It is long been a role of educational establishments in the UK, to lead the way in topical discussion and debate. For a college with a sharp focus on all things career driven and business related, it was appropriate to celebrate the start of Business Management Week; that leading academics and professionals from GSM London, met with figures from the world of business and public service. Their purpose was to discuss a topic that epitomises the excitement, emotion, speed and trivia of modern living. I am referring of course to the phenomenon of social media.
The group hosted by Andrew Falconer, Director of Careers & Employability at GSM boasted a fine pedigree of both knowledge and achievement. Joining leading GSM academics Baba Sheba and Zach Thompson, were social media marketing guru and start up entrepreneur Abhi Patel, Digital Marketing lead at the Careers Group University of London Lakshmi Hughes, International Marketing manager from IBM Jake Brown, and Michael Ambjorn who combines being a leading social media advocate with his role as Vice Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators.
Right now it seems that whatever topic or theme, be it as deadly as the prospect of an Ebola epidemic or as trivial as the latest rumour from X Factor, any resulting war of words is conducted online accessed by millions. Furthermore, it is then frequently condensed into 140 character bite size chunks. All present were quick to agree that this is a world completely unrecognisable from just a few years ago.
With this in mind it seemed prudent to take the opportunity to pause and consider the topic of social media in a more considered and rational way. The group assembled chose to consider the contribution and effect of social media from a number of perspectives. First up was its impact on the approach of the construction of marketing techniques and campaigns.
The Power to Persuade
Abhi Patel is one of a new breed of marketing professionals focused on utilising social media channels for brand awareness and demand generation; Jake Brown on the other hand is veteran of more campaigns than he cares to remember. Together they represent both sides of the classic marketing equation. Abhi for agencies: Jake for the client.
Jake was keen to point out that social media allows vendors to understand how clients are reacting in “real time” to campaigns and news items. For IBM it is vital is to know who is about to buy. He pointed out that research has shown in the vast majority of cases “buyer journeys are 70% complete before a vendor is aware”.
From the agency perspective Abhi highlighted an issue that is common for all agencies when using a (relatively) new channel of communication with a prospective audience; namely how do you prove that a client is getting value for money? After all “Return on Investment” (ROI) is the nirvana of all marketing professionals.
The conclusion from a lively exchange, is that this is still very much an art rather than a science, and the professional or academic who can create a reliable and trusted way of quantifying ROI will make a great deal of money indeed!
Social Media Marketing – Hits and Misses
Unlike more traditional tactics the reaction to social media campaigns can sometimes have very unpredictable and unintended results. The tables can be turned by the sharp wits of individuals; or rivals, and occasionally campaigns can become public relations disasters. Michael Ambjorn, who has followed the rise of social media from its earliest days, reminded the group of a campaign run by NYPD in April 2014. In a campaign designed to connect with the public, NYPD invited the community to post pictures of themselves interacting with New York’s finest, complete with the hashtag #myNYPD. But instead of happy cops posing with the public and tourists, what they got was a twitter thread flooded with pictures of moments that the NYPD would rather forget. Ouch!
Clearly managing your image on social media is trickier, than at first it might appear to be.
Perhaps the trick is to execute the campaign on a more traditional platform; for example television, and then try and use social media to boost its popularity to achieve “viral” status. One of the best and earliest exponents of this technique was Cadburys Diary Milk. In 2007 (yes really!) their drum playing Gorilla advert achieved internet fame with millions of hits via YouTube. Interestingly no reference was made to the product until the very final frames of the advert. Millions actively sought out the advertising footage to play and replay. They followed up this success with my own personal favourite the Cadburys eyebrow advert. Genius!
So is Social Media really marketing nirvana?
One thought is that social media is just another spin off from the internet; one that generally makes a positive and largely harmless impact on society. Not everyone holds this view.
Clay Shirky, author of “Here comes everybody: The Power of Organising, Without Organisations” famously stated “Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society; they are a challenge to it.” He is not alone in expressing his concern.
The attitude of some very high profile names in the business world has also been surprisingly ambivalent. Baba Sheba highlighted the stance of Apple who so often can be found at the forefront of new technologies and trends. Although products such as iTunes have their own Twitter account and Facebook pages the company has not really been a fan. Rather it would prefer to let its customers speak on its behalf.
This made me stop and think. For in among all the noise and ceaseless chatter generated by social media tools, it turns out that just by listening to your customers, you can build on momentum, or act swiftly to restore customer confidence when required.
So maybe nothing changes after all.
To listen before you speak, is a cornerstone of good customer service, and using social media to do that, might just be the smartest piece of social media marketing of all.
(In part two of “Of Management Media and Minds – John Liberty will blog on further musings from the gathered group of GSM academics and business, and public sector experts. In the next post we will examine the opportunities that Social media offers for new careers and how it continues change our everyday behaviour.)