In a flutter over timely vs. timeless communication

As our lives are increasingly consumed by Facebook pages, IM, Twitter, RSS feeds, Digg Thumbs Up’s, url shorteners, embedded HTML, emoticons and hyperlinks, there is little doubt about the premium placed on timely information. It has reached a point where the value of information seemingly diminishes in direct proportion to how old it is. As if an article written six months ago might well as be ten years old.

This tendency will only increase as we hurtle towards a real-time web. FriendFeed has launched the world’s first real-time, live streaming, social media service that is set to revolutionize all media. Yet as people constantly and seamlessly update their “lifestream”, I wonder about the role of meaningful communication?

The funny – and yes timely – Flutter April Fools joke (below) parodied our growing obsession with instantaneous information, exposing the growing misunderstanding that the newness of a means of communication automatically makes that communication meaningful.

The important distinction, as Zeus Jones points out, is that while real time information loses value over time, timeless pieces grow in value.

When you consider brands also rely on an emotional connection with their customers to motivate their behavior, this confusion can be costly. Of course, a meaningful connection isn’t always timeless but the same limitations apply. Hoping to generate trust, interest or loyalty in 140 characters alone is as misguided as a guy wheeling out his best one-liner at a bar. Brands must use a composite of media to build an effective relationship with their customers, rather than see social media as an end in itself. Even when a brand, its products or social entrepreneurship becomes the focal point for conversation it must also play the overarching role of “aggregator and curator”, as Joseph Jaffe asserts, “to provide a place where consumers can see the conversations pulled together, engage with the brand, hear the story in the brand’s voice”.

A means of communication is not an end in itself. It exists to create a connection that enables us to recognize ourselves in others. If our daily exchanges are reduced to a teeming sea of quips, asides and blunt reductions, we simply enlist ourselves in the service of data tracking. As if our lives were some enormous marketing focus group and our communication ticks for empty boxes.

When communication becomes a shooting gallery, the first casualty is dialogue that adds meaning to our lives. As both marketers and consumers, we would be foolish to let this happen.