4 things the State of the Union tells us about the issue of message control
The State of the Union is appointment television for me every year. Regardless of who is in office, my personal opinion is that there are times when as a citizen of this great country, I need to support our President.
Last night's speech watching experience was different. For the first time, I found myself watching the Twitter stream as much as -- if not more than -- the President speaking. I toggled between my own stream and the broader stream through the #SOTU hashtag. It was enough for me to divide my attention between these two media -- the old and the new. I didn't even look at my Facebook stream. For this purpose, Twitter had the advantage because it is all public and is more real-time.
After the speech, I reflected on the experience by thinking of what it says about one of the great ongoing debates in PR -- how much entities have "lost control of the message." If the SOTU was a snapshot of this issue, here are a few things that it told me.
Control of message delivery/media
I believe it is a bit extreme to say that social media has caused an outright loss of control of the message. There is no doubt that Twitter and Facebook loosen control to a great extent. But entities, whether it is the White House or companies, still have control over the vehicles through which the message is delivered. That is, they can use the same channels to convey their messages within the same stream that the public is using to converse about them.
Our President proved that in the 2008 election and carried it forward to the White House. (This also proved to be important in the mid-terms for all candidates.) I noticed last night the tweets from @WhiteHouse, with key sound bites from the speech, come across every minute or so as part of the #SOTU stream. This is critical for any company to do during an announcement or event where a lot of conversation will take place. The screen shot below shows the effect it has.
The White House also used its web site to its fullest extent, as pointed out by Tim O'Reilly.
Every company or entity should be aware of whether or not there is someone out there impersonating their brand through social media. We were reminded of this last year with the @BPGlobalPR satirist, and the last two tweets above are additional examples. The "top tweets" are pinned to the top of the #SOTU stream by Twitter because of their popularity (retweets, favorites, etc.). The official tweet from @BarackObama next to the unofficial one from @theUSpresident, is another reason why it's critical to use these channels for message delivery.
The message will be manipulated
This tweet and the ones above show that the more the message is characterized by cliche and jargon, the more it will be commented on and manipulated by opinion. The lesson here is that the message needs to be real, plain-spoken and authentic and this is a very different way of thinking for a lot of entities.
The national sense of humor is alive and well
The above comment was made on Twitter by Jim Spencer (@fairminder) last night, and it was spot on. Perhaps this was another reason I was engrossed in the stream. Another classic mini-meme was the "Boehner thought bubble," and the tweet posted right after the smoked salmon joke: "Boehner thought bubble: What booze goes with salmon?"
What this tells me is that companies should use humor as part of their communications and social media more than they do. It provokes reaction and encourages people to join the conversation in a more engaging manner than convoluted messages.
What do you think? What is the state of message control in communications?