The changing face of communication


Paul writes...


This week’s warning from the North East Ambulance Service highlights the changing way in which many people communicate.


For those who have missed the story, a 999 call was made from a home in County Durham in the early hours of Monday morning. Before the crew arrived at the address, the caller decided it would be wise to pass on more details so that the paramedics had as much information as possible when they arrived.


The problem with that otherwise thoughtful and forward-thinking decision was that the caller chose to send that information via the Service’s Facebook account.


Unfortunately, the Service, like the overwhelming majority of businesses that use social media, does not have the resources to man these platforms 24 hours a day, so that information was not received by the crew as they made their way to respond to the call.


Whilst few details have been made public, one would imagine that the information would have been helpful in advance, but that the lack of information probably didn’t hinder the well-trained crew from dealing with the situation when they arrived.


Thankfully, while the natural inclination is increasingly to rely upon modern digital platforms for communication, the instinct to dial 999 was still ingrained, and one can hope that this is never lost.


Yet, people are setting aside traditional modes of communication in favour of the social media platforms that are the space they increasingly choose to occupy. The decision to send a Facebook message with the additional information, rather than make a telephone call, is evidence of this.


E-mail is often pushed aside because of the growth of Facebook Messenger; people Tweet a complaint, rather than write a carefully crafted letter, outlining the issue at hand. Admittedly, this latter development often can have a more powerful effect, with the recipient of the complaint conscious of the public “outing” of their actual or perceived failing.


For many users, this digital social space is the first thing they check in the morning and the last thing they view before going to sleep. It is not a far stretch to understand that some people will imagine that everyone, whether a private individual or an administrator of a company account, is the same as themselves and that the 24-hour access to an organisation is a two-way communication around the clock.


However, more often than not, this is not the case. A careful look at many company pages will find notes that warn the page is only manned from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Others that provide services will let visitors know that the page is for dissemination of information, not for making bookings or placing orders.


As a PR professional in a busy agency, as well as an avid user of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more – one who is often rebuked at home or my constant checking of Facebook, for example – I can see this from both sides. While I love the videos, memes, infographics and general musings of those I connect with, as well as the ability to reengage with friends from the past and even celebrities we admire, I have also seen the growth in business use and this increased reliance from the public.


On my phone, my ‘Pages’ app gives me constant control of no fewer than 16 Facebook pages, over and above my personal profile, whilst ‘Hootsuite’ allows me to view and post from 10 Twitter accounts outside of those I have for myself. Yes, I do check these outside of business hours, probably more than is necessary, but I do have to sleep and even I find it amusing when I wake to find a message from someone at 8am, asking why – OFTEN IN BLOCK CAPITALS - they have not received a response to their query from a few hours earlier.


Five years ago, this scenario, and that of the ambulance call, would have been unheard of, but now there is an expectation upon businesses and organisations of all types that utilise this space to be as constantly switched on as those users who, when choosing a phone contract, are more interested in the data allowance than the number of free minutes or even texts that are included. After all, who, under the age of 40, buys a phone to make calls anymore?

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