Byline: Gideon Spanier
FROM learning about the death of Osama Bin Laden to discussing royal bridesmaid Pippa Middleton's derriere, social media is revolutionising the way we share news, ideas and opinions.
At its peak, Twitter was carrying 5000 Tweets a second -- or around 300,000 a minute -- about Bin Laden's demise, while there were nearly 4000 a second about the royal wedding.
If even Clarence House can win plaudits for its communications strategy -- 72 million live streams on YouTube on the wedding day, nine million Facebook views, 140,000 followers on Twitter -- then we can be sure that social media has gone mainstream.
For teenagers, in particular, social media and mobile are now the preferred means of digital communication. Email is in decline, if not dying, at least for that demographic.
So for consumer-facing brands, the question long ago ceased to be whether to join the online conversation.
"We view all media as social media now," says Tim Dyson, chief executive of public relations group Next Fifteen, whose clients include technology giants Google, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco. "The boundary between media and social media is disappearing."
But having a social media presence and engaging fans or followers is not enough.
"A lot of brands are trying to do social media without any core business objectives behind it," warns Robin Grant, managing director of PR agency We Are R Social, which has worked for Coca-Cola, Unilever and Eurostar. "It's about taking a strategic approach, rather than doing it for its own sake."
So savvy brands know they must exploit the full potential of the social web. That means: Making sense of the vast mass of consumer opinion: tracking online conversations, identifying key influencers and shaping discussion; Collecting personal data that fans are willing to share on a branded page or Twitter feed; Marrying that social media information with the brand's other customer databases (email, payment and subscription lists and so on); Using these insights to take action, targeting customers through better advertising and promotions that will deliver a return on investment and boost sales.
Brands need help to navigate this new world, which is a major opportunity for marketing and ad agencies.
But just like the social networks themselves, a raft of new specialist agencies are springing up -- posing a major threat to established players that cannot keep up. …