Social media – A fad or the future?
Tweet, wall, post, feed. Chances are, if you have been using the internet in the last few years these words will have a different meaning to you now than they did before, but is there something substantial beneath the jargon? The numbers would suggest yes. With 400 million Facebook users worldwide, spending an average of 55 minutes per day on the site, and an estimated 260 million Twitter users by the end of 2010 it would appear that social media sites are here to stay. In fact 17% of all online time is spent on social networks, which are seeing growth across all age ranges, but does that mean they are of any value to organisations or are they all dominated by celebrity gossip and chat about the iPad?
Erste Foundation, the first presenters, has been using social media for three main purposes. Communication – of projects and values, Interaction – with online audiences and developing networks and Positioning – of the foundation as a dynamic modern institute with a presence in the online field. They have used various platforms such as Twitter, Vimeo and Flickr but have mainly focused on their Facebook page – pages they emphasised are vastly superior to old style Facebook groups because messages that are posted are automatically included in followers’ feeds; they do not have to actively check back for updates.
Erste Foundation have a news section on their website which in order for it to be read they would traditionally have to rely on people going to them, by adding the content to Facebook and signposting back to their website Erste Foundation are able to be where the conversation is already taking place. Nobody spends 55 minutes a day on an organisations website but by having a presence on Facebook you can access a piece of this time.
This is really the crux of social media for organisations, conversation is already happening and these tools allow you to be part of that. They allow you to go to where people already are talking rather than the traditional method of trying to bring those people to you. A good example of this was shared by Filiz
Bikmen, Sabanci Foundation, with their ‘Turkey’s changemakers’ project. The project was for people to nominate individuals who were doing amazing work in their communities across Turkey, some would be chosen from these nominations and they would film a piece about them that would be aired on CNN Turk to promote civil society changemakers and inspire the audience. The viewing figures for this were, by their own admission, disappointing and so they uploaded the videos (with English subtitles) to their own website and on Facebook. The results were impressive, in 8 months they had 50,000 visits and 92,000 views of videos as well as 6500 fans on Facebook.
A project that started out as primarily a TV campaign using social media as support turned out to be much more of a social media project because by moving their project to a domain where the audience already were they could gain much wider exposure, leading to the campaign getting picked up by Hurrynet – a large news network in Turkey.
Daniel Ben Horin, TechSoupGlobal, spoke about how social media is not a tool in the traditional sense, one that helps us work faster, but it is something that changes the way people interact. He argued that social media levels the playing field in that anybody can be involved in the conversation and has the great advantage that you can make mistakes in this field and its ok – as long as you are transparent. Its supporters think it is a must for modern foundations but there is a huge disadvantage to being half in, organisations need to carefully plan their online strategy so that they can approach it with a full commitment. This planning will allow organisations to find their place in the social media world.
Daniel also described social media as a “24hr cocktail party” – you get to choose the guests, someone will always say something interesting but because everybody is at lots of parties at the same time many people can share in that excitement. I think you can expand on this analogy to guide your organisations actions within social media:
- If you were at a cocktail party and someone repeatedly asked you for money, you would soon stop talking to that person – social media has proved unsuccessful for direct fundraising but it can help to raise your profile and share your work.
- If you were at a cocktail party and you talked only about yourself, people would soon stop listening – social media shouldn’t be a form of press release, it is a conversation, an interaction between you and them – organisations should try and speak with a more personal tone.
- If you were at a cocktail party and people asked you questions and you ignored them, they would soon stop interacting – social media allows you the opportunity to listen to your audience, to find out what they think about you and about what they want and then respond in real time.
Use of social media has grown to such an extent that it should no longer be ignored or as the session title suggests be seen as a fad. It is not perfect; there is a staggering amount of nonsense shared on these platforms but just like in real life, you can chose who you listen to and who you don’t. I understand the reluctance of people to commit more time and resources to these platforms because they do seem to change so quickly (how many people are still using Friendster or even MySpace?) but if organisations view social media as primarily a listening device the cost in terms of both time and resources would be considerably less. Companies pay thousands of pounds in market research to see what people think of them, tools such as Twitter and Google Alerts allow you to get a sense of that absolutely free. Which NGO wouldn’t want to know what people think of their activities?
There will come a time when you will want to start speaking more, and this like any offline strategy should be carefully planned out, but I would urge any NGO that isn’t using social media to begin by simply listening. Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak, this is as true online as it is in real life.