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Seriously, why bother using social networks?

Seriously, why bother using social networks? Angela Natividad
There was a great deal going on at the ad:tech London conference last week, and I acted as resident Tweeter during the two days. Kicking us off was Blue State Digital's Thomas Gensemer, the social media legend who rehashed the Obama campaign. Why did it affect so many the way it did and what made it viral? The silver bullet lay in telling a good story and ensuring it was retellable across multiple platforms.
This answer yielded another question: 'Do brands really need to be on all platforms? Even the hype-ridden ones, like Twitter?'
According to the panellists behind 'Evolving Agency Models', Twitter has yet to demonstrate its value, either qualitative or quantitative, to the brands that use it.
In the U.S., Twitter has shown its merits as a powerful customer relationship management tool. Companies like Adobe, Dell, Amazon, Google, Yahoo and Zappos urge employees to Twitter frequently, if with caution, to ingratiate a brand with a user and rapidly serve those with specific needs or grievances.
ad:tech's Event Director of Technology, Christophe Asselin, explained that Europeans generally prefer to wait for a technological innovation to demonstrate its muster before trying it. In contrast, Americans embrace a new capability quickly, learning its pros and cons as they go, but submerging the findings in a big cloud of hype.
The fog around Twitter hasn't cleared, but where ad:tech London is concerned, implementation's begun. During ad:tech London I live-tweeted major sessions on a projector behind the speakers and panellists, with the aim of sparking both debate and engagement. I also got to play 'webjay': running searches for videos or campaigns as they were mentioned, then broadcasting them for attendees.
If, for the majority of attendees, the verdict's still out on the human value of social media, they at least got a sense of how it can enliven a sleepy means of conveying information.
Day Two of ad:tech London opened with futurist Ian Pearson, a fascinating character who imagines a world where a chip tells you in advance whether people that meet your romantic preferences -- and are dying to sleep with you -- are at the party you plan to attend. With help from augmented reality technology, he also thinks tomorrow's brick-and-mortar retail experiences will vary by individual, much the way 'smart' websites and search engines make it possible for online experiences to vary by user.
Then he turned an unexpected corner. Once PCs get smarter than people (by 2020, Pearson surmises), there'll only be one way to demonstrate your relevance: showing your intrapersonal and emotional savvy. He observes that this realm has long belonged to women. But once intuition becomes the new currency, self-confessed 'blokes' are going to have to get in touch with their, well, touchier sides.
That tomorrow may fall under the jurisdiction of The Fairer Sex became an unintended theme for the rest of the day!
Later, Chris Sanderson of The Future Laboratory observed that innovations in technology are primarily consumer-driven: how do product A and product B ease the average consumer's daily life? Will quotidian tasks be easier if A and B are combined (credit cards to mobile phones, for example)?
Women, he proclaimed, will be driving most of this change. We're entering what Sanderson calls 'the female century.' Not only are they appearing in more executive positions but they're also redefining online experiences, specifically because of all that stuff Pearson was talking about.
Social media is about engaging users on a personal level and driving collaboration -- two things women are credited for knowing something about. Over the 'net, they've managed to carve lucrative niches out of these skills: consider insider newsletters like The Daily Candy, or mommy bloggers, some of whom are among advertisers' most sought-after persuaders. In a digital space shaped by women, the business and social norms we operate under -- standards defined by men -- will have to be rewritten 'because the language changes,' Sanderson explained.
But it isn't just women reshaping the future. Empowered by media tools that broaden their spheres of influence, Gen-Y is rapidly redefining the bigger social picture. Our obsession with climate change is altering the civics of tomorrow by forcing enterprises -- like WalMart and auto firms -- to change how they do business.
We're looking at more graceful integrations between online and offline. Whatever side of the world you're on, we can all agree that today is, at best, a rough experimental stage. The lust for transparency embedded in social media mean brands must work extra hard to be loved. That doesn't mean they can't be. Alex Hunter of Virgin, another keynote speaker, admitted he's fanatically loyal to Diet Coke.
This just means that now you have to be more than just a pretty logo. People want to know how you treat employees, where your products are made, what you're putting in their drinks. These are important questions. And given that agencies have spent generations contriving irrational emotional connections between users and products, they are fair questions to ask, especially now that people have the means.
People aren't 100 per cent digital -- a lot of our lives are still spent at bus stops, in waiting rooms or out in parks, tossing balls. Consider where digital fits into the lives of your users, then move forward from there.
All the changes surrounding our space are scary, but the future in general holds promise: it's more colourful, more collaborative and more the lovechild of many willing hands. Do your clients right, they'll do right by you -- that's part of what it is to be a mash-up global village.
That's a thought worth having when the legal team is standing in front of you, dithering about what'll happen if your feeble dip in the social media pond goes awry.
Angela Natividad is the editor at Adrants and was resident Tweeter for ad:tech London.

Angela Natividad is a compulsive communicator with insights on advertising, technology and life. From humble beginnings as a marketing director for DriversEd.com, she's spent the last handful of years serving CMSWire, MarketingVOX and Adrants in the...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Angela Natividad

2009, October 06

*their. Sorry, I should really proof my comments before posting. =P

Commenter: Angela Natividad

2009, October 06


I honestly think it's no longer sufficient to merely push a message to users. I'd suggest the brand in question conduct a serious evaluation of how it's being discussed across multiple social networks, then find a way to incorporate itself naturally in the conversations already happening there.

One of the best ways to measure the impact of social media is to consider existing user sentiment of your company as a starting point. And after strategically reaching out to them and addressing whatever needs aren't being met on those conversation points, evaluate whether sentiment has changed.

There are third-party tools and agencies to help do this; Nielsen, for example, comes to mind. But an old-fashioned search for your brand on search.twitter.com might just do the trick.

The scary thing about Twitter, at least in the States, is that when users complain about bad service experience or a disappointing product, they expect to be addressed just for having complained in a public place -- almost as if they're minds are being read. It's something worth considering: what's the cost of not participating?


Commenter: Eric Melchor

2009, October 06

Great post Angela! As an online marketing analyst, I have a hard time determining the impact of social media since not all tweets are the same like GRPs or display impressions. If a company could spend 3X more than its closest competitor on traditional media outlets, but doesn't use social communication in its strategy, should they be worried?