Social tsunami

Real-time communication has its own real challenges

Real-time communication has its own real challenges

David MacGregor


There is a fashion for talking up so-called social media. ‘Social’ is a rather vague expression. It implies a trivial or convivial exchange between individuals while consigning other media, by default, to the role of antisocial media (which isn’t too much of a stretch if one applies a layer of imagination to corporations that colours them as Michael Moore-ish monoliths).

Social media networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter create platforms on which individual voices can be heard, expressing thoughts in an unedited, unmediated and constant stream of consciousness—the most phatic of communion.

For marketers, it’s a challenge. Some see it as a shining opportunity to engage with their customers. Many New Zealand businesses have become active on Twitter. Air New Zealand, Vodafone and TV3 have all seen the opportunity to develop a genuine dialogue with people, rather than fancifully imagining that their advertising and other promotions represent anything other than a monologue and an interruption. Other marketers perceive the rise of social media with rather more trepidation. It heightens their anxiety that people will say bad things about them or their products—which, of course, they will. People are somewhat predisposed to saying bad things about bad products anyway. They always have, and nothing kills a bad product quicker than good advertising.

Some marketers perceive the rise of social media with trepidation. It heightens their anxiety that people will say bad things about them or their products—which, of course, they will

It is increasingly common for marketers to engage in ‘listening’ campaigns. The thought turns our conventions on their ears. Sure, we have listened in the past. Market research has played a sometimes valuable (and sometimes just expensive) part of planning our marketing communications. But historical research techniques have always been somewhat flawed—anyone who takes the findings of a focus group as gospel will probably suffer for that sin.

Listening campaigns detect the mood of the market in real time. And trends for brands can be measured in real time, giving the opportunity to be highly responsive—either averting disaster, or exploiting opportunity before competitors see you coming.

Needless to say, social media ‘experts’ have mushroomed to take advantage of the trend. It reminds me of the emergence of brand gurus in the mid-90s, which corresponded with the rising tide of marketers valuing their brands above all else. It became so endemic that sign writers and vendors of promotional ballpoint pens assumed the mantle of brand experts. Having a large number of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ on Facebook or Twitter does not an expert make. Likewise, being good at making advertising as we once knew it is not an indicator of expertise in the social realm. 

For what it’s worth, here are a few things I’ve learned about social media:

  • Have a plan. Don’t simply assign people to talk about whatever crosses their mind. All communications activities benefit from clear objectives.
  • It is not free. Engaging in conversation in real time takes time. Time is money. Assign a budget.
  • Once you start, it is hard to stop. If you are going to create a network of people who see value in inviting you into their network, there is an expectation that you will participate.
  • Sync your social voice with your brand’s voice. Don’t be schizophrenic.
  • Listen and think before you speak.
  • Finally, just because someone is 22 it doesn’t mean they are socially savvy.

Right then, I’ll leave you to chat among yourselves.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).