Keynote ‘Social Media: Sense or Nonsense?’

Last week, I deliverd a keynote at the seminar ‘Social Media in Germany?’ of the Netherlands General-Consulate in Düsseldorf. You can read it here & feel free to comment!Social Media: Sense or Nonsense?

Keynote by Brigit Law, Founder of Storytellers World Wide

At the Consulate-General of The Netherlands in Düsseldorf

On 14 July 2011

Social Media is Great! It’s a most wonderful piece of communication! It’s the best since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and Emile Berliner the microphone: the transmitters of messages to a large audience at distant places.

At least, it would be, if it wasn’t for the polarity, complexity and anxiety, as well as the lack of creativity and dare-power, that tortures us human beings like the plague and blocks our movements to advance, embrace new challenges and change.

With this key note I’d like to share a couple of insights and questions with you, that will help you to decide whether Social Media makes sense, or not. For you personally, as well as for you as a business player in a larger social group.

I will start with a quote from Roald Dahl:

“A book is never finished as long as your friends are in it.”

This quote strikes the essential cord of the functioning of a social network, and in a more focussed setting of doing business via Social Media. It is all about the narrates and dialogues that spread around social networks to keep people engaged, give valuable wisdom and help to conquer new ways forwards. What I mean with this is that the moment you get in contact with someone, they become part of your personal story. And if your personal story involves the ambition to look for business in new places, they are part of your new opportunity. Twitter followers, LikedIn Contacts and Facebook friends and fans are the base for fostering New Business.

So, here is Insight One: Business Through Social Media is about Inclusiveness (not exclusiveness)!

But what are we talking about really? In one way, Social Media can be regarded as a technological hype and trend. But terms of science, Social Media is the best invention to connect with people at a distance since launch of the telephone. It is better than the websites and e-mail we know today. No wonder that in time of crisis, the first thing governments do is either to try to stop or to enhance Social Media access. Whether it is political campaigning, human aid or revolutions. Why? Because messages via Social Media work like a virus and spread with Ripple Effect: small actions that become big by moving along in an ever increasing territory like a drop in the water because of a strong emotional component: it is the will to do good that leads to power.

This brings us to Insight Two: Business Through Social Media demands a positive attitude to Willpower, Democracy and Innovation

But what about privacy? Well, there’s none, at least in principle. Social Media is an open source platform. There is a certain level of privacy possible through settings and the availability of closed networks like Ning or Yammer. However, true engagement only comes when you open yourself up to others. This is needed to build reputation and attract followers who will retell and spread your story and being. Again, openness works better in social network than closed and exclusive approaches and Good Behaviour is needed to make it all flow.

Here we come to Insight Three: Business Through Social Media means  a 100% commitment to Openness & Good Behaviour.

But how do we know what to say? Well, as Maria puts in the Sound of Music: “We have to put words to it.” But how to know which words? First of all, the words need to be able to feed different perceptions. One way to do this is to work with Design Thinking and Design Language. These are ways to find innovative and creative solutions to complexities commonly used by architects and designers. Dare to turn things upside down, make opposites attract and go wild in the context. This way, you can share knowledge with a growing and diverse audience, an audience with as many different perceptions as there are human beings.

So, Insight Four: Business Through Social Media starts with adopting Design Thinking.

What more do we need to know? In the past we talked about target audiences, implying a superior attitude and top-down leadership. With Social Media we talk about followers, people who are interested in you not because you say so or because you decided they should be, but because they actually are. This means that in being successful on Social Media, you have to be a leader. Manfred Kets de Vries talks about followers and leaders his in his book ‘Leaders, Fools and Imposters’. Although he makes no direct reference to Social Media, I strongly suggest you read it.

But how can we make sense of it all. How can we make sense of the complexity of thousands of tweets and updates that fly by every day. Which discussions to focus on and what Social Media platform to choose? A mix of network platforms is the way forward. It gives the scope to lead there where people are open for it.

But more importantly: What is needed to master this all, is an endeavour to become a Resilient Player, not robust one. This requires a flexible, creative and cognitive state of mind and a stomach that allows early detection, fast recovery and early exploitation of low probability and high impact events.

So, the final Insight number Five is: Business Through Social Media means control through Leadership Through Resilience and a Good Interface

Is it all worth it? Let’s look at facts and figures from the Alexa Top 500.

In the case of trading between the Netherlands and Germany, it looks like you are best adviced to start with Facebook, LinkedIn and Xing. They are strong in both side of the border. If you can, top it up with a blog on WordPress, a YouTube Channel, Twitter and pictures on Flickr if you have much visual work to show.

Also, a recent Regus Study shows that over 700,000 small businesses now have fan pages on Facebook, evidencing a substantial cross-over between business and consumer usage of social networking. But what is happening in the pure professional B2B social networking space?

On a global basis, LinkedIn is the Facebook of the business world. LinkedIn, which provides facilities for business people to communicate, stay in touch, join special interest groups and recruit (or be recruited), now boasts over 70 million members worldwide.

The closest network to LinkedIn is Germany-based Xing, which is extremely popular in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and China.

To keep track of the different network channels, you can use Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Here you can write one update and tick the boxes of those social media channels you want it to show on. It is a real must to establish a flowing micro dialogue on a multi-channel platform.

If you asked me how much money and time it will take to be successful on Social Media, I am afraid I cannot give you an answer. For measuring Return On Investment or
Return on Attention, a point-zero has to be set as benchmark, then Social Media has to become part of your total communication activity and measured all together with various intervals in time.

But so far the statistics. Let’s look at some Case Studies:

The administration of American President Obama is a pioneer in Social Media. It tries hard to be both a social brand as well as a social organisation. A recent novelty is the #AskObama Town Hall twitter-campaign. It is a brave role: it shows how to open up possibilities as well as bumping into the limitations of Social Media.

Kraft Foods has modified the marketing of their brands to connect with younger, digitally-engaged consumers. Yielded by social media, Kraft Foods now shows deeply divergent opinions regarding Miracle Whip, building on ads which featured various spokespeople saying whether they like or dislike Miracle Whip. One commercial now lodged over 150,000 “likes” on Facebook, with many people leaving comments. A dedicated channel on YouTube received more than 3m hits to date and has 2,300 subscribers.

The We Tap Water Campaign shows that a clear Call for Action is needed to get fans quickly. In a limited period of time they got the 10,000 fans they were asking for.

A Social Media pilot I prepared for the Dutch Dairy Union shows that it is worth having more than one Facebook page: a ‘corporate’ fanpage and social fanpage based on shared values, – in this case We Share Fair Milk -, where the latter demonstrates most engagement.

My own business platform for Storytellers World Wide, shows that you can create an international business with using Social Media, advancing with multiple channels to build resilience.

If you asked me is it worth investing time and energy in, I can give a definite “yes”. All of us have the willpower to innovate. All of us want change to harvest success. All of us want to become resilient in order to lead. Because that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why we are here today.

I started off my speech with a quote from Roald Dahl and I will end with a quote from William Shakespeare:

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Meaning: the answer to make sense of Social Media lays within yourself.

I wish you Good Luck and I look forward to hear your views in the panel discussion later.