What is Control Anyway? Changing Perspectives for Survival in the Online Space

People have always been obsessed about control. One of the most important sociologists describing the notion of self, Goffman (1959), developed a dramaturgical model, emphasizing that individuals engage in performances in order to control (to some extent) other individuals` impressions of them. As such, individuals either give or give off expressions. That is, they either give out information about themselves intentionally (verbally, non-verbally, but usually controlled body language), or non-intentionally (body language and facial expressions which cannot be controlled).
Same thing happens in social media. An enthusiastic Social Media or Marketing Manager gives a compelling message, meant to attract thousands of shares and likes and pins and views, and the list goes on. Then, one segment of the public returns with unanticipated and negative feedback, throwing out accuses and complaints about controversial campaigns (some really interesting examples can be seen here).
With respect to the social dimension of social media, and considering the hype around online crisis situations and the focus on communication practitioner`s lack of control, I must say that control is overrated anyway. What ever happened to natural interaction and engagement? Is that too hard to achieve? Maybe holding back the focus on volume and bringing more strategic emphasis on quality could reframe the way control is viewed in the first place. Neither marketing, nor communication practitioners can control messages, or information disseminated through social media, especially considering the growing numbers of tech-savvy users, who are constantly updated on ways to potentially ruin an organization or public figure. But instead of fighting these limits, threats, disadvantages, risks etc., of social media efforts, how about promoting what symmetry is really all about: credibility, transparency, trust, taking responsibility for mistakes and genuine interest in publics` needs?

Training your spontaneity for PR sake

Today, when everyone’s eyes and ears are somehow connected to social media, the art of impression management is a strategic tool for your reputation, whether you are a well known multinational corporation, a start-up or a public figure. However, similar to women’s oxymoronic effort to look as fresh and natural as they can (using as much make-up as it takes for this), the pressure of informality and ‘coolness’ can bring out grotesque face threatening public performances.

Informality, humour or role playing can be a resourceful way to win people over, to make them accept you as one of their own and make camera love you. Yet, as tempting as it seems, this is something that for some comes natural, while for others has to be carefully planned to look natural. If you have it, use it wisely, if not, accept it and, more important, fight it down and avoid your first instincts to be spontaneous. There are people and contexts for which informality and spontaneity are a perfect match and work as a PR ‘golden mine’, as well as there are people who walk into their own trap by choosing this path. Don’t bet your reputation on an improvisation act if you know you are not a gifted actor!

Plan-to-be-Spontaneous-Tomorrow_6175-lAs all other things that are socially (re)defined, in terms of PR impact, spontaneity is not a sure win by itself. However, it can become one if it is perceived as fitted with the one’s status, reputation capital, contextual performance and, moreover, with the public expectations for that particular communication situation. Media made us look for charismatic public figures in any domain, expecting that hollywoodian inspiring connection and communication charm. The fact is that is barely as simple and natural for everyone as they let it seem. Thus, instead of wasting time and energy in face threatening spontaneous reactions for the „natural cause” sake, take a step back and approach it in a more strategic way as any other PR tactic in terms of (public) face management.

Non multa, sed multum

           The more the merrier they say; but does it work the same for organizational communication? The grow in number, diversification and specialization of both old and new media brings along not only communication ‘wonderlands’, but also corollary vulnerabilities that many practitioners choose to minimize or ignore.  

            One of these ‘Trojan horse’ elements that many organizational actors pay too little attention to or just approach it with too much superficiality is what we can call the ‘overflowing’ trap. Briefly, it’s all about the strong temptation and desire for media omnipresence, one that has been limited (fortunately I would say) by financial constrains. We seem to be facing a general visibility ecstasy that keeps many PR and marketing people hypnotized by the ‘awareness’ and ‘share of voice’ mirage (and that only).

            But let’s not forget that media omnipresence requires time and money resources which, unfortunately for most of us mortals, are limited. Moreover, media omnipresence, whether old or new media (or both), is not enough to bring profit, loyalty or good reputation by itself. Thus, our ‘overflowing’ media visibility can easily turn into super-saturation for our publics and money waste from our budgets. We should re-evaluate the power of moderation and efficiency (good public segmentation and targeting included) when it comes to organizational communication, despite the media temptations, and remember that there are some principles like ‘Non multa, sed multum!’ that even new media Gods can’t change.