Who is affected by social media?

I was talking to someone the other day who was arguing with vigour that social media had no impact on him. For example he never took any notice of any of the comments on TripAdvisor. “Like what?” I asked, and he regaled me with the things customers had written about several hotels. It also turned out that he’d avoided booking places which attracted a lot of negative comment. The spending decisions of this late middle-aged bloke, for whom social media is a new-fangled and uncomfortable realm, were clearly affected by what he read on websites. On a more subtle level his perceptions, and those of others, were also affected. There are now several places which I would feel wary about booking because of this guy’s accounts of web reviews.

There we have it, lots of reasons why no company should ignore social media. People out there are talking all the time, not just on the web but about what they find there. And right now there’s a whole up-and-coming generation for which social media is a full, embedded and natural part of life. A fair few of your customers, potential customers, and their influencers, will already use social media sites, read blogs, follow groups on LinkedIn and have Facebook pages. And the number is growing all the time. Tomorrow’s chief execs, IT directors, top consultants and GP commissioners are probably all busily Tweeting their views on NHS, and other work-related matters, right now. Many will listen in amazement to older folk’s tales of the prehistoric days before the internet. Some may even have heard incredible stories about phones which couldn’t take pictures and had dials instead of pads or buttons.

The world is talking in new and different ways and the distinction between work and leisure is getting ever-more blurred. If you are not part of the conversation then others are free to determine your reputation. There may even be chat about you right now that you are unaware of, meaning you have no chance to set the record straight if you are not monitoring and responding. Reputation matters and must be looked after with great care. Google Gerald Ratner and the first things that come up are “crap”, “quote”, “jewellery” and “blunder”. Ouch.

Beyond this stands the simple reality that the media is fragmenting. You can no longer reach everyone you need to through a handful of magazines and newspapers. People consume news and information in a multitude of ways, and you need to be in the same places as your potential customers. The other key factor is that social media has the sense of being immediate and personal – you get messages through to people directly rather than having them filtered by third parties. What’s more people can answer back. And that should be a dream for any salesman and woman out there – because it’s only once a conversation has started that you can hope to win a contract.

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