Social Media – a tale of the pub, Donald Rumsfeld and the Mexican Wave…

Interesting to read PR Week today who suggest in their survey of 128 brands that only around 30% have embraced social media in their comms strategy as a core activity, which means that the vast majority of businesses in the UK are not evaluating social media. So what?

My own experience of social media from working in-house at Ferrari and before that at the motor industry trade association SMMT (the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders ) is that in both cases – firstly a high profile luxury brand, and secondly a multi-issue representative body – there is SO MUCH to listen to that it is virtually impossible to make sense of the deluge of information and so you can simply be drawn along in the tail of the hurricane unless you get lucky, or take a stance at the start.

If you’re in a relatively low-profile organisation and have the time/resource you can probably keep tabs by yourself I would suggest. In the same way as you can read the press cuttings, hear the podcasts and look at videos on-line, you’ll probably be able to take sense of what’s been said and manage things. You probably don’t need formal tools to do it.

But, if you are in a company that does have a profile, how do you know what’s happening in the world and who’s playing with your reputation? Remember Donald Rumsfeld and the Known Knowns..

Someone told me recently that Social Media is like the Pub. There are lots of conversations going on, some of them happy, some not. Some of them are about you, most not. Even when you’re not there the talk still goes on at the bar. Rumours start, some of them true, others are rubbish. Lots of chatter and you can’t listen to all of the conversations, so does it matter?

Well, if it’s only old Fred at the bar who happens to be talking you down, no-one takes any notice. If in fact it’s Jane who is shouting loudly at the bar and she happens to be the opinion leader in the village, then you’ve got a problem.

Unless someone tells you what’s going on, you’ll never know until you stop getting Christmas cards, or you’re not invited to the Village dance because your name is mud. How do you know who started it, and whether you want to have a word with them or can afford just to ignore it?

The analogy is that in social media, unless someone emails you with a link to something that has been said on-line, how do you know who is saying what? A Google search? Maybe. But then you have to read all 21,356,788 results and make up your own mind. Could be a long night!

We need the ability to listen to all the conversations, sort the important from the trivial and decide whether we just want to listen and follow the flow, or whether we need to take some action.

I have worked with Report International in the past for press cutting evaluation and it worked well on a global basis. (In fact I suggest you have a read of Mike Daniel’s blog today – well worth the time). I was able to see the trends, act accordingly and move the needle in the organisations where we used this tool.

Think of it like this. How does a Mexican Wave start in a football stadium? Someone convinces someone else and soon it happens – the crowd follows a leader. In traditional media, you know which areas of the stadium to look in (the titles of the media) and can keep your eyes on them. In social media you don’t know where it will start, who’s going to join in and where it will end up, and you can’t just engage directly with the people doing the waving!

Social media is so vast, so swift and the source of comment so unpredictable (and permanent)  that you need someone to guide you through the maze. I’m on that journey now, reviewing the tools available and working through the issues with some clients and would like to talk to you if you’re on the same path..what’s your experience and how do you make it work?

Anyone fancy a drink down the pub, I’ve heard that this social media thing is the next big thing and I bet old Fred has something to say about it…


About Al Clarke..

Al is the former Commercial & Brand Director of Ferrari GB, now a marketing and communications consultant and a director of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). He is working in this field with partners to bring together the experience of communications management and the latest software tools to enable his clients to make informed decisions about their brands. Interested to learn more about social media…if you’re in the motor industry join MIPAA


Comments 2

  1. Very good…interesting comments and view.

    So what is the difference between your blog, twitter, facebook, myspace you tube and your linked in account??? what about the different technology needed to access these apps, both mobile and static???

    With Facebook and all the other usual suspects, is it now not a bit late to jump on this bandwagon, should we not be heading in a different direction now?

  2. Thanks Peter Pan – all the various applications you mentioned are variants of the same channel. Take the analogy with traditional media, then perhaps Twitter is a postcard, LinkedIn is a memo or business card, Facebook your photo album or social diary and blogging is writing a letter or a book…

    I would say that it’s never too late to get started, the challenge is where to begin! It must be pretty confusing to jump straight in to social media today without a guide to help. Tools like Tweet Deck can help you keep track, but where do you start – and what are you trying to achieve by starting off?

    The business applications for social media, in my opinion, have yet to be fully explored, understood and the protocols established and whilst they are in this period of development, millions of people are using it and their views influence others in making choices about all kinds of things from politics to product choice.

    Seems to me that until a brand or organisation has a real understanding of what’s being said in these conversations that they’re ignoring a significant and growing part of their customer base.

    In the motor industry the world’s number two company General Motors has now devoted considerable resource in this area

    Social media is a free-form, open space. How you behave in it and what you do with the things you hear is another thing…!

    Do you use it in your business activity?

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