Last night I visited a social media seminar organised by Ogilvy Sydney, and it was packed! Of course. Everybody is talking about social media today, and the need of “digital”. Digital media agencies are popping up like weed and it´s the new buzz words we all want to use to look cool... :)
But it´s not that mysterious really... It´s about being where people are – just as outdoors, print ads in newspapers and TVC´s are being where people are (or used to be).
The big difference is that on the digital channels, customers are talking back to you! And they have their own stage to present their views from!
People are through social media “advertisers” too, and you can never really be sure of what their copy will say about your brand. Good things? Bad things? Every tweet or Facebook update is a little “ad”, and there may be thousands of them – negative, positive, dull or interesting. They complain and demand a response; they chat to a brand as if it was a friend. It´s all very “messy” compared to the days when a brand simply bought room in media and could tell people what to do...
Agencies often get pitches where brands want us to come up with cool digital ideas (often an app or a game or a Facebook page), and sure, a brand has to have a presence. But more important than what you say, is that you keep an eye on what is going on from peer to peer. Use your ears and eyes more than your mouth.
A brand should do its normal “look at me” Facebook pages, contests, websites and YouTube channels where they do the traditional from above presenting - but the conversation that counts is born on a grass root level, not from above. It´s people saying “look at them”, not the brand standing on a stage, being in charge of the big spotlight, who are making the difference in the bottom lines of brands. Today everybody has a flash light, a channel, a voice. Today we all have Power. It´s market democracy where there used to be dictatorship.
One of the take outs from last night event was that it´s important to Listen to the consumer, but it seems like many brands have forgotten about this, and simply transferred their old campaign style to a new channel. Research from Maritz (September 2011) showed that 76% of people who complained on Twitter received no response from the brand (even if among those who were contacted, 83% liked or loved that the brand responded, and 85% were satisfied with the response). The brand that interacts with grace and charm on Linkedin, Pinterest or wherever people are having a conversation will survive in the jungle.
Why is brand responses so crucial? In the past people told their closest friends about their opinions and experiences, but with Facebook and Twitter we suddenly have “kitchen table conversations” with thousands of people from all over the world. Words are spread quickly. There might just be one single person saying something in less than 140 characters, but as psychological research and neuroscience is telling us, words passing by are quickly picked up by the subconscious and shaping our own views and even behaviour. Small words count. According to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, the brain is too lazy to check if the verdict from the blogger is true or not, it simply base its beliefs on whatever pops up on the screen. Our emotional brain doesn´t make calculations on what is true or not, it follows random thoughts it picks up on YouTube or a tweet and out of that it creates a story.
The seminar last night was sponsored by radian6, a tool that helps you follow the conversations out there. Sometimes I think the hype around this media channel is built up by a sci-fi style boy dream, where the guys see how technology can make them be big brothers and See Everything! The conversation about social media is extremely focused on technology and channels - very little about human behaviour.
Radian6 is a great tool, but it can´t see everything, because the most important platforms are closed. Most people have privacy settings on their Facebook pages that stop the snoopy brands from listening in, so brands can still not get in to all the kitchen tables to eavesdrop on the conversation. Another issue is that it will only be a certain type of people who want to air their thoughts and feelings in open forums online. It´s people like myself who are happy to spread words who will be heard. And who are we... attention seekers, trouble makers, geeks? People who exaggerate, critique and analyse more than others? Perhaps not representative... J
I still like Radian 6 and often recommend clients to get the tool, both to follow what´s said about brands, but also to get an idea of what words people are using, what arguments that bite, what feelings our brand evokes. It´s like a massive focus group in a weird way. It can´t replace proper research, and it can probably not be used for brands approaching baby boomers or laggards on the Bell curve, but a good strategist looks at people from all different angles. Social Media is one.
Social media IS important, and a digital strategist must know more than what channels should be in the mix. You still need a strategy on those channels, and a sense for people. You still need an understanding of the soft side of digital, and a mature eye for what is going on. Don´t let the youngest person in the office do the "data thingies" just because the CEO prefer to sell the old fashioned way. Don´t just employ someone fresh from uni who happen to like Facebook. Social media deserves better.