Thursday, October 8, 2009

Social Media, the Elected & the Electorate...

It’s not only brands that are marketing themselves through social media – the public sector has also embraced all things social media related…

Accusing politicians of being inaccessible to the people they purport to represent is hardly an original notion. For years gone by, critics have accused elected representatives of sitting in an ivory tower and passing laws for a society they don’t really have any communication with. Well, whatever political beliefs you subscribe to, one thing is fast becoming clear – social media is granting us more access to our Government than ever before.

Of course, (the more cynical) marketers amongst us will argue that political communications through channels such as Twitter are simply an extension of political PR; managed by a press office function and devoid of any real authenticity. This may well be true in certain cases; however there’s no denying that Twitter also has a range of genuine politicians who are actively seeking to engage with voters and constituents through this blossoming channel.

Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, is perhaps one of the most prominent politicians to be championing social media; so much so that the Labour Party made her New Media Campaigns Spokesperson back in August. The creation of this significant role not only tasks McCarthy with encouraging MPs and government officials to use new media as a form of engagement with voters, but also demonstrates the level of importance the Government now assigns to social media as a communications tool.

Miss McCarthy is not the only politician flying the social media flag however. The list of MPs using Twitter is now too long to list individually and this can only be a good thing. Many voters remained disillusioned following the expenses scandal – an incident worsened due to its arrival in a very hard recession – so the transparency social media affords is the perfect antidote to any remaining ill feeling.

This transparency allows the public to connect with politicians like never before, especially through the real time posting of pictures, links and information. Not only can the public now feel included in current events – pictures allow them to see what’s happening and feel involved like never before. Take this (admittedly rather posed) picture of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and colleague Vince Cable (click here) – we’re involved in what they’re doing because we can see it. Instantly.

Social media does not pretend to be an answer to political problems. Just because a politician is on Twitter does not make their policies correct. However social media allows people to connect better than ever before – and goes a long way to closing the distance between the electorate and the elected.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Democratic Consumerism – The Offspring of Social Media

We live in an age of ‘democratic consumerism’ – and brands that continue operating a dictatorship are headed for a fall…

I guarantee that if you ask any traditional marketer their opinion on social media, they’ll claim it’s the preserve of young twenty-somethings who get away with gadding about on Twitter all day, all the while claiming that it’s ‘social brand research’. Incredibly, social media still has many doubters – yet a phrase coined by the management at Walmart-owned Asda looks set to dispel the myth once and for all.

Asda’s president and chief executive, Andy Bond, has been talking in this week’s Marketing magazine about ‘democratic consumerism’, which businesses are being forced to adapt to as a ‘direct result of the digital explosion and the trust vacuum’. Not only is this a wonderful phrase; it also sums up the point that continues to elude the grasp of many marketing professionals; consumers now have more of a say in brand direction than ever before.

This fundamental shift in consumer power can be largely attributed to social media and Web 2.0 – if not wholly. Consumers are now the ones conducting marketing activity – not the other way round. A direct marketing piece may sit on the doorstep and quickly find its way to the recycling bin. A social media discussion is a living, breathing, ongoing discussion about your brand – good or bad – that can gain momentum by the hour.

Companies have two options here: they can either bury their heads in the sand and continue spoon-feeding one-way communications to an audience that doesn’t care. Or, they can join the conversations happening in the social media sphere and start building a living, symbiotic brand relationship which, let’s face it, provides infinitely more value and insight than direct mail.

Democracy is the system that grants everyone their right to opinion, representation and rights – and as far as marketers are concerned, their consumer constituents are exercising their democratic rights in social media forums. Andy Bond rightly suggests that we live in an age of democratic consumerism – and brands that continue operating a dictatorship are headed for a fall.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why all the hang-ups on ROI?

It genuinely, genuinely amazes me that so many marketers remain sceptical when it comes to social media. ‘Not being able to measure ROI’ is an oft cited ‘reason’; however marketers subscribing to this misguided view are in reality, missing out on real value.

It’s certainly true that social media now uses considerable marketing resource. A few years ago, many businesses considered a company blog the very height of digital innovation, and perhaps ‘Literate Linda’ from accounts was left to update it once a week with news of the company raffle. These days (thankfully) have long gone and social media is now a sprawling mass of interactions across multiple platforms.

We now have brands interacting on Twitter (the undeniable darling of the social media world), talking with consumers in forums, social network sites, mobile applications – the list grows exponentially every week. Despite the advent of social media however, the doubters are right in one thing – we don’t yet have a way to measure commercial ROI – but why should this be the yardstick by which social media’s value is determined?

From a business perspective, one of the biggest benefits of social media is the fact that it allows brands to interact with their consumers. Web 2.0 has killed off the days of one-way marketing communications - consumers no longer accept being ‘talked to’; they want to be part of the conversation – which is where social media comes in. Focus on providing excellent customer service and brand experiences and this will be replicated in social media channels again and again and again.

Similarly, social media puts faces to faceless corporations. Building relationships on a human level benefits businesses enormously – how could it not? Discussions on networking sites (such as LinkedIn) allow companies to listen to what their consumers are talking about, what their concerns are, what their needs are. What makes them tick, how your business can help them.

No ROI? I beg to differ.

The times are changing. The times have changed. And for those waiting on the sidelines, still wondering whether to get involved, you’re missing a valuable trick. Yes, we’re still waiting for a way to quantify monetary ROI for social media. But sometimes marketing isn’t about money. Worrying about social media ROI can blinker you – and ensure that you miss out on something of real value.

Still Think Social Media's a Fad?

This video should put paid to that...

The Social Marketer Begins...

Inspired by a real passion for blogging, digital marketing, social media and sharing knowledge (as well as by my good friend and manager Mr Gareth Jones), I’ve decided to follow suit and start blogging about my professional experiences. Aside from being a copywriter and a digital marketer, I also manage a client-side social media function, which I’ve overseen since its inception.

Social media’s relevant infancy means that this is one area where my expertise is arguably as valid as anyone else’s. This may sound a bold statement considering the short length of my marketing career; however the newness of social media means I have learnt as much as anyone else in the same period of time.

Social media is a constantly evolving beast where many mistakes have been made and doubtless many more will follow. Talking of following, I hope that you choose to follow this blog, where I’ll aim to provide genuine insight, opinion and comment on the ever-changing world of social media marketing.