Everyone has a voice, but should we temper that voice?

By Matter

As the social media/networking landscape evolves, it’s interesting as both a PR professional and a consumer to see how people and companies are using these tools. I find it fascinating, for example, that the celebrity world has taken to airing grievances and sharing personal thoughts and updates. Whether it is to comment on a tragedy or to lash out at another celebrity (think of the reaction to Kanye West’s outburst at the MTV Music Awards). It’s ironic that these same celebrities plea for privacy yet take to Twitter on everything. Twitter updates have become the news themselves!

But enough about celebrities, let’s talk about us.  I applaud companies that enter the Twitter or Facebook fray. I appreciate the insight into the business, the exclusive deals, event notices and other updates. I understand it’s hard to communicate to the masses and appease everyone and it makes me even more grateful to those businesses that I frequent that they care to do so. Consumers are flocking to these sites to weigh in with either their praise or complaints and it’s common knowledge that the masses, myself included, love having a voice and social media has given us a platform to use it.  But, I am often appalled at the tone, language and sheer anger of some of my fellow social media users. These rants can border on inappropriate, in my opinion, and I am shocked to see them in an open forum. As consumers, I think we should remember that a brand and a business are still run by people. There is a person behind that Twitter or Facebook update. If we have an issue, we shouldn’t approach them with swears and a blatant overuse of exclamation marks. This is top of mind for me lately because one of the businesses I follow, a local ski mountain, gets constantly abused by people on Facebook and Twitter for almost every update they post. As a fellow communications professional, I can just imagine this person sitting at their computer thinking they are doing something good, only to get attacked for some things they can’t even control (the weather!). Perhaps I am oversensitive because I am a PR professional (as one of my colleagues suggested to me), but, I am hoping that as social media evolves, that we will also evolve as users and introduce a bit more decorum. These tools are there for us to give feedback but constructive feedback may prove to be better than screaming and yelling.

And speaking of evolving as users, there was a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday about the new “iGeneration”. Reporter Brad Stone quotes a doctor studying this generation and how it is affected by technology as saying that this generation will expect everything to be instant, whether it’s asking a question of a business or a professor or a friend. What etiquette will start to evolve from this and how will we as consumers and as PR folk adapt? I’ll be interested to see.