Is social media the future of communications or just another channel?

This is the question we posed in our new online poll series.

Thirty per cent said it was the future of communications, while two thirds (70%) said it was just another channel.

The role of social media continues to be widely discussed in the communications industry.  It was one of the most hotly debated topics at the launch of our Business Leaders in Communications Study 2012 at the beginning of the year. It revealed that websites, digital and social media were the areas where communicators expected to see the greatest rise in demand over the next two years. Three quarters reported expecting an increase here, yet only 15% saw recruiting in this area as ‘critical’, while almost one in ten communicators said social media wasn’t a challenge at all. This led one audience member to ask whether this is the case because social media is just a bubble or is it through ignorance or complacency.

While some said it was ‘A flash in the pan’ and ‘Not used by the shop floor,’ others urged caution and said the starting point should be to question the objective of social media before acting on it. Although, a bit like in our latest poll, the majority of the audience agreed that social media is here to stay and that those who don’t embrace it fully will be left behind. Even John Lewis’ Charlie Mayfield who was at the event concluded that technology is changing the way people behave and businesses need to understand this and respond accordingly.

So where do you stand on the great social media debate? At VMA Group we’ve certainly experienced a shift in demand from more traditional PR generalist roles to specialist social media and strategic roles – a clear indicator of the way social media is changing the ways businesses think.

For James Evans, Group Communications Director at Shop Direct Group, the UK’s largest online and home shopping retailer, social media is part of the Group’s business model and is more than just another channel: “It’s a very important channel and it will continue to evolve as new forms of social media come online. Businesses that ignore social media do so at their peril but then the same also applies for traditional channels.”

Sean Harris, Director of PR & Marketing at Parthenon Entertainment, cautions about viewing social media in isolation: “It’s an essential part of the marketing mix but it isn’t the answer to all communications issues and neither is it to be used to replace other forms of communication,” he says.

The social media platform du jour is Pinterest, which was recently used by Oscar de la Renta’s to share photographs of its bridal show with followers in real-time. Alex Bolen, the designer’s CEO, admitted that it was a last-minute idea, but that it did align neatly with the company’s goals to constantly experiment with visually oriented forms of social media.

The examples given by Shop Direct and Oscar de la Renta hint that social media is not just an important channel but is becoming a recognised part of business strategy, like KPIs were (and still are) before it. Where next I wonder?

However, writing in The Times last week, Hugo Rifkind questioned the longevity of social media: “What if the urge to share everything online is just a fad?” he asks.  Only time will tell. In the meantime, the message from communicators seems to be “embrace it, but use it wisely!”

Have your say; our next web poll is now live

2 comments on “Is social media the future of communications or just another channel?

  1. Penny Bird on said:

    In my view, social media will become one of the main channels of communication between an organisation and its audiences in the next decade or so. One only needs to observe how young people communicate to catch a glimpse of the future!

  2. Richard Baker on said:

    I’m stunned by those results! “A flash in the pan”?! It’s absolutely not that. Social media is a huge opportunity for organisations to create authentic relationships with their customers and employees, using something that is cheap and easily accessible.

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