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Participatory Economics: Are Companies Budgeting for Social Media?

by Tom Johnson on Dec 23, 2010 •
categories: technical-writing

Participatory EconomicsA podcast summary by David Armano from Edelman caught my attention yesterday. Armano writes:

My theory is that social technologies and the online behaviors they enable leads to more participation from what use to be static audiences and "consumers". But as a result of this, a demand is generated for participation to be reciprocated from business and brands. If this is true (and I think the needle is moving in that direction) does big business have the supply to meet the demand of participation? (Logic+Emotion: Participatory Economics: The Supply + Demand of Participation.)

In other words, businesses may step into social media to align with web trends. After all, if you don't have a blog, a Facebook presence, a Twitter account, a forum, and other social media tools, you're behind the times. But just having a Facebook page or a WordPress blog URL or Twitter ID doesn't ensure that you also have presence and participation. Participating in social media requires a resource effort that many businesses haven't budgeted for.

This post rang true because last week I scrambled to keep up with forum posts and other feedback from users after the release of a calendar application. In our release, we included a Submit Feedback link to gather the feedback. Similarly, we have a forum where more tech-savvy users post and exchange information. In the past two weeks, we've had about 425 emails and 40 forum responses.

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I'm not sure who's supposed to respond to all this feedback, because no one factored it into the project plan. Users grow frustrated when no one responds to them, but to respond to the barrage of feedback would require a full-time job. I sometimes scan the feedback for topics to add to the help, but we need someone hired as a social media/support specialist to respond individually to their questions and feedback.

I don't think dedicating full time resources to social media is on anyone's mind. Most businesses don't understand the time required to engage in social media. In the past, perhaps users didn't expect it. But now, if users submit feedback to a business, or post in a forum about a company's product, they expect a response.

Ideally, businesses will hire a new force of employees to engage and interact in social media. But in my world, social media is a layer of optional participation on top of your regular job. I'm not even talking about raw content creation for social media channels, such as writing blog posts. I'm just referring to responses and basic participation in forums and threads.

The unfortunate reality is that because businesses aren't immersed in social media channels, they probably won't even realize the need.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.