How to make the most of the social media class system

Social media is the darling of the communications mix but we must be careful of not using social for the sake of it by ensuring that everybody’s voice is heard, no matter how it is communicated. By Amanda Moulson, Miniushka Hughes, and Tinni Guha Roy at Emanate PR.

Social media has helped inspire political revolution and social reform, and of course, it’s allowed us to share more cat videos than we ever imagined possible. Social media enables democracy and freedom of speech. Or does it?

It’s a myopic view. Delve a little deeper and view it globally, and we start to realise that this isn’t necessarily the case. Around 60% of the world’s population do not have access to the internet. In fact, as the years have passed and social media has taken on a life of its own, we would argue that the internet has given rise to its own emerging class system.

Think about it. Outside of the Western world – connectivity, access and mobile technology are dependent on financial wealth and social media fluency. Similarly, inventions of the modern economy – Google, Amazon, Facebook and the iPhone – broadly improve the lives of middle-class consumers, while TED Talks make the smart feel smarter and more convinced they have joined an online intellectual elite.

Let’s also consider the monetisation of social media where, increasingly, we are seeing paid and promoted content often rising above merit-based content. It is basically the internet’s equivalent of an open casting call. Sure, you can all show up and give it a try (provided you have access), but if you haven’t spent time and money honing your craft, you are not going to get very far.

What does this mean for global brands?

Ever since we communicators caught on to the fact that social media, or simply ‘social,’ was an effective tool in reaching (some) people, it has fast become the darling of the communications mix. There’s no denying that social works a treat for many brands, particularly consumer ones, but we must be careful of not doing social for the sake of social. Brands, particularly those with a global footprint, must ensure that everybody’s voice is heard.

Below are principles that Emanate encourages brands to follow in this brave, democratic world that we hope social will foster.

Invite everyone to the table

We communicators are a mostly fortunate group of birds of a feather – and my, do we flock together. The next time you look around a conference room, notice how similar everyone looks, dresses, thinks, spends and communicates. Lucky for us, our briefs often mandate that we programme for ‘people like us’ for the very reason that we are educated, affluent and engaged with brands. But how many opportunities are we missing? How many points of view are we neglecting?

Social media communications is on the increase but do not ignore traditional channels that could work better

At Emanate, we believe the best ideas come from any geography, hierarchy or typology and can be executed in any medium. That is one reason why we are proud to support Commercial Break
– an organisation that gives young people (regardless of education, qualifications, background or experience) a chance to kick start their creative careers by working on real-life client briefs with us. It doesn’t just make our agency better, it makes our industry better. When a client asked us to produce fresh work that connected with urban youth, we nailed the brief with ideas from young creative minds who spoke the same language.

Understand before being understood

It sounds simple but brands, and communication teams, are often tempted to start a fairly one-way dialogue of boasts and claims. While selling ourselves is our job, we need to do it by working the relevant levers with audiences who are most receptive, because their values, which drive their content and commercial needs, are aligned with the brand.

This means we have to ask questions all the time. We use research, analytics and testing (and intuitive human gut feel) to find the levers to pull to start an authentic two-way dialogue that grows into an ongoing and open conversation.

Go grassroots

Asking questions also reveals answers about channels, and yes, sometimes the best channel for your target is social media. However, it is not necessarily the default – nor should it be. For example, ‘silver surfer’ or not, a person aged 65 or over searching for health insurance is more likely to choose a policy based on the context provided in an article in SAGA than a positive tweet.

Our world may be increasingly social, but sometimes, good ‘old-fashioned’ traditional media channels will do the trick – so do not ignore print, TV and radio. In fact, don’t ignore anything. A t-shirt can be a message and so can a serviette. Experiential allows for broad and open participation. Community newsletters, signage at a health centre or a wall with graffiti – depending on your target – can all have the power of social.

Remember that all who tweet (or Facebook or Instagram, etc) are created equally.

For brands that are active on social, we must be fair to all, replying not only to champions but to critics, the most influential to those with single digit Klout scores, to celebrities and ‘civilians’ and above all, to those who paid to promote a complaint as well as those who meekly post just looking for genuine help.

We use a hands-on training tool called Canary that can help marketers reply democratically and diplomatically to any honest critic (other than a troll), despite his or her level of social savvy or spend. It also enables you to stress test any social strategies related to issues management.

Be humane

We are not target audiences, likes, retweets or engagement metrics. We are humans. So talk like one. Storytelling is an art and an article all to itself, but one thing is for sure – stories most often shared are based on relatable emotions, archetypes and fundamental truths or insights, regardless of medium.

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