Constant engagement online is central to our practice as PR professionals… but how do we balance this constant obligation to be in communication virtually in moderation?
By: Sarah Gardiner
We all know it’s a problem. We all find ourselves constantly glancing down at our screens in response to our phone’s buzz or notification ding. We’ve all stayed up for hours letting the light of the phone or computer screen illuminate our faces after we should have been fast asleep.
It’s easy to attribute this constant obsession and endless interaction with our phones to responding to notifications, checking emails or even just unwinding during the day. However, what seems like a brief period of engagement on an application can turn into hours of wasted time and missed opportunities throughout the day. The challenging part of this unhealthy cycle is that, as PR professionals, constant communication is at the core of everything we do in our careers. As more and more of our daily lives move to a digital format, social media, emails, Slack messages, Google edits and text messages can quickly dominate the hours of the day leaving little awareness or time for face-to-face interaction. So how do we balance this in a technology-dominated field and world?
The discussion of technology and its consequences have been a popular topic recently following the release of the Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma”, which some consider a horror story. Interviews with former employees of the corporations that make the magic on your devices happen such as Google, Facebook, and Instagram help tell the story of technology and social media’s brainwashing and addictive attributes. The obsession that users, who the interviewees claim are merely customers that these large platforms manipulate, feel is due to customized algorithms based on personal data collected through browsing and engagement history. It’s frightening to think that our computers and phones can have that kind of power over our lives; however, it’s even more frightening to think that these communication tools are crucial aspects of the public relations industry.
Our devices offer us more knowledge in a single click than we could acquire in years with traditional methods. They connect us with publics around the world in an instant. They allow consumers to complete their full customer journey within minutes.
So what’s the problem?
Fielding calls, updating social media accounts and refurbishing your client’s website are just some of the tasks that a PR professional finds absorbing the hours of their day. To stay updated on the latest and greatest platform and current Internet trends, we always have to be online. But at some point, we have to draw the line and be intentional about our screen time.
The first step in minimizing the hours spent on our tablets, phones and computers is awareness. By tracking our screen time, we can draw comparisons between the time spent on various applications and set restrictions that forbid access to certain applications when the time limit is reached. The results of your screen time calculations may surprise you… The sum is rarely ever as a result of an examination of your email inbox in the morning. The time that accumulates interacting with our devices can often be attributed to the abundance of the five-minute scrolls we find ourselves doing while waiting in line or in traffic.
Engaging a population in the 21st century while also minimizing screen time can only be done with the abatement of personal social media and messaging. Blocking iMessage, Facebook and other social networking notifications from your computer can reduce distractions that keep you staring at your screen longer and help you maximize efficiency in your day-to-day work.
While face-to-face interaction in the midst of the pandemic is obviously challenging, the connection fostered between clients, customers, employees and others should be as personal as possible. Replace default email responses with phone calls to forge better relationships and hear genuine expression.
Finding a balance is a work in progress. It is easy to blame the day’s agenda for the lack of face-to-face interaction and stationary technology use. But technology is not the problem–we are. And it isn’t going anywhere. We can either choose to evolve with technological trends through awareness and moderation or we can be swept up by the expanding sea of information, left behind unable to utilize it. As PR professionals operating ethically in our field, we owe it to ourselves and the public to use technology and social media as a tool to curate content and disseminate messages, not as a means of control.