The Shelf Life of Messaging in a Social Media Environment

For some time now, the nature of communications has been changing as people move to new and emerging media to get and spread news.  Prior to the Internet, messages were packed up and shipped out to us via broadcast and we listened to the ones that we wanted to and we didn't those that we didn't.  

With the emergence of the Internet, audiences achieved a new ability to seek out news that they wanted – to go visit Web sites in an increasingly unlimited quest for finding and utilizing information that they specifically wanted. 

Whisper.jpg  With the advent of Web 2.0, however, the pace of change in the nature of the relationship between the communicator and the audience shifted dramatically.  As social media emerged along many fronts, the consequence was that the nature of communications became much more participatory and targeted than at any time previous.  Broadcasting, as I've said many times, diminished in power while "niche-casting" – the ability to find your target audience and speak directly to them, and in turn, allowing them to carry that information to other interested parties – ascended.  

So what?  

There are two things of consequence that come out of this.  It they aren't particular to healthcare – they are true for all communicators.  But because healthcare is a late, and inhibited, adopter to social media and because the FDA itself is such a large and bureaucratic institution (and has also fallen behind its peers such as USDA and CDC in the strategic employment of social media), those involved in healthcare communications for their institutions should take note.

The first consequence is this.  The balance of power has shifted between the communicator and the audience.  It used to be that the communicator controlled the content and the timing of messages.  No more.  Today, audiences have the ability to control the timing and the participatory nature of social media allows for significant commentary – commentary that might be uninvited and unwanted.  

The second consequence is more obvious.  The speed with which news spreads means that the shelf life of  one's messaging is quite possibly much shorter and requires more frequent attention and refreshment than in the past.  

Success for messaging in my book means this – it must be relevant, concise, consistent and memorable:

  • Relevant – Too often what we are saying about our organization or our brand is old.  It is like a time capsule.  The messaging and image you are wanting to send must still apply today.  If it doesn't, you need an overhaul.  
  • Concise – One needs to distill what you want to convey down to its bare components.  When you add all the flowers, bells and whistles, it begins to diminish in power, whatever you may think;
  • Consistent – Dr. Hamburg has said over and over again that she wants the FDA to be a premier guardian of public health.  That is good stuff.  But to be effective, everyone of consequence at the agency needs to be saying the same thing.  An organization needs to sound like a choir.  And while there is an "I" in choir, one person cannot change the image.  The message must be consistently spoken throughout an organization;
  • Memorable – What you have to tell me as the audience has to be something I readily understand.  If there is too much subtlety or nuance, than you lose me.

These basic tenets of messaging aren't particular to social media.  But as a consequence of the changes in the way we communicate, it does mean that we need to pay more attention to the shelf life of our messaging.  It is just one of the many signs of the changing times.

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