Prompted partly by Alex’s round-up of 2013 ‘freefrom’ news (nearly all of which took place on Facebook, on Twitter or on someone’s blog) and partly by an article in the NY Times, I was mulling gently about how social media had totally subverted the way we work – and the way we promote our work.
The NY Times article (highlighted by a link from the new Latitudes website) tells about Renee Shutters’ battle with the Food and Drug Administration over artificial dyes in foods, especially in sweets such as M&Ms. Despite having testified before the FDA, her campaign to have artificial dyes removed from foods was going nowhere – until she joined forces with the Centre for Science in the Pubic Interest to set up an on line petition to which she now has over 140,000 signatories. And all of a sudden Mars, makers of M&Ms, is hinting that it may soon replace at least one of the petroleum based dyes with a natural alternative derived from seaweed.
And Mars are by no means the first to capitulate to online petitions or Twitter/Facebook campaigns. In the US, although they do not admit the direct connection, several major companies have effectively done what their on-line critics have demanded: Cargill labelled the dreaded ‘pink slime’ in their ground beef; Pepsico replaced brominated vegetable oil on their Gatorade drink after a Change.org petition started by a 15 year old in Missouri. And those are just the instances mentioned in this article. Back home, I blogged a few months ago about how both Pizza Express and Seabrook crisps had changed policy as a result of two bloggers’ campaigns.
But the crucial thing about all of these campaigns, as anyone who has ever signed an Avaaz or Change.org petition will know, is that they rely on you, the signatory, to promote their cause by encouraging you very heavily – and making it very easy for you – to ‘share’ your support with your Twitter and Facebook followers and friends thus increasing the value of your support (to them) hundreds or even thousands-fold.
As a business, no matter how small, you are expected to have a Twitter/Facebook presence and I know of a number of quite significant size companies who use Facebook as an alternative to a website. Warburtons, for example, when they first launched their gluten-free range and for over a year afterwards only had a Facebook page. And although they now do a have a website, the Facebook page remains extremely active with almost daily posts and 31,000 Likes.
Even in our own freefrom world, while our websites’ viewings have remained relatively static over the year (pretty healthy at around half a million unique visitors a year, but relatively static), our Twitter followers have all but doubled (from just under 7,000 to over 13,000) as have our Facebook Likes (from 1380 to 2,700) – which far more accurately reflects the very much heightened interest in everything ‘freefrom’ that we have experienced this year.
Moving with the trend, as we saw it, we recruited Alex last year to manage our social media for us (so our doubling in followers/Likes is entirely down to him) and have already had to ask him to increase the hours that he spends on line for us. But, we have to ask ourselves whether Facebook and Twitter are enough? Do we need Pinterest boards, a Google Plus account, to join Bibo? We already know that we need to be more active on Linked In – indeed I have just started Linked In groups for both the Freefrom Food and the Freefrom Eating Out Awards (please feel free to join right here). But how much time can we – should we – be spending on this?
Ah yes – well that is the $64,000 question, is it not? What is all this activity really worth to our causes, our campaigns, our businesses? Of course, like so much advertising and certainly so much PR, nobody really knows. Except in relatively rare and quite specific cases, there is really no way of quantifying the effects of having 13,000, or indeed 13,000,000, Twitter followers or untold Facebook ‘Friends’ or ‘Likes’. Except, of course, that the buzz makes us feel good and important and influential. Maybe that, of itself, is enough. Feeling good about what you are doing does not just ‘feel good’ but it is generally also considered to significantly boost productivity…
Odd further thoughts:
Sam Waterfall at the Interview Doctor, gives excellent advice on boosting your social media presence (he finally explained Linked In to me!!) as well as advising you how to spruce up your interview technique!
Seen in an Independent ’roundup’ last w/e:
There’s the English Defence League. And there’s the English Disco Lovers – the charming movement established by four friends with the motto ‘One World, One Race, One Disco’ – to reclaim, as they saw it , the acronym EDL. ‘By subverting (the English Defence League’s’) hatred with humour, we aim to promote equality, respect and the Eutopian vision of Disco!’ Result? The English Defence League Facebook Likes: fewer than 25,000; the English Disco League; more than 60,000!