Almost 50 years ago, a media thinker and professor named Marshall McLuhan coined the catchphrase “global village.” Today that phrase remains an apt way to characterize not only the Internet, but the ways in which we now locate and communicate with one another through social media. We have become a world of voyeurs, spies, amateur private detectives, and gossips. And Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus have come to serve as our picket fences and binoculars.
We haven’t even begun to comprehend the full communicative and marketing implications of social media. Yet somehow the world we inhabit has become smaller and much less private because we have them at our disposal. Their very existence makes it seem as though someone switched on clusters of floodlights all over the planet. People, institutions, and businesses are all clamoring to be heard (or read) even before they've come up with something meaningful to say.
Make no mistake though. Many groups not only have significant and intense messages, but they've found ingenious methods by which to promulgate them with social media. A probing article in the MIT Technology Review insightfully compares the unhinging of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments through social media to the efforts of Lenin and Trotsky during the Russian Revolution.
There’s good reason to believe the social media efforts of discontented citizens in the now infamous Arab Spring will tragically lead to replacement autocracies. But there can be little argument that the age of social media is underway. Let’s have a look at four unorthodox social media campaigns conducted by businesses and institutions.
The New York City Police Department
When he entered office this year, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made no secret that he wanted a more warm and fuzzy police force than the one under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. He introduced police reforms to end the stop-and-frisk procedures that black and Latino NYC residents interpreted as arbitrary and racist, thereby aligning his administration with the decision of Shira Scheinlind in the Federal District Court in Manhattan that declared these procedures unconstitutional. As part of a new public relations initiative to improve its image, the NYPD came up with the idea of ordinary citizens posing next to selected police officers on Twitter. The problem came when Twitter users began posting pictures of citizens being beaten by police. Nice try, guys. True, social media campaigns can work instantly; but healing neighborhood wounds takes time.
Old-time Religion Gives Way to Digital Devotion
Time was in America, you either had to catch people in church to stir their faith, or gather the flocks in an old-fashioned revival meeting. A recent survey documented that people often lie about how often they attend church.
A non-denominational Christian Church in Pasadena, California has found an answer to the problem. Instead of Bible-thumping and appeals to guilt, this church has created a discussion group based on the previous week’s service. It seems to work, and the old-time religion’s stick has given way the carrot of the new digital age.
Facing the Music Through Facebook
Attendance at classical music concerts has been on the decline for decades, and we’re spawning a generation of kids who prefer Bieber to Beethoven. Mark Newman, vice president of marketing for the Indiana Symphony Orchestra has found a way to turn it all around. In a coordinated effort through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blog postings by the orchestra’s musicians, he’s managed to achieve success, with more than 40% of concertgoers purchasing tickets through email, and triple sales at one special concert series.
One Brazilian retailer is using a novel way to let people know what’s in fashion. Right smack on his garments’ display hangers is a notification that lets shoppers know how many “likes” that particular garment has earned on Facebook.
There you have it. It’s hard to know how big an influence social media will have on institutions, and how big a piece of the marketing pie they’ll claim for businesses. At this juncture, one thing seems clear though. Success in social media will mostly be had like success in most things: careful planning will trump impulse.