It doesn’t take very long, of waiting or of fervent activity, for individuals to convey their feelings to each other in these times. Through social media, through Facebook, through Twitter and sometimes even through blogs, men and women convey about how they feel, or don’t feel for that matter, about each other and the world. Social media has played its part in letting people be in touch, express themselves more often, even more openly, and probably talk about a host of topics which I feel they would not have so much wanted to otherwise comment upon. But once you move out of the personal domain of social media, where friends update their status so that others know what they have been up to, while others send out party invites, there is a more complex arena of information exchange out there. Just ask Nestle whose Facebook page was assailed with hardly civil comments when it was alleged that Nestle uses palm oil from suppliers who are a threat to certain rain-forests that are the habitat of orangutans thus endangering the habitat and existence of these orangutans. When Mr. Kevin Smith tweeted about his ordeal on a Southwest Airlines, where he was not allowed to fly for being too obese; the story became an internet obsession within a few hours . And when two Domino’s pizza delivery guys posted a Youtube video showing them doing some inexplicable stuff with Dominos Pizzas, the company ratings took a hit, and even though the company went on a damage control mode clarifying that those pizzas were never delivered to customers, not everybody were convinced. So, what is it that makes Social Media a potent force, which can yield some benefits, but could potentially cause immense hard-to-repair damage?
First and foremost social media provides reach, literally to millions of people. Unlike traditional outlets, this scalability of reach is available to both organizations and their customers. No one party can completely control the outflow of information, but organizations could be at a disadvantage because related negative information about them that is disbursed by customers over the internet could have a multiplier effect; whereby, once customer tweets, a few followers pick up and re-tweet the information, and the cycle repeats itself resulting in what could be termed as manic information deployment. Not all publicity is necessarily good publicity.
Easy accessibility is another feature that defines social media. If you want to take out an ad in the local newspaper you do end up paying real money. You pay even more if you were to use airtime on radio or TV. Most social media tools – for blogging, tweeting, uploading files and hosting forums, are essentially free. Not just free, success with information dissemination is just a few mouse-clicks away. A low threshold, both in terms of accountability and effort, can become an interesting cocktail. And something that we have mentioned earlier as well, social media is about immediacy and before organizations can embark upon post-incident damage control, a whole lot of information and misinformation will be out to a significant number of people. And that brings us to the point about enforced withdrawal of information. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have been contemplating a separation for the better part of 2009 and 2010, if the tabloids are to be believed. There is some succor in knowing that the print, radio and television media-houses could be challenged, at least in a court of law, through a favorite pastime of this era – lawsuits. But who will you simply go after, rather how many would you simply go after, if you feel that’s things that are being said over the internet about you are in fact hurting you, and not just emotionally.
Conclusion – Ease of use and accessibility,rapid global reach, the information multiplier effect, low accountability and effort threshold, low possibility of enforced withdrawal of information and the immediate nature of information availability, are factors that make social media a potent market force. In the next few weeks we would examine how companies can protect themselves and mitigate the effects of unfavourable social media exposure, and ways in which they could harness the potency of social media over the internet to further their business interests.
Image Source – Spoon Graphics