Categories: CSR reality check

7 December 2008

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Not too much Mr Nice Guy

This piece comes with a health warning. It is a bit rude about a very prevalent fashion. I want to diss the idea that PR online strategies must be nice, non-judgmental, inclusive, blah blah.

Let’s just listen to the counsel PR 2.0 blogger James Warren provides firms in his PR Week Digital PR Essay: contrariwise.

The second idea I want to talk about is again straightforward. But if followed to the letter, it will ensure that the design and tactical execution of any digital activity is optimized for success. And it is, very simply: Be Nice.

While it sounds trite, those businesses that adopt the attributes of niceness when communicating online can only succeed. A few months ago I wrote on my blog: : “…if you’re generous with your time, are courteous, listen, don’t interrupt, help people achieve what they want to achieve and make people smile – in short, if you’re nice – then people will want to hang out with you and they’ll want to introduce you to their mates.”

Any organization that demonstrates the attributes of niceness online – those that run online campaigns that are inclusive, non-judgmental, even-handed, polite, respectful, courteous, humorous, empowering, supportive, interesting and engaging – will be infinitely better placed to succeed than an organization that doesn’t. After all, it’s not not called antisocial media for nothing.

James Warren confuses two things: attracting mates online, and running campaigns. First let’s examine the social side of networking.

Relationships and communities are built on bonds of self-interest, reciprocation, identification and shared experiences. Communities by their nature are rarely inclusive, they have boundaries, just like brands, fashions and all worthwhile relationships do. Niceness, while not to be sniffed at, is rarely at the heart of them, on- or off-line. Allow me to bring this point to life by introducing into the mix a campaign element involving a company or affiliation.

Viewers don’t share NBC’s Saturday Night Live content online because it’s nice. The online Apple community was orginially organised in opposition to PC owners. For both networks of fans it was the judgmental tension that got them motivated. My father is a Millwall FC shareholder, I support West Ham. The conflict over that difference is sharp, and great fun.

The most read interactive political website in the UK is the British National Party’s. The party and its supporters are the very opposite of inclusive.

Moreover, The Sun, The Times and WSJ do not attract readers by being friendly to all, neither does The Huffingdon Post.

James Warren and many others are also wrong to infer that mainstream media are “anti-social”. All media by definition are social. That’s why the fourth estate has real power, real influence in the real world whether online or off. At some point the term “social” will be dropped, just like the “e” in “e-commerce” already has been (digital convergence will ensure this, I’m sure).

By the way, I do of course think that in some sense all communications and even arguments ought to be “nice”. This is especially true of communications which involve strangers. One can afford to be very impolite – downright rude – only to those who one knows well or who one has decided deserve it. But it is always a risk.

I don’t want an anodyne niceness. I know nice can sell. Sometimes. Of course it can. We’ve all viewed attractive holiday advertisements, contacted self-help groups or been touched by viral video clips of a dog mothering kittens, or a baby horse raised by a goat: everything has its place.

Indeed, too much online communication is childish, not least in its intemperance. The web badly needs a bit more courtesy, especially granted its phony intimacy.

Rudeness has a role in many communications, but not all. My larger point is that proper communication is often about quite sharp differences, and it’s best done with civility.

Actually, I rather liked the rest of what James Warren said in his essay about inline communication. But this blog is not designed to be a fanzine. I hope, then, that I can still share a civilized pint with him at some point. That would be nice.







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