In the aftermath of the Alan Jones debacle, there is a lot of chatter about the “threat” of social media. Or as Mr Jones himself put it, cyber-bulling. There are questions being asked about how social media should be “monitored” or “controlled”. There are warnings to businesses to set up social media steering committees and to be aware of the risks social media represents. Some bright spark even suggests insuring (seriously?) against social media risk.
Here is the problem – all of these descriptions and calls for action forget one, essential thing. Social media is not about “media”, it is about consumers finally having, and more importantly, exercising their power; power to influence others, power to change purchase behaviour and ultimately, therefore, power to impact brands where it hurts most – on the bottom line. Power, which for the longest time has sat almost entirely in the laps of brands and businesses.
For all that it is called “media”, “media” it is not. Media is what businesses have traditionally bought to sell their message to consumers. Media is a controlled environment through which brands have communicated and connected with their target market and built their personalities and profiles (and if we are being cynical, their facades).
Traditionally, media has been an entirely one way enterprise, with brands telling consumers how to feel, think and act. Social media, it seems to me anyway, is quite the opposite. Social media is about consumers telling brands what they think. And some brands (perhaps like the Alan Jones brand) are still finding that a little difficult to deal with. In fact, the very fact that we call this phenomenon “social media” may well contribute to the problem marketers have with getting their heads around how to engage with it.
The upside of social media is that it can be about a two-way conversation, with both parties listening to each other. Brands can participate in the discussion, and get their view across. Social media can provide instant feedback to brands on what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Social media, in fact, presents the first real opportunity to establish a “relationship” between your consumers and your brand. This is something brands have been claiming to be doing for years, but it’s always been on their own terms. The difference is, this is an equal relationship, where both parties have power, and it requires businesses to seriously rethink how the marketing game works. And that is proving difficult for some to do.
The easiest way to mitigate the risk of a social media backlash is to start listening to your consumers, deliver them good value products and customer service and start treating them with the respect that they deserve. Do that, and you might just find social media is your best friend.