it seriously, but how little of it sticks”


“People spend hours online but each day they empty brains and start afresh”

Interesting stuff. However Mr Hilton’s article didn’t seem to cite any research or evidence that points to these statements being factual. He then uses these points as the basis to question the virtues of social media engagement:

“This seems to me to have interesting implications for the PR function in companies and whether they should respond to what’s being said about them out there”

Before recapping…

“A million people may listen but if they have forgotten what they heard the next day, can’t the company simply ignore it?”

Now, as a seasoned journalist, I am assuming that Mr Hilton does have some evidence to back this up, and that this was a case of bad editing (although it is usual etiquette to point your readers towards something concrete that backs your argument up).

So let’s assume that web users are the veritable goldfish that Mr Hilton asserts we are. Does this still build a strong enough argument upon which to question the virtues of social media engagement?

I still don’t think so.

By listening (skilfully) to customer groups on the web, companies can gain unprecedented access to the REAL and REAL TIME perception that their customers have of them. This is invaluable, for numerous reasons.

Before (when everything was ink on page) the first you knew about a crisis was either by reading about it at the same time as everyone else, or (if you were lucky) a phone call giving you the right to reply the night before it went to print.

Today companies can continually monitor opinions by listening to the market rumblings and, if necessary, engage with customers and manage issues before they turn into a crisis. Ten years ago issues management was all about cleaning up the mess as best you could – after the fact.

It’s difficult to prove my point here as we (naturally) don’t hear about the issues that companies manage to stave off in advance – but at least I am acknowledging that this is just my educated guess.

But social media engagement is about more than just managing issues and crises.

By listening to online conversations, companies can find so much more out about the people that buy their products and services. In the right hands this information can help companies to aid product development; marketing campaigns; recruitment; CRM or even their expansion strategies.

The list is endless, which in itself should more than pay for any investment made in social media engagement, regardless of whether we have the capacity to recall what we’ve just read.


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