By Graham Grossman, Manager, Social Media Services
In the Beginning
Long before I was even born, only one social networking tool existed: the business card.
The contact information contained on a business card was once the only means through which we would know how to communicate with an individual. The business card facilitated communication and collaboration by offering a phone number and an address for people with whom we wanted to connect. In the world of government relations, the same applied; we would collect cards from elected officials and their staffers, lobbyists, businesspeople and prospective clients, trade association members and many others. We wanted to communicate and collaborate with these people and the contact information on their cards gave us the means of doing so.
But times have changed. When was the last time you heard an elected official tell a crowd to stop by his/her regularly scheduled office hours? Office hours? They don’t exist anymore! Officeholders prefer to hold conversations on Facebook and their office is always open on Twitter. The most successful candidates tell their supporters to Like them on Facebook, they regularly give out their website address, they ask supporters to forward their e-newsletters to friends and they count on voters stumbling across their website through a search engine result. Most politicians are savvy to how the game has changed.
Well, computers were introduced into the workplace. At first they didn’t offer much in the way of communications functionality. Although early models helped us crunch numbers, handle complex equations and process simple documents, as a communications tool, computers remained relatively useless for many years.
In recent years computers have become exponentially faster and have allowed for the digitization of data. Our interaction with and use of digital information is integrated into our workflow and has completely changed the way we do business. We’ve been able to ignore massive reference volumes and bulky research tomes, and we’ve grown accustomed to sharing hundreds of pages of information over the internet without having to rely on the office mail room clerk to physically deliver them. These clunky office processes and tools haven’t retained their effectiveness and have been phased out.
But the business card is still around. In fact, by the end of my first week working at Stateside Associates, a box of cards had already arrived from the printer. For many reasons, the business card will never die. We will still need a means of representing ourselves to new acquaintances and business contacts that we meet in person. It’s clear that the business card may never be wholly replaced by social media, but it is past its prime in terms of utility.
There are now hundreds of online tools that have emerged in the last decade that have started chipping away at the benefit business cards once offered. These digital platforms have multiple functionalities beyond simply facilitating the rapid exchange of communication—they serve as the channel for the communication. There are social media platforms for file and information sharing, news aggregating and sharing, social and professional networking, geo-locating and so much more.
The point I’m making here is that we no longer rely solely on business cards as the gateway through which we communicate in the workplace. Chances are the people we want to reach are already on LinkedIn, or maybe their name comes up as a search result on Bing. Whatever the case, professionals we collaborate with don’t have to rely exclusively on the stale confines of a 3” x 2” piece of cardstock to represent themselves; and neither should we.
Make the Investment
Many see this shift to communicating in the digital world as an obstacle. Some professionals take the view that investing in social media means adding an additional responsibility to the already crowded org chart. “How can we be expected to do everything we’re already doing and be expected to implement a new set of communications tools?”
Please, stop. I won’t name names, but some of you may have the ‘wisdom and grace’ to remember first-hand when email was first ushered into the workplace. It’s the same tune all over again. Workers were intimidated by email when it first hit the office scene. How would companies use it? How would professionals adapt to using the new medium? In hindsight, how could we ever have competed in the marketplace without it?
Social media is taking hold of how we communicate in much the same way communication shifted to email a decade or two ago. It’s changing the way we do business and we’re being forced to adapt. The tools available on the internet can send information much faster than a mailroom clerk ever could. These changes have made the means of communicating with other professionals apparent and readily available; we just have to have the foresight to invest in the right people to hold the reigns.
Get With It
We don’t need a person’s business card to know how to contact them anymore. Let’s be totally honest, if they’re really important and influential enough, we would already be seeing their Tweets, we’d already be reading their blog posts and we would at the very least be able to find their contact information on the web in few quick keystrokes.
The way we talk about and use social media is much the same as the way we once thought of business cards as granting us access. They were once the chief carriers of contact information which we required if we wanted to build a professional relationship, and by extension they gave us the means to grow our influence and professional reach.
Social media is the new way we influence decision-making, the way we impact the conversation and the means by which we reach colleagues and clients. We as government relations pros should understand it and use it to our benefit.