In 24 hours, a hashtag sparked in response to the tragic photo of drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, was used over 200,000 times. As the discussion widens, memes, articles and online petitions have spread even faster. The noise is loud, the message clear and the potential for real change as a result of these conversations is at least a vague hope for many of us.
In a single news search, I found 15 articles that take the way this debate is being played out on social media as their main story. And I’m sure there are much more. Each article looks at the data from the online activity – links, hashtags, words, frequency – and attempts to interpret the sentiment behind it.
This genre of news isn’t new. In fact, the news has been using social media as its source for years. And it can get quite interesting. For example, The Economist’s analysis on the potential for the ISIS message based on Twitter activity demonstrates how hashtag usage in one country versus another can tell the story of trends in political thinking.
Rarely is any kind of news story without the mention of a social media post, quote or stat of some sort. That social media is grabbing so much of our news pages the most telling – dare I use this phrase – the sign of the times.
So why is this exciting to a marketer?
First up, social media now comes before anything else. I’m not dramatic here, but if journalists (and not just the lazy ones) are taking this area of the Internet seriously enough to build stories entirely formed of the regurgitated thoughts of social media users, that’s big news. Forget letters to newspapers or surveys, if you need an opinion, just go on Twitter and type in a hashtag.
Open data is another area we marketers share a new found love for. Science is taking over marketing and never before has data driven so many decisions. The skill of interpreting (and predicting) behaviour has taken precedent in campaign planning as we look at what makes people tick to inform how best we can add value and achieve the desired outcomes.
Marketers today have the challenge and the privilege of viewing thousands, if not millions, of stories every day and engage with micro and macro trends in a way that is authentic. We have learnt from social media, and it is (mostly) organic growth that community is everything.