Social Media or Social Forum?

I’ve written in the past that marketers made a telling mistake by calling digital and the internet – “New Media”. By doing so they associated it with traditional one-way media such as print/TV etc. The internet is essentially a multi-dimensional exchange and probably its least effective use is as a medium for banner ads. The same people, in my view, are making the same mistake by calling Twitter and Facebook “Social Media”.

Twitter is a social forum, a big on-line conversation involving 100 million people and 65 million tweets a day (and counting – the new generation of mobile devices with Twitter as a main page app is going to make this explode). Of these Tweets 91% are people (yes – people, NOT ‘consumers’ another word that gets us into the wrong mindset). The balance comes from brands and just a tiny percentage – 0.4% – from celebrities. Celebrities are people too but the key difference, apart from their desire to make themselves a profitable brand, is that they reach, on average 300,000 followers, which is 1000 times more than the rest of us.

I have got all these stats from an excellent report by 360i published on the equally excellent Brandchannel. Definitely worth a download. Another telling stat from the report (completed in March 2010 so fairly up to date) is that 92% of all tweets are public so this is an on-line forum brands can and should tune in to. But that’s the point – people use Twitter to converse and air their views. Only 12% of the Tweets mention brands and most of these brands are technology, entertainment or other social networks. The rest are things like cars, cameras, music, restaurants – in other words brands that are a part of their lifestyle and interests. Not a lot are about Persil or Coke. Only 1% are engaging in conversations with brands which is hardly surprising since only 12% of brand tweets are conversational. The brands are talking AT them, not with them, just like they do in other ‘media’.

Here is how I think marketers and brands should think about social forums or networks. Imagine you are Coca Cola or Persil and you were sitting at a table in a pub or restaurant and on the table next to you were a big group of friends, talking loud enough for you to hear.  You would listen and learn but you would not interrupt unless there was a socially acceptable opportunity. For example one person complains that they have a stain in their favourite shirt they just can’t shift and have had to throw it away. Or someone complains that they think the draft Coke they are drinking always tastes watered down. You would pick your moment and you might say something like this:-

“Excuse me, I hope you don’t think I’m being rude but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. I am actually Persil or Coke and I’m really sorry you’ve had a problem but I think I might be able to help you”.

If they had not mentioned anything to do with you but you have gathered from who they are (by the way, quite hard to do with Twitter other than by inference) that they are people you’d like to talk to, you would take a different approach.

“Hi guys, sorry to interrupt but I’m from Coke and I just wanted to let you know we’re having a party you might like to come along to (for ‘party’ read anything you are actually doing that could be of interest to this group). Let me tell you about it and you tell me what you think”

You see the point I’m making – treat it like the social discourse it is. Don’t barge in, don’t talk at them, talk with them, be helpful, be relevant, be interesting.

And recognize that most of the time, they do not want you involved in their conversation. There is no socially acceptable moment to interrupt them and introduce yourself. That said we have to be careful with percentages. Based on 360i’s figures I reckon that even if it is only 1% of the 12% of tweets that mention brands other than technology/entertainment etc this is still close to 100,000 conversations a day you may be interested in and where the participants may be interested in you. That’s 3 million a month. How many people do you talk to in focus groups? How many effective messages from your very expensive conventional media actually get through? But please, just remember to be sociable. As 360i say in their report – Twitter is not a megaphone.

If you don’t have the patience for all of this then get hold of a few celebrities and get them to plug you but try not to make it too obvious.

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