Social Media? …. it’s like clubbing in the Eighties!

by Paul Allen on April 8, 2011

A business colleague said to me the other day “Twitter… Isn’t that just a load of Social Media Managers looking for business?”

Perhaps, but take closer look at Twitter in particular and you’ll see it’s jammed packed with enterprising tech savvy business people looking for sales! … and therein lies a problem!

Sometimes Twitter reminds me of the last 30 minutes of a Saturday night in a UK provincial nightclub in the 1980’s!

It’s 1:30 am, it’s looking increasingly like two best friends will be going home alone, suddenly you’re aware the same scenario is being replicated across the venue. Now groups of hungry males are circling the dancefloor looking for easy prey! In an orchestrated campaign worthy of Monty himself, one male hassles the DJ for slow dances whilst the other sidles closer to the unsuspecting prey. Week after week, despite their best efforts, this sophisticated campaign failed to yield the desired result.

Why? ….probably because the protagonists failed to take into consideration the needs of the other party.

And so it is with Social Media, so many people looking out for No.1, few looking to engage, forge friendships & allegiances, no one really sharing of themselves.

Following a 20 year career in traditional media sales and marketing, I set up my first ever marketing consultancy as recently as January 2011. Having put the gum shield in, I ventured out specialising in Social Media, to look for clients. Probably the hardest challenge I have faced is to convince potential customers that in this new media world, the winners will be those that engage with potential and existing customers. Prospects are looking for relationships with businesses, relationships that can be developed where trust becomes implicit. Clients often nod at this point fully understanding the point but failing to take on board the huge implications of this fundamental shift for their business.

This is something I suspect my good friend Graham Jones would be far better placed to provide data on.

Convincing business people to engage through blogging for example is particularly challenging. They still need to be convinced that it would lead to ROI; they are concerned that no one would be interested in what they have to say and they believe they would not have the time available to invest in it. This, despite our best efforts to explain that it should be at the heart of all of our activity! Hand on heart, I think we can all empathise with that sentiment, in truth we all struggle to find the time because we always put out customers interests before ourselves. None of us are perfect and I see myself and indeed many of my customers and contacts readdressing their time management to find that extra hour in the day to market their businesses through this new media. If we are to believe Michael Gerber, then if we do nothing else for the client than persuade them to spend an hour a day working on their business rather than in it, then that in itself will ultimately lead to a return on investment!

When discussing strategy with potential new clients (mostly SMEs), the conversation inevitably widens into a complete review of all marketing activity to both potential and existing customers. Many (most!) look to Social Media to drive traffic to an unloved website which often needs to be completely rebuilt, most see the benefit of building their company/personal profile within their local area or region. Fax numbers on business cards/letterheads usually get replaced with new Social Media contact details prompting the reprinting of stationery etc. Many view Social Media as a unique opportunity to network without having to leave the office. They all admit they would love to have the time to get out and meet more business people face to face, they acknowledge that it would certainly be beneficial for the business, but because they continue to feel the need to work in the business rather than on it, they cannot  justify the time. These people see Twitter and LinkedIn in particular, as a more cost effective means of networking.

In my own experience, if you take the time to engage with followers and provide them with what you hope is relevant and interesting information then they will take notice. They will engage with you and I can point to a number of examples where totally unexpected introductions to businesses and potential clients have come about through postings on Twitter & LinkedIn particular. I show these interactions to potential customers as real evidence of Social Media in action and ask them if they think similar experiences could be achieved for their businesses.

All too often, I see UK business people using Social Media like a giant nightclub in the 1980’s. Those of a certain age will recall Luther Vandross & Alexander O’Neal heralding the beginning of what was fondly called “The Erection Section” as at 1:30am, the big cats pounced in desperation on the unsuspecting wildebeest!

Given our “win at all costs” commercial evolution I guess this is to be expected. Encouragingly, I detect people are becoming more happy (particularly via twitter) to connect with strangers who perhaps have complimentary interests. This initial interaction often migrates to email, telephone conversations and ultimately a face to face meeting where business is often transacted. It may only be scratching the surface of what Social Media can achieve, but given the fact that for many it is still a very new phenomenon in the UK (and it is challenging the very fabric of our behaviour); I don’t think that’s a bad start!

So what’s your experience of Social Media behaviour online?


Image: Salvatore Vuono /

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Debra Mann April 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Yes there in does lie the problem. firstly we don’t have time and secondly Social Media for peeps like me is my second/third/forth job, so when I get round to engaging it’s like 6pm and I should be in the garden with glass of wine in hand and chilling! but that is why we need Social Media Managers like you and when I am rich, I will employ one. But the rates will be low like my salary all those years! lol

Paul Allen April 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Thanks Debra for responding and that is the approach most business people take and it is totally understandable. For most people the notion of conducting business on a number of very public platforms, being asked to in effect, create their own PR through blogging scares them to death. To then have to try to convince them to take a leap of faith which suggests all this extra curricular activity will lead to increased revenue and you can begin to see the size of the problem! The key to changing perceptions will be in the results acheived by early adopters and business training such as the excellent Social Media seminars being run at

Nigel Morgan - Morgan PR April 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Ah the heady aroma of Insignia deodorant and Brut 33 aftershave filled my mental senses as I read your post Paul!
I remember those forays into clubs in the eighties! However, without revealing too many best forgotten assignations, the truly successful encounters had often been preceded by prior contact – earlier meeting and conversations that made me look incredibly smooth come 1.30am! Therein lies a neat parallel with social media – success is all about relationships and only rarely will serendipty shine and bring those lucky encounters that blossom into something special.
As you say, all too often businesses blunder on to social media and expect one liners to deliver meaningful relationships. Or when they do engage in conversation they do not maintain contact long enough for a relationship to develop.
As for the blog, this is the equivalent of ensuring your flat is tidy with an impressive bookshelf, appropriate music and clean sheets. If you get to invite someone back you need them to be impressed and a well written and up to date blog will encourage people to stay, look around and hopefully… well who knows!
To further flog the analogy, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are not the same venue. Respectively they are the pub, nightclub and gentleman’s club (where ladies are allowed!) and depending on where your customers hang out, you should be in those venues for while some may go from the pub to the nightclub, the majority will have a favourite venue and if you do not visit, you will never score here!

Paul Allen April 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Thanks Nigel, powerful memories indeed, I have to say full marks to you, taking an analogy that fat just shows you can take the boy out of journolism but you can’t take journolism out of the boy!

Graham Jones April 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Firstly Paul, thanks for mentioning me and suggesting I might have a view…but then you know I have a view on most things and I’m not afraid to give it…!

Secondly, I am very concerned that Nigel Morgan has admitted publicly that he has previously purchased Brut 33; this reveals a side of his character I was unaware of. I have made a note…!

I am, of course, far too young to even remember clubbing in the 80s, or is it too old because I was clubbing in the 70s…? Anyway, we never called them “clubs” they were “discotheques” – remember “Cinderella’s” in Guildford…? I was there and did a joint gig there with DJ Tommy Vance once….long story, I digress…..

Actually it is not much of a digression….I got to know a number of nationally known DJs – including Tommy Vance, Alan Freeman and Johnnie Walker – and worked with them on several projects. How did I do that when I was a humble student, earning a crust doing freelance work on local radio, writing the odd record review and running a mobile disco…? Well, I simply phoned them. It took several attempts to speak with them. I had to back it up with letters, but gradually, over several weeks I managed to build up a sort of relationship with them so much so they agreed to work with me – a “nobody” in their world.

Persistence helps, of course, but it was the “slow burn” of the building of the relationships which won in the end. If I were looking for ROI on my initial phone calls, it would have been zero. If I were looking for ROI on my letters, it would have been zero too.

Nowadays, looking for ROI on a Tweet or a Blog post is rather like me looking for ROI on those phone calls and letters. It is looking for data in the wrong place. The real return on social media comes a long way down the line – often so far down the line you can’t even remember how the relationship all began.

Every business owner I know says they get their main income from the people they have the best relationships with. But then many of those business owners say in the next breath that they want ROI data measurements on things which have very little, if anything, to do with relationships. If people truly believe that relationships count, then stop counting the things which are not about relating to each other..!

At the end of those evenings in the night club, there may well be many young men who are desperate for the remaining girls. But the guys who go home with a smile on their faces are the ones who have sat quietly, asked their dance partners lots of questions, shown an interest in them and developed a relationship. It is just the same on Twitter, blogs, and every other form of social networking. Businesses who search for ROI on all of this do not understand social media and its implications. Indeed, it suggests, harshly, that they don’t even understand business.

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