Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gladwell Raises Interesting PR Issues with Thoughts on Social Media

Malcolm Gladwell, the famed New Yorker writer, chronicler and thought leader, recently expressed in a Globe and Mail interview that he's intentionally absent from Twitter and other social media platforms with good reason. He thinks they're not all they're cracked up to be.

Known for his ability to draw unique and counter-intuitive insights from seemingly mundane facts, he says one of the reasons he's conspicuously absent from the blogosphere is because it's too easy.

"The ease with which you can organize people means you no longer have to go to the trouble of things like building strong grassroots organizations, developing a coherent message, forming lasting ties with individuals."

Things are quick and for the short-term-- very counter-intuitive to the sustained strategic PR approach of building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders over time.

What's more, his comments bring up the notion of what engagement even means today:

"If you follow me on Twitter, I do not own your heart... I may own your attention for five seconds, but that's it."

His thoughts shed light that PR practitioners may need to make a paradigm shift in how they conceive their communications' objectives with online relationship building. Do we think of building engagement in terms of raising on or offline participation, increasing the number of followers on a page, or boosting the number of backlinks to our site? Or do we think about raising awareness and more importantly, how do we measure that?

This video from the Soshable Social Media blog shares some great ideas on the growing impact that social media is having on our daily interactions and is food for thought on how PR can strategize online. See what you think!


  1. Interesting post! The guy is right to some extent. But I have to disagree with the “ease” of social media. Personally I find it hard to have an online presence. Write a blog post, tweet, see what people do on Facebook…All of these take time. And if you are at work 12 hours a day, how can you manage all social media? For companies, being online means allocating human resources to update information all the time. This is not easy because not everybody speaks social media. One has to train employees. Or get already trained ones. But the latter ask for considerable sums of money. Regarding messages, the idea is to integrate the same messages online and offline. Of course, you will cover them differently depending on the medium. Twitter is a debatable subject indeed. People use it. Apparently it can be effective and efficient. There are people indeed who follow other people on Twitter just for the sake of it, but there are some who follow the “right” people. As regards measuring social media, well, we do have the same problem offline. Do we use qualitative or quantitative evaluation? Theory shows qualitative should be the answer however practice proves the opposite, unfortunately…

  2. Hi Raluca, great ideas as always :) I think anyone in our program would agree that being present online is definitely hard work! I think he means to say that it's easier than establishing a grassroots organization, but really, both are hard work in different ways. From a business perspective, organizations are now realizing that websites don't maintain themselves and that dedicated resources in time, money and top management support are required to build and maintain this- as you noted. About evaluation, I am drafting a post on measurement, so stay tuned for that! Going to check back to your blog now to read your recent post on Twitter and call centers. It's at for those of you who want to check it out!