In my youth I had a Malvern Star pushbike with chopper handlebars, banana seat and sissy bar shocks. Back in the 60s and 70s virtually every Sydney suburb had a hamburger shop that was run by a Greek family while the Italians invariably owned the local fruit shop. Life was great, optimism filled the air, my favourite vinyl (LP) record was Hot August Night and I used a Kodak camera.
How times have changed. Kids now ride designer bikes, McDonalds virtually wiped out the corner fish and chip shop, Neil Diamond has passed retirement age, Kodak has gone broke and Generation Y walk around with MP3 players and iPods. To quote the lyrics of 60s singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, “The times they are a-changin”. Nowhere is this change more pronounced than in social media.
Social media is a phrase that is being tossed around a lot these days. But like leadership, there is no one universally accepted definition of social media. The omnipresence of social media is undisputed and Australia leads the world for time spent each month on social media websites. Some businesses are using social media tools to engage with their customers and to “build buzz” in a connected world. So what is social media?
Whereas traditional print media (newspapers, magazines) and electronic media (TV & radio) are a one-way broadcast of information, social media is a two-way “conversation”. The conversation occurs online and allows people to communicate, collaborate, debate and share ideas. Think of social media as a virtual coffee shop or pub where you “meet” friends for a chat.
Social media allows online communities to form quickly and people are increasingly seeking the companionship of others via these digital neighbourhoods. For example, Facebook has almost 700 million users. If Facebook were a country, it would occupy the third position after China and India in terms of population. One-third of Australians are Facebook members.
There are six broad categories of social media: blogs, podcasts, wikis, social networks (eg, Facebook), content communities (eg, YouTube) and Microblogging (eg, Twitter). These social media tools are becoming part of the marketing toolbox of businesses. Gateway was an early adopter of blogs and podcasts and these have enabled us to get more personal with members and show a more human side to financial services.
Anyone who doubts the power of social media has only to remember the strikes and protests which spread around the world last year. Using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other communication platforms, protest organisers quickly mobilised “flash mobs” to engage in civil disobedience. The real-time nature of social media has revolutionised popular political dissent.
Another example is a social media campaign in the US called Bank Transfer Day. It was started by a Californian woman urging consumers to take their money out of big banks and put it into credit unions by 5 November 2011 – Bank Transfer Day. According to the Credit Union National Association, the Bank Transfer Day promotion resulted in 650,000 new credit union members and $4.5 billion in new savings accounts.
Australia’s big banks may also have to brace themselves for a social media led exodus of customers. A website called One Big Switch is urging disgruntled bank customers to leave in search of a better deal. One Big Switch uses people power to force companies to lower their prices and claims that over 40,000 people have registered for its “Big Bank Switch Campaign”. (NOTE: This campaign is not without its critics.)
The power of social media is undeniable and it’s here to stay. Social media platforms are redefining human communication. We are using new tools for doing old things. The world has changed and you can’t pedal a Malvern Star down the information super-highway.
Paul J. Thomas
Podcast is available here