Social Technology: Getting It Right on a Global Scale

By Dave Evans

The ‘cutting edge’ of social technology is essentially the same any place in the world.

Once Internet connectivity and text-capable mobile phones appear in any new market, people are adopting social media as a personal publishing platform. What’s more, people are sharing everything from life experiences to daily deals discovered in online marketplaces.

With clients on four continents – North and South America, Europe and Asia – I’ve seen the spread of social behaviours in Asia firsthand, powered by SMS, blogging, photo, and video sharing on dedicated platforms like YouTube or within communities like Facebook, Orkut, Cyworld, and Renren.

Regardless of local culture, the core activity and motivator for participation on the social Web is the same: Sharing information so that, as individuals, we can make smarter choices and hold more informed opinions that improve the lives of ourselves, our families, and others.

And businesses have taken notice. But differences have emerged, as business cultures either build upon or collide with the democratisation that accompanies that open spread of market information.

With that comes an increasing responsibility to get social right.

The future holds promise for some businesses – those that recognize the unique capabilities afforded by direct collaboration with customers, or by the conversations about their products and services that occur naturally between customers in the open view of the social Web.

The future is much less assured for businesses that attempt to control the voices of those talking about them in the marketplace.

Consider these examples, each showing a different aspect of how social technology can be used, though not always properly, and the outcome.

Respecting Local Cultural Sensibilities

United Brands’ USL group has adopted social technologies as a part of its overall business strategy. One best practice in place at USL is immediately evident: Social media is not a replacement for other marketing activities, but rather is a complement or extension to smart marketing occurring in other channels. (Disclosure: I worked with USL while I was in India with 2020Social.)

So, I was really happy when I saw a recent post on Twitter, attributed to USL’s Raja Peters noting that “social media helped sell lifestyle around their brands like advertising (alone) never did.” USL launched the Spiritz & More lifestyle platform created for USL by Singapore-based Interakt to extend its lifestyle associations, fully respecting local cultural norms and sensibilities. Raja’s team took the time to dig in, learn, and do it right: Interakt delivered a solid social platform and then provided oversight and management of the emerging lifestyle community.

When a ‘Friend’ Gets Clumsy on the Social Web

Shifting gears, I’ve been watching another situation unfold wherein the business involved, along with its agency, are taking some rough shots on the social Web.

A truism of social media, and of the Web itself, is: ‘On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog!’ Absent proper disclosure, participants in social media operate with a guarded acceptance that what is being said carries no hidden agenda. Simply put, it means this: If I am talking about a product on my blog or on a social network, the assumption is that I am sharing this information to help others make an informed choice. If I work for the company who makes the product, or one of its competitors, then I have a duty to disclose that.

Some Facebook profiles had low friend activity but a relatively high number of ‘likes’, an overt action taken by a Facebook member that signifies he or she liked a product, service, something someone else said or did, etc. As people online began to dig into these profiles, one really stood out: A Facebook member with over 600 friends… yet not one single Diwali wish? I wished all my friends in India ‘Happy Diwali’ and I’m 10,000 miles away!

None of this is proof of any improper activity: It is simply to point out that the ‘benefits’ for participation on the social Web work two ways. Do it right, and it can be amazingly powerful. Do it wrong – or worse, do it clumsily but with no ill intentions or motives but nonetheless appear suspect – and the social Web will take your campaign viral for the wrong reasons.

Keep in mind, the social Web and social media are not the same as traditional media. The norms are different, and the tools and control points are different. Take the time to sort these out, and use technologies in the ways that build you brand – and your marketing reputation – in the right way. In my first book, “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day” I opened one of the chapters with this:

“Campaigns will emerge on the Social Web that are counter to the long-term viability of social media based marketing. How you choose to proceed – what you choose to do in response to others’ questionable practices – will in large determine the availability of these important social channels for your future use.” In other words, as they say in New York City, ‘If you see something, say something.’

As social technology continues to be adopted around the world, how we – as brand managers, marketers and agencies – choose to use it will largely determine how well the social platforms we create will work. If the trickery that has at times dogged traditional media – the technical term is ‘puffery’ – flourishes on the social Web as well, expect it to be called out, and expect poor results.

On the other hand, if the social Web becomes a place for open and transparent conversations between brands and customers – look at the great work that Godrej is doing with its Gojiyo community, for example – then the social Web will become one of the most powerful marketing and business innovation platforms ever seen.

But more about that in a future column! For now, consider that the social Web is increasingly relevant throughout Asia and the world, and that your care in understanding how to use these new tools correctly is the key to your long-term success.

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