Connected: creating a social media movement


I “like” my Heineken on Facebook, my friend likes it too. I’m going to a secret music gig because I saw that three of my friends were going. I retweeted what Bob said about the All Blacks’ chances at the Rugby World Cup™.

Egypt

Social media has proved useful in countries where traditional media cannot be trusted – but it has its drawbacks

By Matthew O'Driscoll

 

Hold on a minute, where did that ™ come from?  While I’m at it, why am I promoting a product that’s owned by a corporation with seedy international business practices? And why am I doing the work of music industry executives by promoting their latest band.

I’m not sure many of us fall for ads that promise “single girls in your area” but the marketing side of social media certainly knows how to get a hold of us.

Corporations and their ad agencies invade our lives in every conceivable way and at all times of the day: bus shelters; TV and radio; billboards; buses; magazines; online.  The problem for them is that their messages are easy to spot, easy to ignore, and easy to filter out.

Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists,  by Michael Brower and Warren Leon, states that: “The average American is exposed to about 3000 advertising messages a day, and globally corporations spend over $620 billion each year to make their products seem desirable and to get us to buy them”.

So what’s a poor corporation to do if people are just filtering out their $620 billion outlay?  Simply change strategy.  This social media thing has managed to penetrate our home life, work life, and social life – it’s the new coke – so to speak.

Disguising advertising as off-the-cuff comments, fostering brand loyalty through simple “like” mechanisms and gaining customers with giveaways or special events that come to you word of mouth is about creating a social movement and why not? It worked for that Obama fellow.

Obama’s campaign, myBarackObama.com, set the standard.  Over 1.5 million volunteers and 3 million people donating $600 million in support.  Its success came on the back of one promise: you’ll get the inside scoop before the media.

Social media has also proved useful in countries where traditional media cannot be accessed or trusted.  Activists in Egypt used it as a tool for organising rallies and protests against President Mubarak’s regime.  Tunisia used social media to a similar effect. 

However anti-Assad activists in Syria have mixed feelings, with some coming to fear and distrust it as an effective tool.   At first the Syrian government blocked access to sites like Facebook but then, in what seemed an about-face, restored access at the same time as thousands of pro-Assad activists started appearing online – what a coincidence. 

The visibility of social media has also been a drawback with many commentators being found out and persecuted because of their views.  Bloggers in exile still use Twitter and Facebook to let the world know what’s happening but the internet still mysteriously becomes out of order when the Syrian government decides to do bad deeds.

Luckily we live in a country where the internet isn’t heavily moderated and where citizens have a right to voice their opinions.  It may be a while before we see a huge social media movement.  The closest we’ve come is when a few hundred revellers turned up to a party in Te Awamutu after receiving a text message. 

Having said that, both sides of the political spectrum have learned a lot about social media since the last election, so don’t be surprised when political parties come looking for a “like” instead of a traditional knock on your door.  Just make sure you’re aware of what they are asking before you get on board.

 

This article is from the September 2011 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.