Has Social Media Made Us Less Social? (and the death of the phone call) 16

During an audio conference today run by Bulldog Reporter, a panel of six journalists were asked how they prefer to be contacted. The most popular answers were email and Twitter, while Facebook and LinkedIn received a mixed reaction. However, there was one method of communication was unanimously condemned: the telephone.

One common request from the panel was to only call a reporter if you have a good relationship with them. The message was about establishing relationships before jumping on the phone, because that’s how things get accomplished – through relationships. So here is my question: Don’t you think the best way to really get to know someone is by talking to them (with words, not text)? While email and Twitter allows you to communicate, there is no replacement for meeting someone in-person or speaking with them directly. It’s more personal and can establish an honest and good-working relationship quickly and effectively.

While I understand reporters don’t want to be called non-stop because it can be extremely disruptive, if a PR person knows they have a good story I don’t understand why a phone call signals the end of the world. Sure, it’s great to have the information on record via email, but what’s wrong with a quick introduction that shows the reporter you have read their stories, know their interests, and that your pitch is not a mail merge?

Another interesting topic was to see how many reporters were open to being pitched via Twitter, because some are clearly opposed to this idea. However, one panelist said that Twitter pitching was fine as long as it was through DM so that the pitch was private. But, since you can only pitch someone via DM if they are following you that creates a problem. Sure, you can work to establish a relationship to the point that someone will follow you, but that doesn’t always work. There is one one journalist that I have corresponded with via Twitter for several months and I have a very interesting story idea for. However, despite listing me in a #followfriday tweet a few weeks ago, she is still not following me, so I can’t DM her. Maybe Twitter needs a separate DM function for journalists that allows them to receive DMs from users they aren’t following.

While I have rambled on in this post I have been having a reoccurring question that I present to you: has social media made us less social? It appears that we are eliminating phone calls and one-on-one interactions in favor or posting a Tweet or Facebook message? How does this strengthen relationships? Sure, I know what Brian is having for lunch today (he lives in San Francisco and I’ve never spoken with him – actually, I don’t even know what he looks like), but does that really matter? During phone calls other aspects of life come up like weekend plans and what trade the Red Sox should make. This makes people human and establishes relationships.

My message is not that social media is bad. It’s a great thing. My message is that its important not to get so caught up in social media that we lose sight of other important things,  like phone calls.

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16 thoughts on “Has Social Media Made Us Less Social? (and the death of the phone call)

  • Dylan Tweney

    Ben, journalists’ aversion to phone calls predates “social media” by a long time. Most of us have preferred email for pitches ever since we’ve had email — that’s because they are easier to scan and vet, you can get more details immediately (if the email includes them), and you can read them when you have time to consider them. By contrast, phone calls are interruptive and often come when you’re on deadline (and we’re always on deadline, now).

    Sure, if you have something you know a journalist would be interested in and is truly newsworthy, a phone call is welcome. But 99% of the calls I get do not fall into that category. It’s a far better rule of thumb for me to say “email only, no calls please.”

    If you want to build a relationship (and get to the point where I will be happy to take your calls), there are lots of real world networking opportunities to do so, including tradeshows, conferences, schmoozy cocktail hour things, or PR agency sponsored dinners.

    You could also try building a relationship via email. It can work — I know this from experience.

  • Ben Haber

    Hi Dylan,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that relationship building can come in many different forms, I simply found it surprising that the phone was always a last resort. While I know it’s much easier to communicate through email where you can read through it when you have time, my hope is that the phone does not become an endangered – or extinct – way of communication because it still holds tremendous value in connecting and strengthening relationships.

  • Michael Singer

    While we were talking and you were taking notes, some of the reporters were monitoring the Twitter chatter about #PRUSM.
    The reporters all found it astounding that PR peeps jaw-dropped about the likes of Kara and Dan not answering their phones.
    I’m with Dylan on this. 99% of the non-coworker calls are the equivalent of those calls you get at 7 pm while you are eating dinner.
    But do not despair. I’d be happy to chat with you about your clients. Feel free to pitch me at msinger@gmail.com and we can have a meaningful conversation either on the phone or in person.
    Where’s the next Tweet-Up?

  • Allison Wagda

    There’s a big difference about calling a reporter regarding a pitch, and calling a (beat) reporter to share breaking news.

    A product launch is a pitch.

    A (reasonably sized and technologically important) acquisition is news.

    An exclusive executive profile is a pitch.

    An unreported cyber attack on the Pentagon is news.

    Use the phone very sparingly, and only when you know the reporter would want to *immediately* know what you know. My advice to fellow PR peeps – put yourself in their shoes. Understand the stories they prioritize, and those that are important to their editors (and of course, audience) too. And think about how crazy your day is, and how disruptive it is when those pesky vendors and sales people call, then multiply by 100 (because there are probably thousands of valley PR people all targeting the same 150 or so reporters). If you STILL think they would want your call, then do it.

    But if you’re only calling because your boss told you to, or because your client expects it, push back. Your credibility with reporters will follow you long after your current job is gone.

  • Kyle Austin

    I think it all comes back to the relationships you build. If you begin to build those relationships and can illustrate how you can act as a source / filter: prioritizing what you’re bringing them, connecting and introducing them to the people they’re interested in, understanding what’s news to them, giving your own insight on the industries you work within. Phone calls become just another channel that they’re willing to connect with you through.