I write this from a whisky pub in a remote location in the Scottish Highlands.The chalk board signs across the bar tempt locals and travelers with live music acts, entice the hungry and cold with steamy hot broths and soups, taunt the strongest with some brain teasing riddles, and attempt to befuddle all with a baffling array of finest malt whisky and real ale.
But, in the middle, there hangs a large sign, with a single message three times the size of the rest. “Find us on Facebook.”
The long arm of social media
Social media has become the bastion of modern day communications. It has circumnavigated time and place, allowing people to share and exchange ideas across incredible distances in mere moments. It has enabled everyday people to shoot to fame as revolutionaries, journalists and experts. Some are ‘trained’ in the professions for which they gain social media notoriety, others are not; many have merely expressed an opinion for which they feel passion.
Image courtesy of Yoel Ben-Avraham, Flickr
The strength of their voice and beliefs have set new trends or given more immediate traction to new burgeoning ideals. Their follower base and network of influence can reach levels that match and often exceed that achieved from traditional advertising prowess.
Adapting to a real-time flux in information
For a little while now many businesses have acknowledged and understood this new face of influence. They have:
- clambered to understand the impact social influence can have on their business, having seen or learnt the lessons it can impart on shaping and defining corporate reputations.
- re-directed the development of customer service driven by the immediacy of and exposure to social media conversation.
- plunged resources into influencer mapping and outreach, which when done credibly can enhance the authenticity of their activity and extend their reach.
But there remains an ongoing challenge for businesses in understanding the full extent of the value of such social media influence and the ability to which it can be reported.
Salterbaxter TRIBE – Listen, Define, Communicate, Activate
At Salterbaxter MSLGROUP we have witnessed changes in how we work with our clients. It is now, not always enough to assist clients with their sustainability strategies, reporting, creative and communications. The immediacy, exposure and proliferation of peer-to-peer conversation means we have to be more prepared, be smarter in how we engage and more targeted in what we say.
This has created a renewed focus on insight-based strategies where we can drill ever deeper into expert hypothesis and stakeholder opinion to identify those core ingredients of ‘change’ and ‘impact’.
It is here that social media and our TRIBE services provide a ready and rich source of insight. By identifying and accessing influencer conversations on social media we now also help support corporate reputations through internal and external listening and monitoring services, and provide influencer mapping and social media activation of communication initiatives.
However, the trends, themes and issues which sustainability business practice originate from, and serves to respond to, are vast and highly emotive. Compounded by this is the need for our clients to not only be responsible for their own actions and those of suppliers, but to also be aware of the actions of the businesses and communities far removed at the start of their supply chain.
We monitor conversations on megatrends such as climate change, mobility, and urbanization; on niche issues such as living wage, deforestation and wool; and even on notable events such as the impact of the Bolivia child labor act.
The ongoing monitoring of conversations across such a specialized and vast array of topics has over time provided us with a wealth of insight and data that has drastically refined how we define influence and identify the types of value it provides
The long tail of social media
The heart of our learning has been in unlocking the ‘long tail’ of social conversation for sustainability. Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, introduces the theory:
“The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of ‘hits’ (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers.”
In our own version of the long tail, we recognized that outside of the broad areas of sustainability conversation and influence were many deeper and richer layers of sub-communities. These sub-communities often focus on the multitude of specific sustainability niche issues.
Listening to conversations leads to insights on…
By combining the power of a range of social media tools with the know-how of our sustainability consultants, we analysed these conversations and were able to:
- identify new people shaping opinion for discrete issues
- analyse what they say and identify the different content threads and the tone and language of these
- quantify the size of specific conversation areas
- chart this insight against industry and brands.
The insight this provides has helped inform and define sustainability business strategies, materiality assessments, communication strategies, content strategies, creative approaches and priorities.
Accessing this insight requires us to think differently, to look beyond the metrics and to see the belief sets and motivations that inspire a person to share. This isn’t about finding a magic tool – rather, it is about combining expert knowledge in discrete areas with tools that can provide ways to access and manipulate data.
For the first time we can map not just the territories of social influence and people shaping them but a rich terrain of conversations, insights, networked paths and the sub-populations of influencers that form the bedrock they are based on – enabling us to create stronger foundations, more targeted and useful outreach and monitoring and more engaging content and activities.
Value of social media for business
This is much debated and depends largely on the business need. Where some social platforms such as Pinterest are beginning to provide better and more direct platforms to sales, this is rarely successful as a solo focus.
Beyond the rudimentary managing of corporate reputations, our recent study on corporate social media influence for sustainability has demonstrated that we are seeing greater levels of sophistication in how businesses are activating their own social media profiles.
Businesses such as Nestlé, Virgin, GE and Cisco talk of how they use social media to enhance leadership, enable change and, through this, demonstrate an increase in the willingness to invest, to partner and eventually to buy. Social media can therefore provide businesses with a rich, nuanced web of insight, influence, action and impact.
This post is part of our People’s Insights report Data In. Data Out. Transforming Big Data into Smart Ideas.