My recent blog post about marketing professional who have lost the art of picking up the phone resonated with a lot of my peers on LinkedIn. A number of seasoned PR pros noted that the younger professionals seem to suffer from “phone fright,” and that Generation Y would rather send e-mail or text than pick up a phone. However, I think the anonymity of the web points to a larger issue.
I recently spotted a column on CNN written by sports writer Jeff Pearlman about his encounter with an online hater and how he tracked him down. Although the Internet detective story isn’t quite as exciting as The Cuckoo’s Egg, the confession of the online hater is revealing. After tracking him down, his online hate-monger confessed:
“You know what’s funny?” Andy says. “I enjoy your writing. But I disagreed with you [about Bagwell] and I got caught up in the moment. When you read something you think is bull—-, you’re gonna respond passionately. Was I appropriate? No. Am I proud? Not even a little. It’s embarrassing. But the internet got the best of me.”
Andy pauses. It’s an awkward few seconds. He is not happy I called, and later pleads, “Please don’t eviscerate me.” But, to his credit, he takes responsibility, and says this is something he needs to work on.
“All I can say is, I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m truly sorry.
So let’s consider how the anonymity of the web plays out in professional communications. It allows the upcoming generation of PR professionals to hide behind email or social media. As one of my PR peers noted, it’s one thing to acquire an email address from a database and throw a message into cyberspace in hopes of a reply. It’s another thing to actually network to make a connection so you can collect a mobile phone number or a Facebook invitation and then say, “Hey, I have a story idea for you.”
And the anonymity of email goes the other way as well. Sending an email pitch to a reporter makes it easy to ignore. You can craft the perfect story, be right on message, with supporting facts and a unique angle and, because it came in via email, it’s easy to ignore or file for later. If you get as much email as I do, it’s hard to sift the nuggets from the avalanche of spam so it’s no wonder that email pitches don’t get the attention they may or may not deserve.
Another of my colleagues commenting on the LinkedIn thread noted that he has talked to a number of reporters who admitted reading the email but they needed a personal call to cement the pitch. People want personal contact, and the ability to hide behind an email, or even a Twitter or Facebook update, undermines that contact. Not that social networking isn’t valuable, but it can’t replace the exchange of ideas promoted by a telephone call or a meeting.
Making a connection via LinkedIn or Facebook might make the connection more personal, but it’s still too easy to ignore. You need to reach out and make a personal contact via phone to cement a relationship. Once you’ve made contact you can have a meaningful dialogue that will yield real benefits.