The conundrum of corporate social media use

The world of institutional social media use is fraught with tricky choices and ambiguous policy diktats. What can an institution say and not say? What can it do and what should it not do? Is a Like an expression of alignment (alike), admiration (I like that), or endorsement (Like this please, I do)? Is a reblog a verbal act or simply a mediated relay? What’s a follow?!

Every and any individual engaged to handle his or her company’s social media engagement must make a hundred choices a day. Whether to post, comment, retweet, and like. Each time walking a line that is at best well articulated but imperfectly mapped to the medium.

And that is the rub. The cultures that thrive on each social medium — tumblr, pinterest, twitter, Facebook, instagram — are intrinsic to the brand and tool. They are specific. A like in one isn’t the same as a like in another. For in the former, the like surfaces content and permits its amplification — in short the Like is an act of communication visible to an audience. Whereas in the latter, the Like is a gesture but not an amplifying act of relay — the Like is seen in a feed but doesn’t re-post content.

My guess is that it would be impossible to craft a set of social media policies adequate to the small-differences-greatly-amplified across different social media tools/channels.

This means in essence that institutional social media practices are always a matter of negotiation. And thus, how an institution engages — speaking, listening, declaring, supporting, commenting, iterating, appreciating, recognizing — can only be decided in terms that are subjective and personal. Institutional personality, not policy, shape expression and thus the face shared in social media.

I think part of the problem is that social media renders communicative acts into artifacts of content. In this way, social media transform what are many acts and gestures into a lasting testimony and record. It becomes impossible to obtain or return to the intentional meaning of an act — a like — once context is lost to the past. Acts will always be worn down over time, intentions becoming but residual meanings supplanted by the form of content (whose stability appears permanent but is not).

This dualism — of action versus form; of intent and expressed — dogs every institutional blogger. Whether to participate, and emphasize participation. Or to write and state, emphasizing expression. Whether to engage on social media as an active member, or to conduct PR using social media as another channel of distribution.

It is a conundrum. The medium is a talk medium. The interaction is a form of talk. So whether the act of talking, or the preservation of what is said, defines the personality of a brand active on social media is beyond anyone’s control. And becomes inevitably a source of disruption.

 

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