Business MK Column - April 2013

Mon 29 Apr 2013

Not everything a little bird tells you is bad

Ah, to be young and carefree where you can act the fool and nobody takes you too seriously.  Until, that is you are chosen to be a “Youth” Police Commissioner in Kent when reporters take a close interest in your previous online musings. 

Paris Brown’s meteoric rise and equally rapid fall will be repeated many times over by many young people who apply for jobs and careers only to find potential employers digging up sufficient teenage misdemeanours to make them too much of a risk.  The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is already calling for social media understanding to be taught in schools and colleges and for careers advisors to be able to warn job seekers of the dangers.  However, not everything on social media is a giant elephant trap and today all business needs to take it seriously because it is not going away anytime soon.

Lots of companies get involved in promotions and to be successful they need, well, promoting.  Giving products or services away, three-for-twos and so on are part of a long-established tradition for attracting new custom.  Twitter and Facebook provide excellent launch pads for these.  A radio station gave away £250 every hour for a day to listeners successfully tweeting what was playing on their station.  The success of the campaign was illustrated by a seven per cent increase in listeners on the day – music to the ears of station managers and advertisers alike.  Similarly, Starbucks wanted to promote the launch of its double shot latte and used the same medium.  The company gave away 350,000 drinks on the day and were mentioned more than five million times in the process.

The English Cheesecake Company took the Facebook route.  They encouraged customers to like their various flavours, remarkably cheap and direct market research by having polls on favourite products and even encouraging their “friends” to buy through the site.  Thirty per cent of the company’s new customers now come to them via the site.

Does this mean that every businessperson in Milton Keynes should go home tonight and immediately throw themselves into setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts, spending hours of labour at their keyboard?  Well, not necessarily.  If a company wants a television or radio advertisement the managing director does not grab his camera phone and set to work in his or her garden shed.  As with all forms of marketing and promotion there are key skills and important areas of knowledge required to achieve the best results. 

Those of us old enough to remember the days when the sadly departed Teletext was the highest point of hi-tech advertising may not willingly recognise it, but social media is maturing and has its own subtleties and sophistications.  The earliest sites were set up nearly twenty years ago and are among the longest surviving and most evolved organisms on the internet.  What is crucial is that there should be complete buy-in from the very top of the organisation.  Using social media is something which has to be done wholeheartedly if it is to bear fruit.

If you are convinced that there is benefit for you in the digital arena there are a lot of people out there (your PR company for example, should you have one) who can offer you advice, discuss the possibilities and give a credible idea of the costs in terms of time and money and the results it is reasonable to expect.  Every successful business outsources something to individuals or other companies.  As long as the benefits outweigh the costs why would you not take on social media expertise?  There are two alternatives: remain a stranger to the digital world and take the risk being left behind or plunge in with both feet yourself to see if you can tame the technology dragon.  After all, Paris Brown wrote all her own Twitter and Facebook feeds.  What could possibly go wrong?

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