As someone who has studied and written about radio quite a bit over the past 25 years, I spent a lot of time focusing on both radio drama and documentary. There are four main types of sound that are used to create such productions. When listening to aural productions, the first three are rather self evident:
- Voice – the human voice and the words that are spoken to create the main context of the production.
- Music – to set the mood, enhance the context of the voice, and denote transitions.
- Sound effects – to round out and deepen the context and denote actions and objects.
The fourth element of sound is often forgotten, but is just as important, particularly when used in conjunction with the other three:
Silence, or the absence of sound, can be used to create tension or denote some sort of aural punctuation. And like the other elements, there are proper and improper uses of silence.
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Too much silence, and you have what is known in radio as dead air. Not enough, and you lose the impact. Silence at the wrong time can ruin a great radio program, but at the right time, it can help bring the message home more clearly. The key to using silence is timing.
The same can be said for the way we use silence as small businesses conducting our business online, particularly in the social realm.
Silence can be deafening
We’ve all had those moments where we are waiting to hear from someone; expecting to hear from them, and when we don’t, we get anxious. When my kids first started driving, we made them call or text us when they reached their destination so we would know they got there safe. If they forgot, we would start to watch the clock and get a little nervous.
And we’ve all probably had the experience when you have that special guy or girl in your life and you want them to call, but they don’t. Well, it’s not that they don’t call. Its that they don’t call when we want or expect them to.
That type of silence is deafening. It stands out and makes us think something is wrong. If we don’t get a response from a business when we expect one, we start to worry, or get angry. Many businesses do a poor job of updating their social properties, or even responding to comments or questions. But it goes beyond this.
This past week I’ve been watching a bit of a debacle taking place over on the Facebook page for the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, a nine-day sportsman’s exposition that is the largest of its kind in North American, and happens just up the road from me in Harrisburg. The main audience for the show are hunters and fisherman. In light of the Newtown school shooting and the recent debate over gun control, the show used its Facebook page last week to announce they wouldn’t allow vendors to carry certain types of weapons at the show:
I don’t envy this organization. There is a lot of public pressure for them and others to make some changes, and I think they were truly trying to do what they believed was the right thing. But remember, the core of their audience are people who are hunters, and more likely to be members of the NRA, or at least ideologically aligned with the NRA. Sadly, the organization wasn’t prepared for what happened next, because their wall filled up with more than a thousand comments, mostly brutally negative. Many said they wouldn’t be attending the show, while others called for a boycott. Some of the show’s vendors and sponsors have even pulled out of the show.
You would think the organization would have been prepared for at least some kind of fall out, but clearly they weren’t. As of this writing, nearly a week after the post, there have been no responses or other updates from the organization. Nothing. And people have noticed, calling them cowards for not responding. They took a stance that went counter to the culture of their core supporters, and paid for it. And with the event coming up in just two weeks, there are a lot of unanswered questions.
The organizers of the show obviously don’t have any clue how to respond, and they have let their audience take complete control of their page. There is still time for them to respond and make some statements, but one week of silence is taking its toll.
If there was ever a time for silence, this isn’t it.
Silence can be golden
Silence isn’t always bad. There are times when silence can be a good thing.
I experienced this first hand while helping out the local branch of the Salvation Army with their annual telethon, which happened to fall on the day of the Newtown shooting, as discussed in my post about rethinking business as usual. There are times when both internal and external factors might dictate that staying silent is the best course of action. There is no formula. There are no rules. You have to take every situation on a case by case basis.
Both American Apparel and Gap failed at these when rather than staying silent, they tried to use Hurricane Sandy to their advantage, and were blasted from all quarters for their insensitivity.
Sometimes saying nothing at all is your best option.
The sound of silence
The hardest thing? Knowing when to use silence and when not to be silent. There is no formula. There are no rules. You have to take every situation on a case by case basis. But the best way to be prepared is to have some sort of crisis plan in place that dictates how certain situations will be handled, and by whom. While this won’t crisis proof you, it will at least get you a few steps closer to handling things properly.
It’s also important to keep your ear to the ground. Monitor not only what’s happening on your social properties, or what people are saying about you, but also what’s going on in the world. Being educated and informed goes a long way in knowing when to speak and when to shut up.
Have you ever had a situation where you had to decide whether to remain silent or not? Or a time when you didn’t stay silent but wish you had?