One of the reasons some big, serious organisations don’t like social media is that it’s supposedly “frivolous” and “just a place to gossip”.
Here are 10 examples from 2011 of how socialised digital communications are ingrained into my own life. Ask yourself whether they’re all frivolous and valueless:
1. Heard about the birth of my nephew, saw pictures of him and joined with friends and family in congratulating my brother and his wife – all way before I had the chance to visit the little’un.
2. Discovered what was going on moments after being evacuated from a tube station because of a bomb scare. Connected to other ‘evacuees’ immediately and discussed what the possible causes were. Received messages of reassurance from the police.
3. Tuned into a conference I couldn’t get to (by looking at tweets using the event’s hashtag) to see what ideas were being proposed, to debate with attendees and to make connections with people with shared interests.
4. Was invited to write a plaudit in the new edition of one of my favourite books, having left a comment on the author’s blog.
5. Been alerted to the fact my (distressed) fiancee was trying to contact me when her mobile and landline phones both not working (fear not; she’s fine…and I wasn’t anywhere interesting – honest!).
6. Been interviewed by the Financial Times.
7. Been invited to a great networking event by the founder of IFALife (Philip Calvert), whose ideas I criticised on a podcast (Philip thrives on debate, it turns out). That networking event, in turn, led to me securing a future guest blogger for this website.
8. Sorted out a customer service issue with Specsavers, the optician.
9. Shared a joke with the author of a book I’m reading, who shared a picture of me with his book with 30,000+ Twitter followers.
10. Ordered the sashimi at Covent garden’s Kulu Kulu sushi bar after seeing this recommendation on Foursquare as I was wandering around not sure where to go (it was lovely and I’ll go again) – then thanked the reviewer on Twitter.
This is not even to mention the many gossipy, frivolous interactions I have had.
I am not special. Okay, maybe I use digital communications a little more than most – but I’m part of a trend that is changing the world.
Yet, although the world has changed, human nature hasn’t – and social media is just the latest means with which we fulfill a primordial need; the need to connect.
We are social animals and we yearn to belong to tribes and to interact with fellow members at all levels. We want to tell stories and listen to people’s experiences. In 50,000BC, we did this around camp fires in forests. In the 1980s we did it round water coolers. Now, often separated from our fellow tribe members by oceans and busy lives, our camp fires are social media.
People use digital communications to connect with each other because it makes their lives easier, entertains them, educates them, introduces them to useful people, makes them feel special and gives them something to talk about. Not because they can find marketing materials there.
Businesses must understand that their primary role in social spaces is to help people do these things – not to talk about themselves. The brands that grasp this will be the ones that succeed in the coming years.
Michael Taggart is head of digital and social at MRM – connect to him here on Twitter.