NDTV’s recent debate on We the Tweeple, discussing how social media is changing human equations and our lives in general was an intriguing one. Politicians, film actors, activists and general public participating in the debate used adjectives like dangerous, empowering, confessional, and controversial – to describe this growing platform of communication.
I am an avid evangelist of the power of social media as a channel of communication for those of us wanting to engage an audience with a message. Increasingly as humans, our first stop for accessing news and views about a range of subjects is an FB post or a quick tweet and not the traditional BBC or local newspaper! In this age of the digital revolution where one is constantly on the go and dinner table conversations with friends and family become increasingly rare – the new social world available 24×7 at the click of a blackberry button provides a sense of community, sharing and one on one dialogue. Our friends and followers, irrespective of distance or age and the fact that we may have never met many of them – are our new support system and those we trust. The recommendations of these people influence the choices, decisions and opinions we make.
From the perspective of a marketing communications professional, the opportunity and strength of social media lies in its impact on consumer behaviour and the trust placed in the network. From the mobilisation of support for causes such as the Arab revolutions earlier this year, India’s fight against corruption or even the global launch of the latest new Iphone 4S, the conversations on Facebook, Twitter and other topical blogs have been key to creating awareness, sourcing crowds and influencing public opinion.
Having said that, as a strategic marcomms consultant, I have often thought twice about recommending this channel as a voice box to many. The key to success with social media lies in the quality of interaction with one’s audience. What we say in the virtual world is in public domain to be appreciated or trashed and we got to be prepared for unsuspected reactions. In this respect, the argument about being on social being dangerous and controversial holds true. Especially in context of corporate brands and organisations, this opportunity of building equity with a relevant audience through a two way conversation requires the courage and transparency of being open to naysayers and negative comments.
In the world of social media, the skill of being outspoken is as important as the ability to listen and provide a rapid response. Being unresponsive to a vent on twitter against your brand or worse still, deleting it from your Facebook profile (and yes I have experience of brands doing that!) defeats the fundamental concept of being social. Moreover, it possibly does more reputational damage than being completely invisible on the channel itself. The rules of the twitter world mean you learn to take criticism on the chin and come with a bit of a thick skin along with buckets of wit and humour. For the risk averse and those sensitive to every word spoken about them, this isn’t the medium to chase.