Virginia’s thoughts on communications and social media
By Virginia F. Bodmer-Altura
Social media is of growing importance also as a mean of communication between companies and their customers as well as to the presence on their homepages. This creates new interrelationships that have to be continuously examined and they should not be the sole source of information for interested customers and people.
Some scientists and observers state that today’s societies are over informed and electronic junkies. To some extent this might be true but it opens also a gap with those who do not have access to electronics or are not in a position to use them and it is also blow to the freedom of opinion and the variety of information sources.
It also means also that there is practically no more a separation between journalistically prepared “official” content, blogs and public relation. Whereas the world over journalists are fully reliable for what they edit and publish and threatened by a penal code if they they are crossing the lines there is on the other hand practically no limitation to what is edited and published on websites and by means of social media. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. have established some code of conduct but the users sign such conditions easily and electronically as they do it in the case of an updating of their software and the license agreement involved and both signatures do not prevent misuse!
Electronic communication by companies has various addressees starting from internal communication purposes, customer relations, product portfolio, product presentations, customer reporting, etc. and of course all purposes are also an image campaign of these companies. The ones at the forefront present themselves additionally on social media and in blogs. With other words they are producing ever more content material and the uncritical user is no longer enabled to recognise the original source (author) of information nor whether the information is unbiased and really only catering to the sole purpose of informing the reader (journalists sell only their news and opinions and are paid by publishers having the same aim and not from outside sources).
From the perspective of professional print and electronic media this means that their media are a sort of circumnavigated by doing everything in-house thus leading to the fact that the so called fourth filtering, correcting instance offering also opinion and in depth research is softly or aggressively pushed aside. These public and independent eyes are funded by subscription and advertising and are continuously deprived of these sources. Because why should a company place advertising outside of its controlled circle of specific in-house information. The only exception made is when a company is looking to extend the customer basis or if technical media is capable of offering additional publicity by researched reports and features and specifically addressed readers in the relevant industries around the world. However the formerly respected partnership between public opinion and companies’ interest and in regard to the reliability of the information edited and published and the freedom of opinion manifested in technical papers, newspapers, magazines, e-papers and e-magazines and written by professional journalists does no longer exist, nor are they generally supported in order to sustain the freedom of opinion in our societies and our business lives. That is certainly some food for thoughts and concern.
Many journalists are changing the bar and are hired either directly by companies or by public relations and communication agencies, the latter two are in general writing up important features for companies but they are not subjected to the same code of conduct (penal code) as professional journalists, editors and publishers, meaning personal reliability to the public.
Of course, these companies and agencies have an overall corporate responsibility but it still does not correspond with the extensive liability of journalists, editors, publishers and also the focus of interest is completely different. Companies and their agencies do everything that they and their customers are having a shining image but they don’t weigh the information given in the same independent way as given in the journalistic domain.
What does this mean for the readers or addressees of such prepared information? Well it is like visiting a theatre play or a movie as a spectator you see only what and how the plot is presented. As a spectator of a theatre play you have very little room to see things different but you can follow only one actor, you can have your own thoughts and you can express your own opinion if you did like the piece or not. This is exactly also true for the content elaborated in-house and by specialised agencies.
What do you as a reader get from a professional outside source like journalists, editors, researchers, publishers? Definitely there are not all the details of in-house knowledge available in these companies. But you might get an unbiased comparisons of products, manufacturing processes, companies, people and decision processes, all researched and possibly commented to the benefit of the reader to form with these objective information an own individual opinion or decision. You know the sources of information and you weigh the content according the person that has researched and written this information and you know also that you can hold this person publicly responsible for wrong doing. I therefore firmly believe that journalists defend objectivity and neutrality because they have access to broader sources to present reliable information.
This does not mean that I deny companies the right to make their own declarations in their in-house means of communications and within their own individual responsibilities but I am convinced that a reader deserves a spectrum of information, data and opinion to make up his mind. Of course, the content management of companies is trying to conquer also this journalistic stronghold, because they start to be a sort of reporters and publish features to particular application of their products jointly with their customer and allow them to be present with their advertising on their websites and by direct links. There are two examples in the textile machinery industry, namely Swiss Rieter Machinery group and German Groz-Beckert company.
Don’t get me wrong, I think both of these example companies do extremely well in regard to their original task of in-house communication and to the best interest of their companies and customers, and I admire them for what they are doing. But of course it is obvious that the majority of the budgets for communication and advertising are invested in in-house projects and these diminish further the role of journalistic reliable and independent information to guarantee the freedom of opinion and thought. In my eyes, you as a reader or company you should be able to decide on a broad unbiased source of information to form your own decision criteria. Companies in general appreciate also information on competition and on an unbiased basis and established by a reliable journalist.
In addition, I think that all involved along the textile value chain and including textile machinery manufacturers should have an interest in the survival of the journalistic trade s because it still has an important role to play for the benefit of society and freedom of opinion, speech and thought and, it forms also part of a company’s life that the management is subjected from time to time to objective outside critic and objections in order to enhance business findings and decisions processes, it eliminates also insider blindness. Strange enough the same people try to achieve information outside of their business interest by using all kinds of media as source regardomg economy, politics, sports, etc., why not in regard to their own businesses? Are those representing the journalistic trade in these domains not equally qualified or less credible?
Make up your own mind on this analysis and decide for what you are opting yourself. If you agree or disagree, just let me know, I invite your comments, just drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org