Why are communications directors growing less interested in social media?

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Social media is becoming less relevant to the communications industry. Yes, quite.  While that statement may raise more than the odd eyebrow and possibly be seen as justification for lynching in some parts, it’s the inference from an Ipsos Mori Reputation Council study released last week.

The report found that directors of communications are less interested in what is said about their brands online than they were 12 months ago, and are less likely to be engaging daily. However before we start deleting Twitter handles, Facebook pages and get ourselves lost in whimsical reminiscing about the good old days of faxes and late night mail bags, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect.

Social media certainly isn’t any less important to the audiences that communications people are targeting; quite the opposite. Facebook celebrated its 800 millionth user just last month and Twitter has seen an increase of at least 250% for tweets sent between early 2010 and early 2011. And it’s not just confined to consumers – 78% of business execs believe that having a social strategy is critical to the future of their business.

So why are communications directors engaging less?  A stat in the study that caught the eye, which could help to explain this, is that less than 50% of those surveyed have a social media strategy in place.  So perhaps the reason people are less interested in what is being said about their brands is because they don’t know what to do with that insight.  This renders it pointless.  You could argue that if you are not going to respond or act on the insight, then there’s little point in wasting resources on listening.

Parallels could be drawn with any bright new shiny idea that initially draws lots of attention, but then falls into disfavour when the lustre wears off.  To wrap it in a bit more theory, this is what Gartner calls the trough of disillusionment in its hype cycle, which arrives soon after inflated expectations peak.

However this is obviously limited both in foresight and in the value that can be delivered back to the business and the audiences it’s trying to nurture. Having real-time insight into how audiences perceive brands and what they are looking for isn’t just a nice novelty, it’s an invaluable asset that needs to provide the foundation for any effective communications campaign.

This also extends much further than comms. To evolve and truly become a social business, customers increasingly expect to be helped and have their concerns not just listened to but responded to in something close to real-time. If businesses are not set-up and structured to do this, they will lose goodwill, support and ultimately customers. So don’t stop listening, but just think more carefully about what you do with the insight you gain.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Text 100 UK blog.