I recently had the pleasure and honour to lead the winning team in a debate on social media in the very grand County Hall in London. I'd have been pretty disappointed if we didn't win, as we were arguing in favour of social media! I certainly had an easier job than Neil Kleiner, Head of Social Media for Havas Media, who was charged with arguing: "this house believes that Social Media does not exist in the eyes of your customers."
So how did we win? Firstly we let the facts speak for themselves:
Facebook has more than 500 million active users… and half of those active users logon in any given day. More than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo etc.) shared each month.
Pick a random day, such as March 11th this year - 177 million Tweets were sent. Average number of new accounts per day over the last month = 460,000.
LinkedIn has over 100 million members. Over one third of UK professionals now have an online profile on LinkedIn.
35 hours of video are uploaded every minute.
This is epic! This is not up for debate… I’ve heard Social Media described as a express train speeding along the tracks and you’d better hurry up and get off the tracks and onto the train quick.
Social media changes the relationship between the brand and the consumer. So if I think about my own world – the media landscape darling (!!) In the past we broadcast and the consumer listened. We told people what to do, what to think, we decided what they were or were not interested and what they should and not know, what they should buy. And we were in control.
Ask former Egyptian president Mubarak about the power of social media…. It’s being called the Twitter revolution… It must be true… they’re selling it on a t-shirt.
Social media changes things completely for the media. Suddenly our audience is alive and interacting with us and excitingly we can interact with our audience in a way that was never possible before.
And it is the same for brands. Social media has fundamentally changed and is changing the relationship brands have with consumers. I gave the Mumsnet Waitrose baby bottom butter case study and the glow stick seller analogy, which you can read about in my AOP social media roundup post.
I argued that brands need to be brave and take part in order to survive. Opinions about your brand are out there, do a real time search on Google and find out what people are saying about you. Brands and their agencies can no longer push a message. What clients and customers say about our brand is as, if not more important, than anything we tell them. People are less likely to be in touch with your customer service department and more likely to be in touch with your customers.
To use another analogy: if we’ve been hunting… now the deer have guns! Social Media can help us to share copyrighted content, make a mockery of super injunctions. Social media releases the breaks on all the tools of control.
Part of the opposition argument was that the public don’t want to interact with brands on social media. That reminds me of a friend of mine who was a Westminster correspondent for a big commercial radio group. Management would argue that the public don’t care about politics, and he’d counter that: “Yes, but they care about hospitals and schools and transport and all of those things.” and it’s the same with brands. You might argue that people don’t care about brands, but they care if their train is delayed, their phone doesn’t work, if the new gadget they just bought has broken.
And to those who argue that the end game is simply to sell the most stuff with the lowest possible overhead. Well, used correctly social media may be able to help you do that. If you listen, engage and understand with your customers, you can make your products and your offers more attractive; you can understand trends and competitors. If you build relationships you can nurture repeat business.
As a journalist I’d argue that brands need to use content, stories and events to connect and engage with their communities and those communities will get the message, if it’s relevant and strong enough. Find the voice of your customer by listening and then get involved. Get stuck in!