Less is more? Sometimes less is just less2012-01-10
Concerns that social media has reached a saturation point is leading to calls to scale back social media efforts. Writing last month in the Hospital Impact blog, Jean Riggle cited Forrester CEO George Colony’s argument that “social networking consumes more time than going to church, communicating by phone, email and snail mail, and exercising” to suggest hospitals trim back their efforts.
Excessive status updating can descend into a noise, Riggle argues, asserting that less can be more. She points to an Adage article in which Michael Scissons suggests the 22% decline in engagement on the Facebook walls of leading brands can be attributed to “bad content, coupons, polls, contests, and boring filler.”
There’s truth in this argument. However, sometimes less is just less. It’s not a question of quantity of content, but rather of quality. I raised this issue in the community that has formed at The Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, prompting Catholic Health Partners Media Manager Mike Boehmer to respond, “Maybe you do need to cut back on the number of status updates or tweets; maybe not. (It) depends on what you’re trying to achieve and the results you’re getting.”
To assume a lot of content is automatically noise thanks to social media saturation is to fall prey to over-simplification. People aren’t spending all that time in social networks because they’re social networks, but rather because those networks provide paths of less resistance to accomplishing goals.
Years ago, when I interviewed him, User Interface Engineering CEO Jared Spool told me technology can do only three things: solve a problem, improve a process or let you do something you were never able to do before. Social networks can fulfill all of these. For a lot of people, it’s all about process improvement. People don’t visit (or “like”) a hospital Facebook page because it’s one more way to spend time on a social network. They do it because it’s an easier way to get information and address issues than using earlier technologies (like the telephone).
Delta Airlines has tweeted more than 60,000 times from its 20-month-old Delta Assist account. But it’s not noise. They’re helping passengers resolve real travel problems. Is that social networking? Well, yes, as much as calling the customer service 800 number is “telephoning.”
If you asked people how much time they invest getting resolutions to issues or answers to questions, you might find they’re actually spending less time than before because social networking provides them with a more effective channel. The real question, then, isn’t how much people use social networks; it’s what they use them for. I remember speaking to a CEO whose board chastised him for the amount of time he was spending on his blog. His retort: By embracing his blog, he was spending less time communicating overall. Fewer phone calls. Fewer conference calls. Fewer meetings. The newer tool was more efficient than the traditional tools at accomplishing tasks for which he was responsible.
Engaging people isn’t limited to flooding Facebook walls with updates devised just to meet some kind of artificial quota. You would do well to share more social content through multiple avenues. In an effort to spark conversation around a local healthcare issue, for example, why not create an infographic that makes it easy to comprehend the situation? Publish it on Scribd and/or Slideshare, then embed it on your blog or website. Your hospital’s logo appears on this social object, which—if it’s of interest to your community—will generate discussion. Because it can be embedded, it can appear on other blogs and websites, leading to even more awareness and discussion.
You could also start curating relevant local health-related content published by others. You could (as Riggle suggests) up the amount of video you’re sharing. There are countless opportunities to produce content your community wold find conversation-worthy.
You could even produce more status updates that target people with specific interests. Using Google+ Circles, for example, you can segment your community into categories: seniors, people seeking to lose weight, expectant parents, caregivers, cancer survivors and so on. Now, despite the fact that you’re distributing 20 updates a day, only one or two are seen by each audience segment.
Hive Strategies Principal Dan Hinmon nailed it in the Mayo Clinic conversation: “Nobody needs more self-serving, one-way communication. but if hospitals are using social media to share useful, interesting information with groups of people who care, that’s not noise.” Aldon Hynes, Social Media Manager at Community Health Center in Connecticut, adds, “We should not be trimming back on social media. We should be trimming back on noise.”
The more of that useful, information we create—through the greatest number of formats—the more there will be for people to talk about and more places for them to find it. That’s the point of creating social objects in the first place: to establish greater opportunities for genuine engagement about topics of interest to our communities.
Trimming the amount of social media we produce just to be able to say “less is more” is a fundamentally flawed notion. More is more, as long as it’s done strategically and it works.