pull vs. push: new media, new rules.

I had to leave a Facebook group I’d rather stay part of last week. Unfortunately, they did not understand that social media is a pull, not push, medium.

Every day I’d log into Facebook, seems I’d find a message or two in my inbox from them. They were sending me news releases. OK, not even — they were copying and pasting links to news releases into the inboxes of every group member. I’ve talked before about overcommunication via social media streams, but pushing overcommunication directly upon an affinity group is even worse. And I prefer my inbox for personal messages, thank you.

Social media works best on demand. If you’re trying to communicate, you do want to have an audience, know how to communicate and (one place the group failed) provide a message of value. The key is trying to pull them into an action: enticing them to read, to learn more, to engage … you’re not force-feeding them information.

Your readers are engaged in pull as well — pulling in only the messages they want from the sources they want. It’s like instead of picking up the paper and finding the opinion section and reading their favorite columnist, they merely pull in the latest column (blog) from that favored writer and don’t deal with the rest of the old routine.

Admittedly, communicating via social media has its advantages over traditional PR. Normally, we’d send news releases to editors who may discard them, may cut them down to briefs, may incorporate them into a story or may (shockingly) run almost as is. Then we rely on the audience to pick up the newspaper that day, happen to go to that page, and find it interesting enough to read beyond the headline (which we don’t necessarily control) and lead (ditto).

Facebook is a great example where, if you’re communicating for your college, non-profit or organization, you’re already finding your affinity group or customers. Or they’re finding you. They’ve self-selected, made a conscious decision to be your friend, join your group, become a fan. They’re receptive to messages if they provide some kind of value. They may accept a pushed message from you once in a while, but they’ve spent their whole life dealing with pushy salespeople in real life or on TV. If you repeatedly push messages upon them via social media, then you’re no better than any car salesman shouting at them from a TV.

It’s a new world, and new rules for communication. Actually, it’s more complicated than that: In Web 2.0, every user sets his or her rules. We need to pay attention and do our best to figure out what they are. And know that as they change, so should we.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “pull vs. push: new media, new rules.

  1. This is exactly the problem I’m experiencing, in a nutshell. People are trying to force the social media square peg Into the round hole, and it just doesn’t work that way. Too many people will get offended by the misuse–and I have done the same thing. If you can’t market without spamming me, then I’ll remove myself from your message. Great article, Tim. I’m gonna start pointing people here when they come up with stupid ideas. At least I won’t feel like doin a little rabbit foofoo on their heads. Just sayin’.

  2. Thanks Tim. I’m having a related issue here in that when I try to discuss the “pull” nature of communications via social media, some of the folks who’s job it is to do the more traditional “push” PR work you describe get a little — shall we say — defensive. I know they spend a lot of time and energy getting that press release or faculty expert into the pages of a national newspaper, and that’s great and everything.I just don’t know what value it has. Mind you, I don’t really know what the value is of having 1000 followers on Twitter either, so I suppose I shouldn’t throw stones.

  3. mattarnold1

    Great post Tim. Similar to problems with email and email lists in the past. If I’m already aware and have “opted in”, give me something of value and demonstrate that you understand what I might need as a customer.

  4. mattarnold1 makes a good point that this is similar to e-mail marketing, probably even more so in the present than in the past. Relevance is important, as is managing frequency expectations.

    In e-mail, deliverability can be heavily impacted by irrelevant and/or overfrequent messaging and people hitting the “this is spam” button. In that case, messaging attempts to everyone get impacted, not just those who decide to leave the group/unfriend/etc.

    Spam buttons are working their way into other social media, so similar future issues might occur. Overall, though, it will take some time for Twitter, Facebook, etc., to tweak and hone their spam filtering algorithms.

    If the experience in e-mail marketing is any guide, that spam-filter-tweaking transition time is particularly rough, where false-positives are relatively high for a while.

    Being a traffic cop when it comes to messaging is part of the job, often takes some explaining, and isn’t always successful…

  5. Tim,

    Strikes me that what you say here is completely relevant to an old medium, one that’s “dying out.” I’m referring to email, where I prefer to keep my inbox for messages that are relevant and interesting to me rather than spam….

    Michael

  6. insidetimshead

    ROBIN: The round hole-square peg is a good analogy, or we could add trying to use a hammer for every job even when another tool works better. And hey, if I can keep you out of jail for assault, I consider that a good thing.

    LORI: I think adaptation is key. I’m a grizzled PR veteran of longer than I care to admit, but bugging media has never been my forte. When we see a pitch success — including with national/international papers, which I think does have value — there’s a nice payoff, but it generally follows all kinds of half-successes, failures and awkward phone calls. Maybe I’m an old softie, but I got unquantifiable warm fuzzies recently when a student worker posted something on our page that picked up 79 Likes. At least there’s an immediate reaction, a reaffirmation of community and value.

    MATT: Exactly! Didn’t have the time or space to expound, but there is a kind of implied social contract when fanning/following/joining that we expect something of value or at least not to feel like we’re trapped in the corner of the cocktail party by a yammering bore.

    ROB: Email is one analogy that came to mind, as you’ve most adeptly explained, but I also thought even further back to direct mail. A really good and targeted direct-mail piece can impress the heck out of anyone. An avalanche of junk mail, less so. One good thing with social media is opportunities to instantaneously deal with the spam, as a receiver. As a professional communicator, working with others to underline value, frequency and tactics is a lifelong pursuit.

  7. insidetimshead

    MICHAEL: Your point makes me think it’s a truism that whatever the medium of communication — mail, phone, email, Twitter, Facebook — there will always be those who overuse it. It’s just the new outlets and opportunity for use develop faster and faster now.

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