Are You Ready to Drink the Social Media Kool-Aid?

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A while back a friend of mine got a job with one of the largest and most recognisable brands in the world. He announced it in a simple tweet:

‘I drank the Kool-Aid and I loved it’.

His message sparked a realisation in me and my approach to social media. I’d worked for many years in media monitoring, primarily focussed on press and broadcast, and I’d seen the shift towards social media sweeping across the media and communications landscape. The time had come for me to follow suit. I immersed myself into social, taking in all I could, reading through hundreds of blogs per week. And the more I got into it, the more it felt like a perfect match for me. In my own way, I drank the social media Kool-Aid. And just like my friend, I loved it.

Coming from that perspective, seeing the shift in traditional media process, I was also acutely aware of the resistance of those still hesitant to move into social, still unsure it would form a significant part of their future planning. ‘MySpace faded, why do you think Facebook won’t?’ ‘Latest numbers show teens are turning away from Facebook, it’s on the way out’. ‘Twitter doesn’t make any sense as a business tool – what can you say in 140 characters?’ I know these arguments, I remember thinking them myself, but the points in favour of social media are becoming more compelling every day, and unless you’re paying attention, you won’t even know it. So give me a second here to go through some of these mis-understandings, a moment to try and talk you round to my way of thinking. I’ve got a fresh batch of Kool-Aid right here, just stay one second and let me get you a cup. One second. Okay. Here we go:

1. Social media is populated by teenagers talking about Justin Beiber and people posting photos of themselves and their pouting faces – there’s nothing there for us. The foreboding sentiment from many traditional business types is that there’s little value in social media, that its kids, that you can’t make real business connections. That perception is totally incorrect. Yes, there are a lot of people talking about pop-stars and sending out pouting, squinting self-portraits, but there’s more than 645 million active Twitter users, with 135,000 more signing up every day. There’s more than 1.3 billion active Facebook users who spend 18 minutes logged on per visit. 77% of Fortune 500 companies have active Twitter accounts. 58 million tweets go out every day. Are you really sure that with the amount of information being shared, day-in and day-out, that there’s nothing of any relevance for your business being discussed? I’ll help you out with this – there definitely is. Having come from media monitoring, I know the value brands place on listening, how much they’re willing to pay to be aware of conversations around their businesses. Those conversations traditionally came from talkback radio and newspaper discussions, but now they’re extending to social media platforms – and they’re happening right now. The information available on social media is extremely valuable, it’s worth every brand setting up keyword monitoring and checking it out, just to see what’s out there. Because here’s the thing – more and more business relationships are forming on social platforms. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s ‘when’ your brand will get involved. The sooner you start investigating, the better.

2. Teenagers are turning their backs on Facebook, it’s only a matter of time before… Yeah, I’ve heard this before. The thing with that data, the numbers that showed teens were turning away from Facebook, is that that doesn’t mean the end of social media. Twitter’s numbers, too, are starting to plateau according to latest stats – an announcement which triggered bouts of heavy nodding from those who always knew it was all gonna’ come to an end. But that’s not the whole story. What the numbers really showed was that teens are migrating, moving away from the prying eyes of their elders who are also adopting those best known platforms. Once their aunts and uncles start signing up, they have to censor themselves – they can’t talk about the guy they like at school or the party they went to at the weekend (Cliff Watson wrote an excellent pieceon this over at Medium). So they shift to other platforms, networks the adults haven’t cottoned onto yet. When the adults move to them, they’ll migrate to something else. Does that mean the majors will die out? No, they have extremely strong communities, people who have integrated their very functionality into their everyday lives. There is always the risk, too, that platform changes will turn people away (like Facebook’s unpopular NewsFeed upgrades) but users aren’t going to just switch off and start using their phone for traditional telecommunications purposes again, they’ll just move on to the next social platform.

There’s an old saying: ‘Change what you can, accept what you can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference’. Social media is here to stay, you can’t change that. The best thing to do is accept it, learn it, incorporate it into your systems. It takes some time, it takes some guidance, but it really is worth the effort, for now and into the future.

3. It takes too much time – we barely have enough time to do what we need to now, we don’t have the resources to learn all the platforms and send out regular posts. This is the biggest barrier for a lot of businesses. Some acknowledge that there is value in social media, but they simply don’t have the time to do it, to undertake the necessary research needed to best utilise the medium. There is, of course, no definitive answer for this, no one knows your time constraints better than you. But the best starting point is monitoring, listening in to what’s happening. It’s worth setting up keyword monitoring for all businesses, just to know, just to get an idea of what’s being discussed within your industry, your town, what’s being said about your brand specifically. Seeing this for yourself will help answer many questions you have, give you an understanding of what value there is for your business in social media. As a starting point, this is the best place, the way to get the best insight into what’s possible. Seeing the conversations will either confirm your suspicions about it’s lack of value or open your mind to the possibilities. An advisor will be able to set this up relatively easily, give you a rundown of what to do. One hundred and thirty-five thousand new users sign up every day. Facebook recently turned 10, that means teenagers on the cusp of adulthood have been using social media as long as they can remember – it’s as much a part of their daily lives as the internet is a part of yours. It’s only going to become more integrated into how we communicate. The expectation will be that you’re listening, at the least.

These are some of the most compelling reasons why all businesses need to be considering how they can use social media. Yes, it takes time, but your target consumers are growing to expect you to be listening. Social media is how they communicate, how they chat to their friends. It’s not the phone anymore, it’s not SMS – social media is where people connect. And as more businesses connect with them on those platforms, more expectation is built around what they expect from other brands. You need to hear them. You need to start. You’re holding the cup in your hand, now take a drink. How’s that Kool-Aid taste?

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