If SylC is a young adolescent, then 38minutes.com is the cool kid in the 6th form that we all look up to. Editor of that site Nicola More here explores the potential of social networks as a business marketing tool – and offers some top tips for SylC members to make the most of this very site – from access to advertising, coffee to far-reaching change.
Social networks get a bad rep. I can think of no other form of media that’s so revered and maligned in equal measure. To quote Spiderman (and why not?) ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. And therein lies the challenge – social networks walk a delicate balance between promoting free speech and protecting members. The trouble with free speech is that you can’t guarantee whether it will be useful, informative and interesting – or ‘what I had for lunch in 140 characters’.
The most social of social networks, sites like Facebook and Twitter, need to be handled with care in the corporate world, as their casual demeanour makes them a marketing minefield. I for one enjoyed a little chuckle when Scottish Labour Party member Stuart MacLennan referred to OAPs as ‘coffin dodgers’ and passengers at a Stirling train station as ‘chavs’ on Twitter. It was labelled ‘twitter suicide’ and the unfortunate candidate got the heave-ho.
The social network for business is however a whole new ball game. I’m not talking about LinkedIn here (I personally find it utterly useless), but specific, focused, purposeful social networks, like SylC. These have great potential to link up professionals at every level, from freelance creatives to global businesses and, in the case of SylC, independent organisations from across a wide geographical area. They provide a forum on which to share best practice, discuss industry trends, swap ideas, advertise opportunities and even just let off steam. And their niche, business focus brings with it an implied code of etiquette – this will not be a place where you let your guard down after three glasses of wine and call your boss a tool.
To illustrate my point, I’d like to introduce readers to 38minutes, a social network for modern media originally launched for Channel 4 and now run by a small group of volunteers. From a small base and with little more than a few hours of admin, the network now has close to 3,000 members, along with hundreds of blogs, job opportunities and events. These members range from freelancers to executives, representing every area of media, from copywriting to iPhone apps. 38 even welcomed its first celebrity when Stephen Fry joined in 2009.
Trouble is, the site operates with zero budget, beyond the basic hosting costs. In the months ahead, I’ll be working with volunteers to develop the site and demonstrate that it deserves at least some modest financial support. Why?
Because it delivers results.
So from one social network to another, here are my thoughts about what 38 has achieved, and the possibilities this illuminates for SylC.
Social networks are a great way to find potential partners for projects. On 38minutes, PR man Richard Saville-Smith has blogged tirelessly about his aspiration to set up an all-encompassing arts ticketing platform. His perseverance has led to lots of feedback (some encouraging, some critical) from influential members such as Ian Mackenzie of Channel 4, creative consultant Anne Bonnar, Jen Davies of Glasgow Film Theatre and various other creatives. He is now discussing the idea with Creative Scotland.
If you have an idea for your sector, why not float it on SYLC for feedback? You may well find high levels of support, or at the very least receive helpful advice to refine your proposal.
Access, access, access
I won’t lie – much of the success of 38minutes in the early days was down to the presence of various powerful and influential people, such as Channel 4 executive Stuart Cosgrove. That, and the lure of a funding pot in the form of 4iP. But that’s not a bad thing. Social media is a great leveller. Crammed diaries mean you might not get a chance to meet someone who is powerful in your industry, but on a social network you can get yourself right under their nose. It also works in reverse – talented people can find you, providing a useful alternative recruitment forum.
It’s worth identifying members of the site who could potentially support your business (or vice versa!) and making contact.
Lobby for change
People power at its best. If there is strong feeling about a particular industry issue, it’s very easy to spark a campaign using a social network. Various members of 38minutes were part of an industry advisory group working with Scottish Enterprise to launch a strategy for Scottish digital media. The strategy argued for tax breaks in the gaming sector, and received support from the 38minutes community and games body TIGA. It didn’t work – the axe loomed on public funding in every area as we now know – but it did generate publicity and create a welcome sense of community.
Consider forming into groups with fellow members to drive action in a certain area. Or you could even pool resources to fund a joint project.
Effective, free advertising
Let’s face it, one of the best things about social media is its affordability. It enables even the smallest organisation to advertise its wares, using little more than time and energy. And unlike traditional advertising, social networks reveal the people behind the brand – little personal insights and quirks create a feeling of integrity and are a much warmer way of communicating a message. I for one, have great faith in humanity but little interest in advertising copy.
Spend some time building your brand through your social media profile – and let your passion shine through.
Take virtual to real
Ironically, one of the biggest groups we have on 38minutes is called Edinburgh Coffee Morning. Every Friday, media types crawl out of bed early and head to local eatery Centotre for coffee and chat. After all, social media is just that – social.
SylC has members from all over Europe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t organise a little real-world get together for members in your area.
And finally, a few tips gathered from various experts...
Image by SPazzø on Flickr under Creative Commons.