Trust in social media

A recent study suggests that social media’s poor take up in business is due to the business case being hard to make, a lack of understanding by leaders and resistance to new ways of working. There is also some fear of the unknown.

I am unsure whether these are the main reasons.

It is widely accepted that in any face-to-face conversation less than 10% of the information exchanged is in the words used. 90% plus is in the intonation, body language and other subliminal cues (smell the fear!). Text, email and social networking strip away these central components; and yet these central components are crucial to trust, the life blood of business relationships.

When a solitary plane crossed the Atlantic in September 2001, carrying Tony Blair, it was because face-to-face was the only way to pledge support for George Bush (whether that was a good idea or not!) An email was just not good enough.

Trying to build sound, trust-based business relationships via a keyboard might, I submit, not work when 90% of the message is missing.

Even the words in the remaining 10% are suspect. We inevitably speak to different constituencies in different ways. When we relate independently to friends, relatives, and immediate family the words we use change because we have a different status in relation to each. Language we may use to our friends might not be used to our children. Similar changes will apply to customers, suppliers, advocates, staff, to each of whom we may want to relate differently. Indeed, we don’t necessarily want competitors, staff, clients etc. all seeing the same representation of ourselves. If this fear of being seen inappropriately is inhibiting in a social context then I suggest it is probably inhibiting in a business context too. We may yet want different identities for different business constituencies as many of us already have so as to separate business from true social.

A clue to the future for social networking might be seen in the growth of email. This has come a long way since it was the sole province of students. Now that it is a mainstream activity in business – how, we ask, did we manage without it?

We might trust that the journey for social media has only just begun.

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