Friday, 3 September 2010

Social Media and the art of public speaking

It’s a long time since I have delivered a presentation to local businesses here in Norfolk but I recently was asked if I would present at its upcoming Digital Simple conference on September 16th ( The invite left me thinking long and hard on what would interest 150 people enough to listen to me for a half an hour.

The last time I gave some presentations with the chamber was over 8 years ago. Then I asked the audience how many people had booked a flight online or did their banking online. Only a few raised their hands. Today these seem daft questions as the internet is now such a common part of most people’s lives. In the last 8 years the internet itself has not changed that much. What has changed however is how many people use it, how often they use it and through what devices and what they are using it for.

It was only a few months ago that I wrote a column about privacy issues with Facebook. Yes I did gloat when I read Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google earlier last month talk in an interview about the dangers of releasing too much personal information on social media sites. However when there are 500m worldwide Facebook users and 26m in this country that is a difficult message to get across. There is a danger in sharing personal info but there is just as much being shared online about brands and businesses, as there is drunk photos that may come back to haunt. Eight years ago the internet was a tool to find information. It is still that but today just as much time is spent sharing experiences as finding info.

People are not just finding out where a restaurant is and what time it opens but sharing reviews of the food with their friends and complete strangers. If you are a business, the change in the way people use the internet is important. You need to understand that people are now online talking about you, not just finding info about you. You can either choose to ignore that or participate in the conversation.

It’s by no coincidence that the largest single driver of mobile internet access is social media as people want to share views and information from wherever they are. With the huge growth in internet enabled mobile phones it is now commonplace to see people sharing their thoughts right from where they are, from the restaurant to the shop floor. Customers now have the tools and technology to share views both positive and negative right at the point they have them and if they are negative this instance access means no time for cooling off or reflection.

However this change in internet behaviour driven by the growth in social media should be seen as a blessing not a curse, an opportunity not a threat. The different social media tools allow businesses to create real engagement with existing and potential customers. It probably will not immediately increase your bottom line and will take up time. That investment in time though will bring you a deeper relationship with some customers and introduce others to you and your area of expertise where you can then direct them to your website where the real selling should happen.

The way people use the web and how often they do has fundamentally changed over the last 8 years and there is no going back. So I decided to name my talk “the changing face of the internet and the new rules of engagement”. Not the catchiest of titles but if you are free on the 16th come and see me at the Open Bank Plain Norwich at 2:20pm. There may even be a quiz!

Tim Youngman is Head of Digital Marketing for Archant