The role of social media in decision making

Social media has a wider role than simply enable decisions but for PR people its role in decision making is critical. If social media influences the decisions people make then PR people need to influence social media. But we cannot, and shouldn’t in my mind simply look at social media as an island when it comes to that influence. Instead we should look at where social media sits in the decision process and make sure we are therefore influencing all aspects of the chain. Below is a simplified version of that chain that I’m throwing out for others to develop further:

Stage 1: Information. This phase of decision making is the foundation upon which everything gets built. If certain facts, data and events are used as a foundation it will greatly influence the decisions that are made. Public Affairs practitioners are well aware of this and will often war on the facts that should form the basis of a topic.

Stage 2: Content. The content phase is where perspective, relevance and color are added to the information to make it clear why someone should be interested and to try and get people interested. This is the role of those in the media and of those in social media.

Stage 3: Conversation. This is where content is discussed, tested, shared and debated. This is where traditional media has struggled and where social media has claimed significant victories. Of course who shares content, the questions they pose and the additional facts/data they introduce are all relevant to the role these conversations have in decision making. Interestingly I’m struck by the fact that even in social media where conversations are meant to be open to all, they tend not to be. Bloggers will respond only to certain people, there are certain people who Twitter (The Twitterati) whose notes matter more.

Stage 4: Decision time.

Of course there will be subsets to the above and points in the chain where people will loop back to gain new information, add new perspectives and so forth. But if you think of this as a decision pyramid you can see that ultimately he stages of Information, Content and Conversation are what lead to decisions.

Anyway, I’d welcome people’s thoughts on this decision pyramid concept. It needs a lot of work to be completed but I think PR people need to start to articulate to their clients or CMOs the role social media plays in a far better way than is done today. Social Media is not a separate area of comms it is critical part of the decision making process.