No, seriously, less is more

As I was giving Facebook one final peruse last night, I stumbled across a fantastic article by Pam Moore in Social Media Today. It’s always great when the key takeaway from an article is right there in the title and “The Last Thing Your Target Customer and Audience Wants From You is More Content” didn’t disappoint.

You should click the link and read the article for yourself but the quick summary is that it shouldn’t be a big surprise to communications pros that Facebook and other social platforms are limiting the reach of posts by brands, companies and organizations. And part of the reason for the reduction in eyeballs is “content overload and spam which is ruining the end user experience.”

While the article is primarily about social media, I think it should be required reading for anyone who works in marketing, PR, advertising or any communications-related field. Because just about every aspect of communications is afflicted with what I like to call We Have to do Something syndrome.

The best way to describe We Have to do Something syndrome is with a practical example. And my favorite personal anecdote about We Have to do Something syndrome comes from when I worked in communications for a Fortune 500 company. Part of my role involved employee communications and, collectively, the group of employee communicators I worked with realized that we weren’t doing a very good job of connecting with the company’s 14,000+ employees. So, we did what any group of good communicators looking for feedback does and put out a survey and had several focus groups. And the overwhelming feedback from that survey and from those focus groups was that we were pushing out too much information to our employees. So much so that they were starting to ignore everything we sent.

I remember one employee in a focus group saying, point blankly, something to the effect of “if it’s not information about my paycheck or benefits or how we do our jobs each day, I’m not terribly interested. I enjoy working here, it’s a good company but I just want to come in, do my job and go home to my family.”1 And multiple people in the room nodded their heads in agreement.

Afterwards, when it came time to review employee feedback and even though we had our “customers” pretty directly saying to “dial it back,” the takeaway that that group of employee communicators somehow came up with was “we need to communicate to employees more often.” They felt like we needed to “do something” to fix the problem. The idea of doing less was just something they couldn’t wrap their minds around.

So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that our employee communications metrics never really got any better.

And this is where I come clean and admit that, as a communications professional, I’m far from blameless in this area. I understand the temptation to communicate something, anything, every single day. After all, if my audience isn’t hearing from my organization, they’re likely hearing from someone else instead. And woe unto me if organizational leadership sees an article/post/video from a competitor while nothing from our side has crossed their feed in the last five minutes.2

But there’s a limit and I hope I recognize it most of the time. The article linked above mentions organizations that feel the need “to post 5, 10, 15 times a day across multiple social networks…” I frankly have a hard time understanding that approach. In my career, I’ve managed dozens of social media accounts for several different companies and organizations. I don’t know that I’ve ever posted five times in a single day, much less 10 or 15 times. In my current job, there are times (especially in the summer, when school is out of session) where we may not post 15 times in a month.

And from a consumer perspective, I can’t imagine any company, organization or brand that I want to hear from 10 or 15 times a day.3 I have a hard time with brands that email me once a day. I can’t imagine being ok with anything more than that.

I understand that doing less is a hard sell, especially if you’re in an organization that might not value or even truly understand the communications role. It’s easy to want to justify your paycheck and sometimes the easiest way to do that is to be able to say “look at all the things we’ve done.”

But if our goal as communicators is to truly connect with an audience, and maybe even influence them, perhaps our best approach really is to take a step back and focus on quality instead of quantity.

Less is more isn’t just a pithy saying. It’s a warning. But it can also serve as a way forward in an increasingly crowded communications landscape.


1. I put that in quotes but it’s really more of a paraphrasing.

2. Not my current boss, thankfully. He’s great and actually has been a big proponent of “less is more” since I first started working with him.

3. I know one of the golden rules is “never market to yourself” but I think this illustrative example is fine.

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