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  1. Wealth
July 4, 2013

Most of the Millions Being Poured into Twitter and Facebook are Completely Wasted

By Spear's

Can David Cameron remember how many tweets make a twit? Most tweeters derive no benefit from their efforts

Can David Cameron remember how many tweets make a twit? Most tweeters derive no benefit from their efforts​ 

I WONDER WHETHER David Cameron can remember how many tweets make a twit? Hopefully it’s more than 176, because that’s how many the Prime Minister has contributed to the social media site.

Recent highlights for his 327,000 followers include ‘Great meeting with @ BarackObama — proving the special relationship is thriving’. Sadly @ BarackObama didn’t mention him back, not even retweeting him, thereby demonstrating that the Special Relationship in cyberspace remains as one-sided as in real life. 

What’s interesting about all this is not tweets, because let’s hope that neither our prime minister nor POTUS actually has time to have a clue what is being sent out in their names, but that they now feel obliged to bother.

And it’s not just politicians: Coca-Cola has a Facebook page with 64 million likes; Goldman Sachs is on Twitter. Social media have come of age, and it’s now obligatory for politicians and corporations to surf the outer shores of new media in a frantic bid to connect. Opponents are confined to the wilder fringes; the head of the Saudi Arabian religious police said recently that anyone using it ‘had lost this world and his afterlife’.

But what is the point of all this engagement, and are they achieving anything with it? Any individual or corporation with significant reputational capital should certainly be monitoring what is said about them in cyberspace.

Food scares, technology breakdowns and random libels all need to be assessed and addressed. This is not simply a manifestation of citizen journalism (although fast-food chains obviously need to know if their customers have found something unusual in their burger).

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Nearly all reputable journalists now use social media to whet the public appetite for their mainstream journalism. If you want to know what’s in the papers tomorrow, Twitter will tell you. 

You can then respond. The response might be online or offline, but to ignore this channel of information today is to be permanently behind the curve. All this, however, is passive, requiring only that corporations or their automated agents lurk in cyberspace, alert to threats. 


Finding a rationale for proactive engagement with social media is more complicated. For politicians wishing to shape the 24-hour news agenda, there can be a value in Twitter, but few of them are prepared for the level of informality and time commitment required to make it work.

For corporations, it’s even harder to justify. Most of the millions being poured into Twitter accounts and Facebook sites around the world are almost completely wasted.

Dull corporate tweeting doesn’t help; neither does an anodyne Facebook page. Brands more than ever need a dialogue with customers, and the best way to talk to many younger people is online. But better not to talk at all than to be the bore in the room, droning on and turning off your potential customers. 

There are exceptions. First, consumer brands that are able to engage directly with customers as people can make a success of their social engagement. Taco Bell is a case in point, with over 500,000 Twitter followers, over 10 million Facebook likes and a thriving Instagram site. It’s happy to have fun, frivolous conversations with customers, and they respond. 

Second, the sharing of brilliant content. Since astronaut Chris Hadfield sang David Bowie’s Space Oddity in the International Space Station, it has been watched on YouTube more than 15 million times. When he returned to Earth in May, he did so as a global celebrity who had probably done more to promote the space programme in five minutes than any corporate PR programme could have managed in a decade. 

Third, the use of social media to engage the public in a piece of corporate activity that will be genuinely engaging. In 2010, Pepsi launched a digital campaign promising to give $20 million in grants to schemes chosen by those who engaged with Pepsi online.

Anyone could vote, although Pepsi purchasers had weighted ‘power votes’. Over 10 million votes were cast. The project had problems, including the accusation that some people voted multiple times, but it was an inspiring and effective use of new media. 


Others are following suit. Gucci’s Chime for Change campaign, aimed at empowering women, allows those buying tickets for a Beyoncé concert in London to choose, through the Catapult website, exactly which of 120-plus possible projects their money will support. 

Social media create exciting new ways in which companies can interact with the public to influence their reputations. But it’s also an opportunity to waste a huge amount of time and money. The choice, as always with the internet, is entirely yours.

Read more from Ed Amory



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