By Nettie Boivin
Social media is here to stay and it’s about time you got on board. Sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr have become household names – all offering connections to like-minded communities creating user-generated content. The power that today’s Internet gives to consumers has rocked the foundation of 20th Century business models and is forcing companies to rethink how they communicate with the world around them.
Roger Martin, principal of Lansing-based Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, which represents hospitals, health plans and a major health insurance company, recently hired BrainGain Marketing to conduct a two-day social media training for his 11-person staff. He was prompted to explore how Michigan residents were using social media to discuss health care here after reading a report from the California HealthCare Foundation on Health 2.0. What he found surprised him.
“Once we determined there are about three times more blogs discussing health care in Michigan than there are daily newspapers in Michigan, we knew the future was upon us,” said Martin. “We recognized immediately that one-way communications no longer works as well, and dialogue, engagement and sincere conversation is the new paradigm. We also recognized that our clients now have the ability to target information to, and build relationships with, people in ways that have never been possible before. That’s precisely what effective PR is supposed to do.”
To boil it down, the fundamentals of social media are simple:
- Converse, don’t sell.
- Build relationships, not transactions.
- Listen, learn, and participate.
This paradigm shift was first well-defined within the Cluetrain Manifesto – as in “Get a clue or get left behind” – published online in 1999 and in the book in 2000, by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. The idea is that today’s Internet offers unprecedented means of communication between consumers and organizations. They’re leading the conversation and therefore driving the market. From the 95 theses set forth, here are five highlights you should take to heart.
No. 1 – Markets are conversations.
People are talking, they’re talking about your brand and they’re talking to other people about your brand. People’s opinions are more powerful than ever, making controlled messages obsolete.
No. 16 – Companies that speak in the language of “the pitch” are no longer speaking to anyone.
Your company must enter the conversation using a human voice rather than depend on disruptive advertising to speak to the consumer. If you choose to stay out of the conversation, you risk becoming irrelevant.
No. 26 – Public relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.
How often does your public relations strategies actually involve the public? Companies must be willing to give direct access to their key communities and constituents. Social media makes it possible to have a two-way conversation rather than depending on traditional media to deliver your messages.
No. 38 – Human communities are based on discourse – on human speech about human concerns.
You must speak with your key communities in a human voice about relevant topics. Companies that don’t belong to a community of discourse will die.
No. 72 – (Consumers) like this marketplace much better. In fact, they’re creating it.
Your consumers are leading the conversation. You’re invited to join in on the fun, but they can take you or leave you. So think about coming along with something more interesting to talk about than just how to make more money.
Once you begin to grasp the sea of change that’s occurred, you may be ready to begin exploring some social media tools, networks and strategies. We’ll cover those in upcoming posts. In the meantime, if you’d like to see more on the basics of social media, we suggest that you check out Social Media in Plain English by Common Craft or this list of 10 blogs on social media to begin reading now.
Nettie Boivin is the Media Mix Director for BrainGain Marketing, a social media marketing agency in Detroit working with companies to demystify the power of social media and integrate new online strategies into overall marketing and PR campaigns. For more insight, please visit BrainStorm, BrainGain’s blog on social media savvy.