I am the sort of person who reads ALL the readings and spends far too much time trying to understand everything before I put nail-bitten finger to dusty keyboard. But I couldn’t do it this week. I just…. look at all the acronyms! LOOK! There’s just so many!
This week’s topic: ‘Small Businesses, Non-profits and Mobile Social Media’, is not exactly my area of expertise and doesn’t particularly float my boat like socio-technical theory did. But I’ve tried to answer all the set questions in my own round-about way. So, in no particular order. Let’s dive in. Are you ready? I am. Totes. Let’s… errrrm….go…?
Social media applications (SMAs) have an almost $0 entry level. The low cost of entry means the potential exists for virtually any organisation to utilise them for attracting new customers or donors and building brand loyalty. Whether that’s saving animals from inhumane conditions or super sexy tech accessories, trust and loyalty can massively increase the perceived value of a product or service.
But these traditional drivers for making use of SMAs are no magic bullet for mining undiscovered streams of alluvial revenue. Neither are they the sole drivers of SMA use for businesses. Some SMAs are much more useful as tools of collaboration on projects and direct business to business communications (B2B), and others are almost solely useful as direct line communications to customers as public relations (B2C: business to customer communication) tools. Let’s have a look at these a bit more.
One of the biggest and most undervalued uses for social media for any sized business or non-profit is for listening. Unless your market is selling snow in the upper reaches of the Appalachians, it is likely that large numbers of your customer base or your target groups are on social media
Customers talk. Loudly. They are going to tell their followers and friends (C2C: customer to customer communication) if they have a bad time or suspect your business has done them a disservice. It doesn’t matter if a business chooses to engage in social media or not – that choice is not available. If its customers are on social media, then a business’s reputation is online too and if they’re not listening then they never have the chance to respond, business to customer (B2C).
There was a great example of ‘listening’ on Twitter recently. Reporter Simon Neville live tweeted his experience of going down the high street visiting banks in turn, trying to assist a documented refugee in getting a bank account – something he needed to do before he could begin his new life in England.
One of the first banks they visited was Barclays. Because they deliberately @ messaged each bank (C2B: customer to business communication), Barclay’s was alerted to the negative impression they’d initially given and started to engage online, inviting the duo back and offering help. But their rules were not breakable. They couldn’t actually help. When another bank stepped in offering to waive the rules in favour of the refugee, people legitimately asked, ‘why is that policy there at all if it’s so easy to let go in the wake of negative publicity’? Here’s the great question – should the banks have engaged?
But how could they not? If they hadn’t been listening their brand wouldn’t have been able to respond to the impression that they were heartless and uncaring. A lot of their traditional branding and advertising is built around how much they care for the environment (water is precious! We recycle paper!), that they care about your personal wealth and therefore your wellbeing. By “listening” to their market they were able to engage in a way that traditional media does not allow – for better or worse.
So, now we’ve talked a little about business to customer (B2C), customer to business (C2B), and customer to customer (C2C) communications, what about business to business (B2B) coms?
The seemingly immediate exchanges of information made possible by SMAs like messaging service LINE or SaaS (software as a service) tools like Slack are allowing businesses to communicate and collaborate like never before. Mobile technologies such as the 4G data network and ubiquitous Wi-Fi mean we’re always on the go and always contactable.
For example, at work I’m engaged in initiating the replacement of our website. All communications with our vendor are taking place on a closed Slack channel and future project planning will utilise Trello boards. It’s never been easier to get things done, and yet all this connectivity still comes with some pretty serious downsides for businesses – downsides that aren’t prevalent in the personal and individual worlds of social media.
Media Synchronicity Theory (MST) analyses the key features in good B2B communication tools: Transmission velcocity, Parallelism, Symbol sets, Rehearsability and Reprocessability. These are just fancy-pants terms for tools that can transmit multiple fast messages, in different formats and which offer the ability to draft a messages before sending and then keep track of what’s been said.
Most SMAs can do fast messaging which can be drafted, but they’re pretty sucky at the ‘keeping track of what’s been discussed – at least in terms of legal obligations to keep records. So far, there is still a need to take online coms and convert it to other mediums (e.g. record in an email chain, create pdfs of quotes) for record keeping. Even the British parliament prints its statutes on Vellum!
Another issue with SMAs in B2B coms is the issue of security. Once you’ve sent your quote out in Slack, you won’t know who it’s downloaded by and shared with. Health information might be shared between government departments and health insurers but is the method of communication secure? Would a breach in that security mean one or both parties have breached privacy laws?
Also, what if your message was sent out by mistake? All the amount of drafting in the world won’t mean much if you accidentally tweet a link before an embargo is lifted.
In conclusion, SMAs are very powerful tools that equalize the playing field at point of entry for big medium, and small businesses as well as non-profits. They provide unprecedented access to markets and consumers as well as easing business to business collaboration, but that comes with both positive and negative implications for public relations and legal obligations.
I’m so tired now. I’ve written far too much again and despite my blog being several weeks old, no one has offered to be my editor. I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. If I ever have to write about the use of SMAs in B2B, C2B or B2C communications again I will descend into madness and spend my days re-writing 1990s classic pop songs in endless acronyms.