There is often a feeling that the Third Sector is inexorably doomed to chase the tail of the Private Sector when it comes to online innovation and best practice, but my recent conference experience and industry gut feeling tell me that when it comes to social media the worm has turned.
One of the key factors in this observation was the latest who’s who in social, the Social Brands 100. This year’s list contained an unprecedented number of charities (almost 25% of the Top 100) and the research undertaken led the custodians of this report to state that; “It was long thought that content was king. This was replaced by the mantra that curation is king. But our findings suggest a new idiom… Caring is King”
Charities are built upon caring and it is this foundation that is leading to the successes being seen within social media. Traditional business techniques are failing in the social world and after years of trying it seems that the Private Sector is finally waking up to this new way of working.
Because of its digital origins, social media has grown up with the shackles of online metrics, the misguided impression that every single interaction is measurable and accountable. But social media owes so much more of its identity to traditional PR, although it has a tremendous and unique amount to offer in its own right.
Many of the big organisations are realising that measuring outputs and direct returns is simply not enough and is only scratching the surface of what social provides. At the recent Brand Republic #SMVevent, Price Floyd, Vice President External Engagement and Digital Strategy at BAE Systems, spoke of measuring impact and not outcomes. He advocated the need to discover how your messages were changing the behaviours of those you seek to influence, the decisions they were making and the actions they were taking both online AND offline.
Christopher Wellbelove, Senior Digital Brand Manager at BT Group, also spoke of the importance of acknowledging the impact of individual serendipitous events. A recent conversation between Marie Curie Cancer Care and Robert Webb about a Yellow Bowler hat is a prime example of this.
Dan Brooke, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Channel 4, eulogised social media as the “stairway to heaven”, where heaven is “viewers watching and engaging with our programming”. He described how C4 was using Facebook for pre and post transmission awareness, and using Twitter to engage during shows, but when it came to putting a definitive figure, or value, on the effect of this activity Brooke’s view was – “It’s hard to say”. However, Brooke firmly believes in social saying; “in our bones we know it is a fair trade wind for us.”
Throughout my day at the conference I was continually confronted by this wave of feeling that the Private Sector are, and already have been, embarking upon this new caring direction and if we are to learn anything from them it is that now is the time for the Third Sector to stand tall and proud in this new social world and lead the way.