Sometimes Technology Gets in the Way of Communication

At this year’s IAB Summit, digital marketing expert, Enzo Scarcella, stated the following: “Sometimes technology gets in the way of communication”. I found myself deeply struck by this statement and it sent my mind reeling. Even after he put it into context by talking about the importance of mobile optimisation, I couldn’t help but consider what he had said in a broader context.

Communication and Technology

To communicate, to be understood, is a basic human need. Technology has given us more tools with which to express ourselves, and has also given our voice a further reach. This type of communication, however, is done through an artificial medium and I catch myself wondering how much of what we mean is lost because it is filtered through something that is artificial. Take Twitter for example: how much context can you provide if you are limited to 144 characters? Is this the reason why so many people get into trouble over what they post, because they are unable to fully communicate their underlying thought process?

Although Facebook does not have such strict limitations, its users don’t respond well to long lamentations either. To-the-point statements are the order of the day across all social channels, and if you ignore the order of the day, you will, in all likelihood, be ignored.

The worst outcome when communicating is to be met with silence, to be ignored, as it renders the act of communication futile (if no one is listening, why speak?), so we adjust to what people expect of us on these platforms. If you want to provide context, you curate content that most accurately expresses your point of view, but to what extent does it really express your point of view?           

What does this have to do with Brands and Businesses?

Let us move away from personal communication and discuss brand and business communication through technology.

It is already difficult not to see a brand or business as a faceless, non-human entity because although these entities are made up of a legion of human beings, they all operate according to a set of strict rules and regulations that severely limit instant emotive expression. The type of communication to which we respond best is off-the-cuff, personal and emotive. However, it is difficult to think of brand or business communication as personal and emotive, because the act of communication does not come from an individual. And besides, because all brand and business communication is a marketing effort, rarely is anything off-the-cuff and, if it is, there are usually severe consequences.  

Successful brands and businesses have put great effort into devising a value system that is aligned with that of their client base, and the general message that they are communicating usually runs along the lines of: “We care about the same things that you do. In essence, we are you.” This is done not only to show customers ‘that we have what you need’ but is, of course, also an effort to personify the enterprise and make it seem like the kind of individual who you would get along with. Despite these efforts, this message or identity tends to get lost in the social media sphere, the off-the-cuff platforms, where consumers can get the sense that they are being spoken to directly.      

BBC Anchor, Ross Adkins, who also spoke at this year’s summit, mentioned something that ties into this. In essence, he said that it is important to establish a strong identity and not to sacrifice this identity to the medium through which you are communicating.

For me, establishing a strong identity translates to this: a lot of original onsite and offsite content and the promotion of this content on social platforms. If you clearly establish and communicate your identity where you can, people will eventually recognise it even on the platforms that severely limit your expression of it.

It is true that social platforms, in particular, demand immediacy. In other words, waiting too long to respond to a topical issue will render the response futile. What is far more harmful, however, is to compromise on quality, on your identity, and to not give people what they expect from you. So you should acknowledge the medium through which you are communicating (adhere to its best practices) but never sacrifice yourself to it. If this is unavoidable when using the medium, the medium is not for you and should not be used at all, as using it will do you more harm than good.

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