My thoughts on digital AND technology, and how its creating opportunities and transforming service delivery in businesses and governments.

I focus on reputation management and development and service adoption in #fintech, #technology, #media, government and other sectors!

Social Media And The Consumer

“Be human, all this is still experimental” is how Media140 founder Ande Gregson summarised everybody’s expectations of Twitter and social media at the end of the Media140 Brands conference in London this week. And he is right.

A lot has been said about social media and how it is the saviour of all things marketing and communications. Yet, it is the saviour of nothing, or at least the saviour of nothing yet. What social media is though is a great concept that helps brands come alive. It gives brands the humanity that so many have lacked.

Robin Grant, managing Director of London agency We Are Social, captured this feeling perfectly when he said, “social media is making peoples experiences with brands transparent”. It gives consumers power, the power to choose. It is making brands work for their money and loyalty. In fact, as Grant pointed out, “social media is helping define a brand”. If a consumer has a bad experience with a brand at the drop of a tweet they can share this with their own community, who in sympathy might re-tweet it to their own followers.

This shift in power is starting to have an effect on business. Nuria Garrido, British Airways Digital Marketing Innovations Manager, commented “social media is good for companies that are born on the web. For us [at BA] it is complex to work to the same objectives. A lot of people do not understand internally the power of social media. The PR department, they are coming around. We do have them onside”. And that’s the issue. Internally, within many companies, social media is seen as something you do, you add on, just because it is still seen as the latest cool thing.

Getting social media understood and integrated into a business is a slow process. You have to have your facts, your case studies and your metrics to hand to get senior executives on board. And all this is available.

Some people might only accept social media if it can be used as an income generating tool. Others will see social media as a tool that allows their companies and brands to develop and enhance relationships. It is seen as a tool with which you can have a dialogue with consumers and thanks to this enhance the brand. Think about is, if you use it for the latter and a customer’s expectations haven’t been met then you are better positioned to react and by doing so, in the future, to promote other offerings.

Mel Exon from BBH Labs summed it up by saying that, “there is a move from short term campaigns to longer term conversational initiatives”. Relationships take time to be built and social media is a platform that will help brands with this. But there has to be buy-in from the top, from traditional marketers.

Twitter is human, it is a snap-shot of conversations that we are all having about brands that we have or want. To give you an example, we turned up at RIBA to blog and tweet from the event only to discover that while the wifi was working the net wasn’t. So we had to do as much as we could through our iPhone, not ideal but we managed. Anyway, we decided to share our complaint with @btcare – BT’s twitter account. It took them some time but just after lunch they subscribed to our feed and started posting updates on the problem. One of the best updates came at 14.29, and said, “We're investigating this issue and will update you in two hours #media140”. Then at 17.09 another update, “I can confirm that all is up and running. If there is anything else let me know”. Of course by the time I got this the conference had finished. But, credit where it is due, they contacted me and gave me an update. All this after letting them know that their service in London W1 amounted to a ‘FAIL’. So, if you have a complaint they will listen. Shame it came too late, but at least it showed that they are real-time.

There are a lot of dos and don’ts in social media. The main point for me being, as Daljit Dhurji from Diffusion PR said, “rules go out of the window. Most marketing directors are clever, when agencies are going in and be prescriptive you are not doing it right”.

What we need is common sense. We need to remember what we as people and consumers want. What we react to. And that is attention. We want to feel unique, special. George Nimeh from Iris summed it perfectly, “You listen first. And then you engage with them [the consumer]”.

Social media is a tool that goes across the company. It isn’t just for advertising, marketing, PR or customer care, it is for the company, the brand. It is a door for consumers into the brand, and that is the fear that directors have to deal with. How do you engage with customers who can now go public and share their opinions with their own network?

Social media is making consumers critics that brands must influence for their favour. That is the best way to put it, and business better wake up to this new world.

And to all those who say that it is a tool for the intelligentsia, think again. The number of people on Twitter, YouTube and other sites is rising. People who’ve in the past complained privately are learning to do so publicly. Not just that, but they are sharing their positive and negative experiences with their own networks.

Social media is about the now, it is real-time and as PRs that is what we should be ready for. Promoting and protecting brands now, today.

Media140 is doing a great job of championing social media, of making sense of social media for companies, of demystifying it so that companies can better communicate with people.  If you haven't been to an event yet then look them up.

BBC Democracy Live

Media140 and brands