BUSINESS TRENDS: Social Media – When context is king

Social media appears to be becoming all-pervasive. Alongside the now ubiquitous YouTube (a clip of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent had had some 54 million views at the time of writing) and Facebook, there are also the business networking sites LinkedIn and Plaxo, photo-sharing site Flickr and now, of course, Twitter.
This micro-blogging tool, where users answer the question: “What are you doing?” has had exponential growth and according to some pundits has over six million users. One of the “twitteratri”, actor Ashton Kutcher, has more than 1.6 million followers, with Oprah Winfrey also recently joining the fray.
But it is immensely difficult for business managers to know what it all means and, more particularly, what they should be doing about it.
The issue here is that it is all fast-moving feast, already the first movers on Twitter are claiming it has become too mainstream according to the New York Times, and what is hot today may not be tomorrow. Internationally business is also grappling with these emerging marketing channels, examining how management can put these trends to work in their organisations and, importantly, ensure some return on investment.
A bloggers summit, held as part of the massive ITB Berlin trade show during March (see box story “What is ITB Berlin?”), helped put the phenomenon in perspective.
One workshop saw panel of online bloggers and experts choose the top three social media trends they believe companies need to prioritise in their 2009 sales and marketing plans.
One of the panellists, Martin Schobert, the CIO of the Austrian National Tourism Office (the Austrian equivalent of Tourism New Zealand), summed up much of the thinking by noting that in the social media arena it is not so much content that is important, but that context is king. Social media, he said, means “the right content at the right time to the
right person”.
The workshop’s panel also came through loud and clear that buy-in from the very top of an organisation was critical if business was to use this new, but time-consuming, marketing tool. They concluded that the social media trends to watch out for won’t so much be around applications or programmes but around mind-sets of businesses aiming to find new, valuable and engaged audience through sites like Twitter.
Each panellist was asked to name their three top trends and these were then drilled down to final top four trends. Panellists variously highlighted the rise of PR on social media sites; “crowd sourcing”; the concept of “hyper local” news; “feedback 2.0” – an area many businesses have not yet learned to deal with; “maps” as the new interface; and, integrated video.
One noted that companies are paying more attention to the “social media guy” in the business – the person who does the blogs and tweets – saying this person needs to be authentic, honest and passionate about the work.
The four social media trends for 2009 as determined by the panel are:
1 change in philosophy from the top of an organisation recognising the importance of social media.
2 Organisations will have social media specialists in the company.
3 Public relations will be using more social media channels.
4 Twitter.
So how would company apply them in its business?
While for many CEOs social media is not yet on the radar, Schobert noted that social media means fundamental change around the conversations that take place – it is now going to hundreds of thousands of people. It is dialogue instead of the company broadcasting its message. And that message needs to be authentic and of relevance to the audience.

What is ITB Berlin?

ITB Berlin bills itself as the “world’s leading platform for the international travel industry”. And with good reason. This year, some 11,098 travel companies from 187 different countries gathered at the giant Messe Berlin exhibition halls attracting some 110,800 trade buyers looking for tourism products they could on-sell to the travelling public.

Annie Gray is the publisher of Tourism Business Magazine, bi-monthly magazine for the owners and operators of tourism businesses in NZ. www.tourismbusinessmag.co.nz. She attended ITB Berlin courtesy of Messe Berlin.

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