Social media: The third major modern marketing revolution
If you are a GenX’er (like me) or a Baby Boomer, you’ll remember the first time you were introduced to email and the World Wide Web. Do you remember when people said – ‘website! Why would I need a website?’ or ‘email! Who would trust that? I have a mailing address – why would I need an email address as well?’ When I did my post grad business studies in the early 1990’s, I made a radical decision to take an elective subject that was being offered – internet marketing. It was the first year it was offered at my university. I was working full time in a major teaching hospital and we didn’t even have email, needless to say access to the Internet. Computers were simply word processors in our office. So to take this course was seen to be a huge leap of faith and an ‘utter waste of time unless I wanted to be a computer programmer’ to quote a mentor of mine at the time. I was completely lost in the subject, had no idea what I was doing, could hardly drive the computers we had to work with in the business school classrooms. I struggled and wrestled with the content each week. Thank goodness the course counted for nothing in terms of my final mark, as I’m sure I was at the bottom of the class. But it was instrumental considering the job I have now. It seeded my curiosity and opened my eyes to the online world that was emerging.
Discovering email: @ the first wave
In December 1996, along with 25 million people, I received my first email account and an hour-long tutorial on how to write, send and manage emails. I was in a marketing role in a local biopharmaceutical company and I had no clue how to use email and ‘surf the net’. The company had a brand new website and I became one of the key authors of the content (with absolutely no prior experience). I had only discovered the Internet months earlier. The marketing group was expected to explore, create and curate from the web. A dramatic change in my working life, but it wasn’t just a revolution for me. 1996 was a very big year for email. Hotmail, one of the first web-based email services was launched and email moved from the academic, military, government sphere it had developed within towards the business sector with extraordinary speed. Five years later, virtually every business in the developed world had email. By 2001, 9.8 billion electronic messages were sent daily. In February 2014, we sent 189.2 billion emails a day. These days we simply can’t do business without an email address.
Meanwhile, www knocks on the door: the second wave
I’ve never navigated such a steep learning curve as I did in the early days of that biopharmaceutical job in terms of managing the new business tools in front of me. Within months I was virtually in charge of the company web page. And to add a little more pressure, the business had just gone to IPO and it was one of the most anticipated biotech IPO’s of the sector that year – everyone was watching. Web pages were less than five years old at this stage and I was battling again to understand content management systems, web developer language, analytics and architecture as well as create original content. The good news was that virtually no one else in the business knew much about web development so I was on my own. The first web page in the world was live in 1991 and in six years (the time I was managing our company website) 10 million users worldwide had web accounts. We were among the first cohort of Australian listed companies with a web page. I recall going to a big investor presentation in Sydney the next year and one of the partners in a well-known stockbroking firm wanted to know why we had wasted shareholders money on building a web page. True! In September 2014, there were more than 1 billion websites. At 30 December 2014 it was 1.1 billion and counting. To not have a web site is unthinkable in business today.
Everything old is new again: Social media and the third wave
It’s funny how everything comes full circle. The best business is built on relationships. Nothing beats face-to-face, personal recommendations, introductions and feedback in driving good business. In the early noughties we began rediscovering the power of old fashioned social marketing powered by IT tools. The town market in ‘days of yore’ met the World Wide Web with the introduction of LinkedIn in 2003. Business development practices began adapting in front of our eyes. Out with impersonal electronic direct mail and in with one-to-one connections and personal networks. Following in LinkedIn’s footsteps came Facebook in 2004, initially seen as a ‘college friendship and dating’ network. Business and big brands were very quick to recognise the potential of Facebook (check out Coca Cola Facebook page with 92 million Followers). For the next three years we watched YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr enter the market followed soon after with image sharing social technologies: Pinterest and Instagram. These days I often hear people say to me: ‘why would I need social media?’ Just like they used to say ‘why would I need an email address’ and ‘why would I need a website’. Years ago people used to say ‘why would I need a telephone for business?’ There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking why. In fact I love an optimistic sceptic. To say ‘No’ (without understanding why not) is to turn your back to the way business will be done from this point forward. And like telephones, email and the world wide web, social media will power on with our without you.