Is 2011 the Year of Social Media?
Two Ways We Know Social Media is Here to Stay
When it comes to the media, it takes a lot to really amaze me. It’s not that I’m a cynic. It’s just that I’ve been professionally involved with the media for over 21 years and I’ve seen its evolution. I’ve lived through the days when press releases were Xeroxed and sent in the mail with a postage stamp, through the times when the fax machine was king and finally into the age of the email blast through an electronic database. And while I’ve marveled at these technological advances that increased a PR professional’s speed and reach, none of them really floored me.
Never have I seen a media tool so broad in its scope, so personal in its reach and so effective in its use as Social Media. It’s so powerful that I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like it before and doubt I will see anything as influential in our lifetimes.
Let me offer two examples to demonstrate this point and then we can look at its impact on your own marketing and promotion.
Occupy Wall Street – It really doesn’t matter where you fall with regard to the politics behind the OWS movement. My only reason for bringing it up is to demonstrate the massive influence they’ve had over an incredibly short period of time because of their use of Social Media. When the demonstrations in New York began on September 17 with 1,000 protestors in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district – spurred by an email campaign by the Canadian non-profit advocacy group AdBusters – the movement was ignored by the mainstream media. Not even The New York Times (considered the local newspaper for the island of Manhattan) bothered to write about the movement. Then, a Facebook page and a Twitter account were established, leading to the creation of a Web site. Soon after, the group published a manifesto of sorts and through their Social Media network, sent out a call to action for those around the world who shared their views to stand up and be counted through demonstrations. According to the Columbia Journalism Review’s New Frontier Database, the team, while unofficial, runs Web sites like Occupytogether.org, and video live-stream a “steady flow of updates on Twitter and Tumblr,” as well as Skype sessions with other demonstrators. Their reach has gone international, generating reactions from leaders and citizens of countries like Canada, Brazil, China, Greece, India, North Korea, Poland, Russia, The United Kingdom, Vatican City, Venezuela and others. They have no spokesperson and no leader doing the TV talk shows, but instead use Social Media to proliferate their cause. If they had a head of marketing, I’d mortgage the house to hire him or her.
Bank of America Debit Card Fees – I doubt Molly Katchpole ever thought her complaint would get so far. The 22-year-old recent graduate of Roger Williams University is credited with getting Bank of America to back down off its plans to charge customers $5 per month for the privilege of using a debit card. How did she do it? Social Media my friends.
She posted a petition on Change.org demanding that Bank of America keep their hands out of her purse and the purses of their millions of customers. Change.org is a Web site that allows people to solicit signatures via the Social Media universe. Well, her petition gained so much traction that the site took over from there, soliciting more signatures and reaching out to the mainstream media on her behalf. She told her story on TV talk shows, coming off as courageous and smart and, well, just like millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck who can’t really afford another $60 per year for something they had been using for free all along.
The end result of the campaign was Bank of America playing a pummeled Goliath to Molly’s triumphant David, and canceling their plans to charge the fees. When you think about it, Molly did them a favor. Based on the overwhelming response of more than 306,000 signatures, Bank of America avoided a massive disaster. It doesn’t take a genius to predict what happens to a company’s stock price when they very publicly lose 300,000 customers in a month or so.
“Clearly, the success of her campaign is a victory for Social Media and a demonstration of its power to get the masses involved in a cause,” said Yvette Kantrow, managing editor of the Daily Deal.
I couldn’t agree with her more.
At what point in American history can you point to 1,000 people demonstrating in a public park in New York, and a few days later a message is generated from a world leader, like Polish President Lech Walesa, in support of their efforts? At what point in time can you remember when a 22-year-old posted a complaint on a Web site that caused a billion-dollar world banking power – with 57 million customers – to eliminate a potential annual revenue stream of about $3.4 billion?
It has never happened, but with the impact of Social Media, you can pretty much count on it happening again and again.
Now, let’s bring all this back to you. Many of you already have the same tools these people had – a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a Web site and an Internet connection. The issue is how Social Media can help you proliferate your message. Actually, the question is how can it not? Social Media is the perfect marriage of one-to-one and mass communication. Its tactics and tone are personal, while its scope and reach are massive.
If you’re already working on a Social Media campaign right now, don’t stop. But, if you’re not, it’s way past the time for you to get going. To those who are still on the sidelines waiting for some kind of signpost that decisively demonstrates why the time and effort in Social Media is worth it, my advice is to look behind you. Truly that stake was in the ground 100 miles ago.