My name is John, I am 58 years old and I was not a social media user. This was not something I was proud of. In fact I was a little bit ashamed. I did not tell anyone, of course. Not even my work colleagues. In fact I would happily join in any marketing conversation about the latest trending issues, openings statistics and discuss reach rates with the best of them. But I was hurting inside.
There was an ugly truth behind all my bluster. I thought, deep down, social media was all a bit silly. After all, who cares if celebrity A has had a nose-job or pop star B has taken up yoga? These are people I would never meet or choose to read about. The whole social media thing seemed a bit of a confidence trick which mainly benefited the paid-for media and famous people in their search for their next starring role. No-one in marketing knew I felt like this except me. I was not in a good place, promotionally speaking. Marketing-wise, it was a lonely place to be.
The longest journey starts with the smallest step…
And then, one dark December day, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was time to do something about it. Surely hundreds of millions of people couldn’t all be wrong and only I could be right. So I started to tweet, in a small way at first. Then I posted stuff on Facebook, dabbled in Pinterest and Instagram and before you know it, I had recovered my zeal and zest for life and my self-esteem. Now my business uses social media all the time.
What’s more, we sell the management of social media to other people…because it works, commercially, emotionally and personally. How did I kick the habit of ignoring social media and finally get with the programme? As usual with things that change your life, I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, there was something in it after all. The only way I would know would be to try it out for myself and see what might happen.
So this story is for all those older unbelievers out there who thought and perhaps still think that social media isn’t for them. And that if you wait for long enough perhaps it will all go away. It won’t.
First, some numbers
I knew the statistics, of course. An early report by Universal McCann in 2008 showed that some 400 million people between the ages of 14-54 regularly watched video clips online, 248 million uploaded and shared photographs online and 184 million penned blogs in 2008. Of course, the numbers would be much bigger by now. The numbers were a little misleading though as there are seven billion humans on this good Earth so in that context, half a billion digital users did not seem significant to me at the time.
But the 2013 International Telecoms Union World Report revealed that more than a third of the world’s population is now online, in one form or another.
You can’t get connected though without having the right technology in the first place. According to a UN Agency Report there will be more mobile phone subscriptions in the world than people by the end of 2014 – that’s over seven billion or more handsets. The combination of large numbers of people wanting to connect and the devices to do it with, have resulted in a virtual explosion in connectivity that is now difficult to ignore, even for an old curmudgeon like me.
So it was inevitable that such an all-pervading phenomenon would have business consequences, even if some businesses like ours were choosing to ignore it. We started to look at our own marketing to corporate customers to see what would happen if we took a different approach and actually included social media in the mix.
Let’s talk it over
After all, as a consulting agency, what we wanted, deep down, was to be able to have a friendly conversation with our potential clients from time to time, without having to necessarily sell them something or be constantly hanging around in their reception areas or on golf courses. Opening a friendly, non-threatening, digital channel seemed to be a sensible strategy.
Brian Solis, the US ‘evangelist’ of all things social media put it succinctly:
‘Social media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism, one-to-many, to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people and peers.’
So we became ‘publishers’ and started to create and distribute our corporate stories to anyone who would listen. The aim was simply to get some semi-commercial conversations going that did not involve expensive, paid-for media advertising or overt product marketing.
Fran’s and Sophie’s choice
At the same time we realised that you could not fake familiarity with and knowledge of social media beyond stuff that you might read about in the business press. My daughters who are in their twenties, already knew their Twitter from their WhatsApp. But most organisations are not managed by twenty-year olds, thank God. So we had to get some people in who knew what it all meant and how to use it. So we hired in two recent graduates, Fran and Sophie, and declared that they were going to ‘manage’ our social media presence, overseen by a Board director who just happened to have spent a lifetime helping mobile phone manufacturers market their products to the young and often ‘last-minute-will-do’ distribution channel.
So we started by establishing a Facebook page for our consulting business in 2010 which we intended to use to connect initially with our employees but then more widely with our suppliers and digital, media-savvy clients.
Of course we had a long-standing website with all our corporate stories and products listed plus details of our key people. But it was obvious that compared to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn the website was relatively static and did not generate many leads or regular comment. We realised that true ‘digital’ marketing had to be much more dynamic with lots of new content, changing daily if possible to get a response.
What’s the story?
The following year we kick-started our Twitter activity by starting some online conversations with suppliers and close clients. We soon realised that we would have to start producing interesting content that was more than just product marketing to get ‘followers’ and people to ‘like’ us. And we would have to have separate Twitter accounts for key agency people and for key product areas as not everyone is interested in everything we do as told by one individual.
During 2012 we established a reasonable Twitter presence on our key UK areas of expertise and then moved on to posting items on LinkedIn to connect more directly with our national business and corporate contacts. Content remained a problem. Having new things to say every day was quite daunting, especially as most of the internal contributors had ‘real jobs’ to do as well. So we asked our team to fill in the gaps. Fran scoured the agency for new meetings and projects she could hang conversations on and we appointed another social media content handler, Sophie, full time, simply to keep up with the need to produce ‘stories’.
Get a plan
By the middle of 2013 we were refining our social media plan by having specific topics at specific times of the week/month and offering this service to our existing clients who, like us, were experimenting with the possibilities of social media which could be channelled for business and marketing use. We pushed out one story a week on both Facebook and LinkedIn plus up to three tweets a day on up to four separate product areas. In terms of the overall numbers we now have 547 Twitter followers and 91 ‘likes’ on the agency’s Facebook.
We then appointed a PR agency to help us place longer content stories into printed and online media which could then be talked about or linked with our ongoing online activity. One article could produce four or five ‘angles’ which could be recycled for the various media. By pure chance I had also published a long-planned book about ‘engagement’ at about this time. So we had up to 70,000 words on file to chop up and use across the various new media as well.
Compared with consumer-facing organisations the response numbers are tiny. But the point about digital media is the fact that you are carrying out personal ‘conversations’ with individuals not pumping out mass communications…so if your universe is small, so would be the number of your conversations.
John Fisher is the author of Strategic Brand Engagement, published by Kogan Page ISBN 978 0 7494 7013 5
Strategic Brand Engagement retails at £34.99/US$49.95
This is a sample from a chapter taken from the social media business guide, The Big Social Media Book. Available from Amazon.