A colleague mentioned to me their surprise that businesses might believe they have power in social media. They were speaking of the perceived changes brought about by the new social media these days from the business to the consumer and it was a question that really had me thinking. What is the reality – has social media turned the tables and made big business powerless? or have they still any power at all? Then again, what is power altogether? Many would view these in terms of the current ‘popular’ social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, although this should apply to all platforms, including the new ones that are arising.
What is Power in Social Media?
In social media terms, power is often viewed in terms of overall influence. Put simply, many might view – more followers = more power. Basically, more people equals more ‘reach’ and the more that can read or pass on your message. This in turn translates to influence.
If it was as simple as that then it would be easy to amass a large following and espouse your messages to your audience. They with the largest group of followers wins, however it is not that simple. Lets look at the organisation and the individual – facing off against each other.
What do people have?
The individuals have sentiment, everybody loves the underdog since that little guy slung a rock and the big guy and one. Especially Australian culture, ‘sticking it to the man’ has been popular since we first jumped off the boat and settled here with the red coats. Based on this sentiment, a story from the individual or group that seems to have been wronged can be a powerful one. That darn bank, terrible insurance company or money grabbing giant organisation that no longer cares for us has taken money and not delivered the service as expected.
Arguably, an individual can also afford to make mistakes. If something is said incorrectly in the sense that it is not perfect PR – it is quickly forgiven. So the individual has a certain degree of free speech.
So an individual can get their message out to the masses using social media like never before. A single voice can be heard by the thousands and possibly the millions. Traditional media offered this to people before which is where the 6pm news came in, but today with social media it’s instant and on a grander scale.
What power do organisations have?
The organization has at its side, funding, resources, time and then some. Most of your organizations today are practicing their social listening skills and honing these. They hear the tweets almost as they happen and read Facebook updates immediately. Post on a blog somewhere or upload a video complaint to YouTube and it will almost certainly get you a response within 24 hours. So the first tool in the organizations toolbox is to Respond Quickly.
Analytics and data are powerful tools that can assist an organization. In most digitally minded organizations, website data, social media tools, call centre analysis and retail foot traffic can be brought together to form a powerful information system to drive the business to really understand their immediate environment.
A greater audience is more often available to the larger audiences. Some have social followings greater than their real customer base, and in some cases will listen to the brand without ever the possibility of being a customer to that organization. Just think how many of their twitter followers or Facebook fans actually do own a BMW or Ferrari. The organization, to have some power in social media must utilize the strength of their audience.
Talent is not something to be ‘glib’ about, let’s face it when you have money as an organization, you can afford to buy some talent and have it working for you. Talent can employ all the needed tools at the right time and in the right manner.
Of course, the most important piece of the power puzzle for the organization must be to engage. They must engage at the right level, with the right tone and at the right time. I have lost count of the stories of organizations that have staved off pending doom by simply engaging their wronged customer quickly. In most cases it can be as simple as an apology and an offer to put things right when the customer least expected it. Other cases, the engagement with their audience can start a highly positive pathway towards a great out come.
They can even turn the disgruntled customer into a fan that is stronger than one that has never been engaged at all – which can be a truly empowering experience for the organization.