Social media – is it just words?

There is a lot of discussion about whether social media is engagement, communication, service delivery, a conversation or whether it really can make a difference to people’s lives. Many organisations are decidedly lukewarm about whether to get involved with social media and in some cases see it is fluff or a ‘waste of time’.

Demonstrating the benefits of social media is something that communication professionals and others have struggled to do, and haven’t prioritised. However, without it companies will not want to use it as they will be focused on the return on investment, or perhaps the return on engagement. The academics may try to show the benefits and produce studies to support their theories, but for others real examples may be of more use. So I thought it useful to outline a few of my examples of how social networks can be used.

First there was GMP24 that opened up Greater Manchester Police by tweeting for the world to see all the incidents dealt with during 24 hours. It started people talking about policing, thousands followed the activity and after the event they continued to follow. The subject became the top trending on Twitter in the world for several hours. The benefits of it and the engagement that was started was clear to see.

But it was during last August’s disorder that the true operational benefit of social networks emerged. It was a way of sharing instant updates, reassuring through conversations and providing a way for people to get involved in the many facets of the clean up. Thousands of people used it and again the results of how it was used was about more than conversations, it was about service.

So, social media is useful for big events whether proactive or reactive, but what about on day-to-day business? There are many examples I have of how missing children have been found through the publicity on social networks. Of how people have been alerted to criminal activity, and of how people have been alerted to crime prevention campaigns.

In a recent “April fool” crime campaign images of wanted people were posted on a special Flickr site. Within the first 24 hours there had been more than 15,000 hits on the site and the cost of doing it was nothing as it just used people’s time. I have blogged before about how communication and PR activity are all about digital in 2012. The new analytical capability of Twitter shows that people get particularly engaged with things they can help with, appeals and missing people. And as I have said before we know that this can, and has, brought results.

Social networks are clearly more than just words or pictures, they are part of modern life and present a great many opportunities. Perhaps those companies and organisations that are still not convinced of the return on investment and engagement need to speak to others that have already seen the benefits.

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