My television was on in the background as I worked when the first news of the terrible earthquake in Haiti began to break. Before there were news crews on the ground providing video, there were only a few still photos giving us a by sampling of the heart-breaking devastation. Those photos were taken using cell phones and uploaded to Facebook through satellite internet connections. Hours before media teams and relief workers could arrive; people living and working in Haiti used Twitter, blogs and Facebook to tell the world of their plight.
This is not the first time the “new media” has served as an information portal on situations where traditional media was not able, or allowed to cover breaking news. In June, 2009 we learned of the unrest and protests in Iran over their “election results” from the very same “new media” sources. That was the first time I recall extensive citizen reports being used on the national news and the on-air teams were careful to point out that what we were about to see was information which “could not be independently verified” but it was of such historical significance, they felt we should see and hear it none the less.
As I watched the incoming news of the Haiti earthquake, I saw Shepherd Smith of Fox News seamlessly integrate Facebook posts, Twitter “tweets”, cell phone photos all with a satellite hookup phone call from a witness on the ground. CNN’s reports for the first few hours also contained information directly quoted from Twitter and Facebook posts. By the time our citizen reporters lost the last of their battery power, the more traditional news teams had begun to arrive and picked up where the first reporters had left off. Beyond being moved by the tragedy and inspired by the willingness of the world to pitch in to help neighbors; I was moved and inspired by the way new media allows each of us to more fully participate in the world around us.
What lesson is there for all business people in seeing how the new media has not only emerged – but merged into the everyday sources we turn to for news and information? I think the message is this: Ignore new media at your own peril!
My chronological age may make me a dinosaur to my teen and early twenties stepsons, but here I am with a blog, a Facebook page and of course, a website. I am by no means an “early-adopter” of technology. Some of my friends are much further down this road. Gayle O’Donnell, owner of All About Weddings and Celebrations has a much read blog and lots of followers on Twitter. True, her customer base is young women planning or participating in a wedding, but this younger demographic will continue to become more and more important to ALL our businesses. The ways they communicate and get information are not likely to suddenly switch back to traditional methods once they turn 30.
The changes in communication and information gathering are not limited to those under 30 either. The telephone books were just delivered to our home and they went directly into our recycle bin. No one in our household can recall the last time we consulting a printed directory for any goods or services. The computer is our first source for all information. Are we unique? I don’t think so.
I do some consulting for Destination Marketing clients and they have a person on their team described as the Digital Evangelist. More and more businesses are becoming aware of the need to both have and manage their on-line presences. (Have you done a Google search of your business name today?)
The local chapter of the National Speakers Association hosted an event last week with event planners and speakers at the Columbia Tower Club. The message these event planners sent loud and clear was this: “We are all on-line, on Facebook, on Twitter and connected to each other and our counterparts all over the country. We expect to find you in those places too if you want to speak at our events.”
For years I have been telling fellow speakers and consultants that staying current is critical to your credibility. People believe if your look is dated, your information must be dated as well. Your “look” has now expanded beyond your clothes and hair. Now it includes your digital presence as well as your physical one. (Repeat Google search for you personally.)
Recently I was speaking at a national conference. In the audience, the under 30 attendees were texting and tweeting during the presentation. I asked one of them later if they would mind telling me why. Did they find my material boring or irrelevant? No, quite the opposite, the texts and tweets were to other attendees in different sessions telling them they were missing out. In fact, I had noticed several people come in and take seats near the back of the room well into my speech. This is the power of word of mouth advertising in its new form in the digital era.
The internet and various social media forums are not the domain of only the very young. Seniors are now on-line in ever-increasing numbers. Several years ago I bought my mom her first computer. I got a frustrated phone call from her recently when she couldn’t find something on the internet. I did some searching myself and did manage to find a phone number for the business. When I called and asked for their web address I found out they didn’t have one! I relayed this information to my mom – who only a few years ago was convinced she didn’t need this computer I was buying for her – and she was appalled! How could they NOT have a website!?!
If your business does not have a website, even a simple one; you need one, in fact, you needed it 7 years ago. If you don’t have a Facebook page for your business, you need that as well. Best part about Facebook; it’s FREE. Even if you don’t see a single customer from it right now, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t cost you anything to build or be there. This blog is also FREE. If you are an expert in your field, you should be blogging to share information with your customers and prospective customers.
Don’t know how to get started? Do you have a recent college grad living in your household who has not yet found a full-time job? Let them earn their room and board by doing a simple website and your Facebook page for you. Then get a 30 minute tutorial from them on how to maintain and update the information. Not one in your house? Lucky you. Ask your friends. One will no doubt have just such a young person who can devote a couple of hours to getting you set up and showing you what to do going forward. Offer to write them a letter of recommendation and/or buy them a tank of gas if they do a good job for you.
This train has already left the station. If you run right now, you can still catch it. If you don’t, you may soon find yourself standing alone on an empty platform asking, “Where have all my customers gone?”