Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World

One of my close friends called me last week, but she didn’t leave a message. I called her back and left her a message. She called me back and did not leave me a message. So I called her back and left a message. We played phone tag like that for two days before luck favored us and one of us answered the phone. I asked her if she got my message. “No,” she said. “You know I don’t check my messages.” I asked her what she wanted originally but she didn’t remember by this point. This could have been solved had she left me a message but I was once again reminded that she doesn’t leave messages either because she doesn’t like the way she sounds in recordings.

 “So you don’t leave messages and you don’t check messages. Then how is anyone supposed to reach you?” 
“Keep calling or send me a text,” she said. “If you really want to reach me, then you’ll keep trying.”

That irked me a bit until I answered a call from my mother. “Did you get my message?” I checked my phone and didn’t see a missed call or a voice mail from her.

“No, I didn’t. When did you leave it?”

“I left it on your home phone.”

“Mom, you know I don’t check my home phone messages. Nobody ever calls me there except you or a telemarketer.”

Wait, this seems familiar somehow…

I have another friend who never calls, she only texts. She doesn’t answer the phone when I call either, but will immediately send a text back asking me why I called and try to engage me in a texting conversation. Another friend only communicates through Blackberry Messenger but she seems to have forgotten that I switched to Android in December and gets agitated that I don’t receive her messages. Another friend only communicates through Facebook. She uses it as her email, party invitations, instant messenger and contact list and gets irritated with anyone who doesn’t check Facebook on the regular.

My mother-in-law has a cell phone but she never turns it on unless she is in the car by herself and she is never in the car by herself. If I need to reach her, I am expected to call the house, then her office and then her husband’s cell phone. She also doesn’t text (hard to text with your phone turned off I suppose) so if I need to send her a message, I either must email her or call one of the aforementioned numbers and leave a voice mail. This reminds me of another friend who has an iPhone but never knows where it is. Not that it matters because the battery is usually dead so the effort to call or text is wasted. And finally one of my professors is on every available social media platform, but she prefers to tweet obsessively and warned us that she probably won’t respond to emails. It is so frustrating to try and make contact with friends.

This past week, I read an article in the DallasMorning News by Frank Bruni titled, “Our hyperconnected lives really aren’t so connected at all.” In the article, he seems to have been going through the same problems and for a brief moment I wondered if we weren’t friends with the same people. He makes the point that in this world of email, social media, laptops, Wi-Fi, smart phones and tablets, we have somehow made ourselves even more difficult to reach even though these modern conveniences were designed to make us more accessible. So how is it that we have become less accessible?

The answer is in the wide variety of social media platforms. We have Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Go Walla and LinkedIn in addition to our email, text messages, instant messenger and a myriad of other platforms available. How do we know which ones to use and when? There may not be a universal answer but having an About.Me page certainly seems to help by collecting all of our online profiles onto one splash page. Think of it as an online business card. But that only covers our online presence. What about when we want to text or call? The answer is both simple and complicated. We have to know our audience. Just like in every other aspect of public relations, it is our job to know how to contact each person we do business with and to know exactly what their preferred communication method is. We are in the business of communicating on every available platform to every audience appropriate to our message so there is no easy way out that will reach everyone the same. But because we are on all of these different platforms that means that we have to make ourselves accessible to everyone.

This is one area where the public relations industry begins to resemble the customer service industry. For us, our target is our customer and our customer is always right. So if Bob prefers tweets, Mary prefers emails, Kate prefers texts, and Steven prefers Facebook, then it is our job to know that and to make sure we reach them first using their preferred method of contact. It isn’t easy, but smart phones have certainly made it easier.  

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