Social Media Blog Pic

Those of you who read Marketing magazine’s regular online updates (Marketing magazine, yes that’s right Marketing magazine, only a short walk from this cinema) will have read an article on research that it carried out, via Lightspeed Research that went under the title “consumers ‘don’t trust’ social network sites.”

Their findings reveal that only 33% of consumers trust social networking sites (to provide the detailed independent information they need to make purchasing decisions) compared to 68% who trust other online sources of information such as search, product review and price comparison sites.  The numbers for consumers not trusting social networking sites is 23% compared to 5% for other online sites.
On the surface, you can see what they’re getting at; do I really believe that my best mate has been having a wee for the past 14 weeks?  However, looking into the numbers in more detail (Jellyhaus digs deeper than Bruce Willis) they are a indication not only of what happens when you create an entity in the digital laboratory and then let it loose in cyberspace but also of some of the misunderstandings about social media that are probably going to cause more than a few business and marketing agencies some issues in the future.

We were at a rather good (not to be confused with rathergood – if you don’t like cake now, you will after you’ve seen the video below) conference last week, Socialmedia09, organized by Mashupevents.

It devoted a lot of programme time and speaker content to ‘Trends for Social Media in 2010’ as it’s not only a potentially very important issue commercially but also, due to the evolving and somewhat nebulous entity that is, a very difficult question to answer.  Like trying to staple jelly to a wall (answer for free: bloody hard.  How do you think we got our name?)

What we think is interesting is the somewhat naïve way in which businesses think that, by simply being on Twitter or having a Facebook page, they are somehow guaranteed commercial success and control over these online communities.

No doubt some marketing departments and agencies had an easy ride when social media marketing was in its innovators stage; it was a one-sided sell to convince the board “this will be big and I mean BIG – customers will be able to tweet about how great our product is”.  However, the converse is also true – if your offering or product is bad, customers will be able to tweet about that too.

The parallels with the early days of the web (ahhhh…remember Web1.0?) are similar; overwhelmed by the miasma of the TMT boom, everybody became – or at least knew a mate who was – a web designer and businesses queued up to get a website as they believed, in true Field of Dreams fashion, that if you had one, people would come.  Back then there was a genuine first mover advantage if you were the only business in your sector to have a website, even if it was in glorious 33k dial-up and took a season to download.  The argument now for being ‘on’ social media resonates with the same Field of Dreams belief but you are mistaken if you believe that simply being on social media is automatically a good thing and that your brand will be consumed by your loyal army of followers.

Social media doesn’t make a poor brand good but it can expose the wiring under the board or any flaws that user/consumers discover and now have a platform on which to air & share their views.  Going back to the earlier point, online communities, whilst created digitally, are made of up real individuals and group theory dictates that the larger a group becomes, the more difficult it becomes to control its behaviour and influence the views of its members.  You cannot create online communities and then not expect them to start to form their own opinions and act in ways that are at variance or even in contradiction with the brand or product that is their common interest or association.

As an individual, you may have thought you were the only one not to get how that product worked and so you didn’t ring up the customer helpline for fear of sounding ignorant.  However, that apparent ignorance is allayed by the fact that you can now merge into the group and use its collective voice to convey your views.

What does this all mean?

Well, firstly, going back to the research findings, there is no guarantee that focusing your marketing strategy on social media will bring you improved sales or customer perception – it’s even worse if your reliance on social media has been at the expense of other, existing channels that you’ve sacrificed.  Granted, social media is important and will become more so, as the entity created in the digital laboratory continues to grow and evolve with a resultant change in its characteristics and functions.  However, it isn’t about mutual exclusivity; we don’t often come down on one side at the expense of another here but we will in this instant:  it is not about A or B, with social media being the only right answer.  We’re reminded of the much heralded ‘new economy’ that was supposed to emerge through creative destruction through the disruption that was the TMT boom; as it turned out, it wasn’t about old economy vs new economy but about a different economy in the future.

Secondly, we started researching a trend back in December 2008 called Right to Reply.  It deals with the capacity of companies to respond to the TwitteRage that is the natural result of the herd instinct of a latent group when it alights on something of ‘interest’.  If you’ve read this far, then we’ll share our view for the trend in social media in 2010 (the hint was in the opening image by the way); it isn’t about whether Twitter becomes worth more than the GDP of Peru but about companies & organisations becoming more visible on social media (the announcement earlier this month of the tie-up between Twitter and LinkedIn is a perfect example) and then using it as a right to reply.

To quote Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter; “the business use case of Twitter is turning out to be very important”; what we may see is that importance being perhaps a little less benign than we all thought.