As someone who’s racked up over 8,000 tweets, been using Facebook since it was a closed network available only to those with “prestigious” university email addresses, been running blogs for very close to a decade, and spent half of last week traversing the country from Loughborough to Falmouth in order to demonstrate to people how to use social media in a higher education context, I often take it for granted that everyone can see the value of these online tools we use everyday. But this is resolutely not the case.
For instance, the talk I gave in Loughborough was split into two parts: 50% how we built our new university B2B website, and 50% hints and tips on social media usage. I expected everyone to be more interested in the latter; people in higher education are, surely, by nature, more open to new ideas, are they not? But no; the people who rushed to speak to me before I jumped back in the car and drove southwards were interested in the website development, which I took to be old hat and common sense in 2011. Social media and online networking seemed to scare them.
But HE isn’t the only sector still behind the times, far from it. The enterprising manager of a local multiplex cinema chain set-up a Twitter account for the branch she managed, which she used to publicise screenings, network with customers and local businesses, and generally engage with the local community. Normally my wife and I would feel obliged to go to the local independent cinema, which usually shows the kind of slightly leftfield films we enjoy (foreign films about the desolation of the human spirit, for instance).
But a rash of mainstream films we liked the look of (from Toy Story 3 to Inception), combined with less comfortable seats and viewing angles at the independent, plus a vague irritation with the fact that much of the independent’s clientele seemed like the kind of people who attended a local independent cinema in order to avoid riffraff rather than enjoy a great film, and, of course, the manager’s engagement with Twitter, meant we ended up feeling more comfortable at the multiplex chain, and it became our cinema of choice.
In fact, the manager’s willingness to engage with her customers lead to a little bit of lobbying and campaigning on my behalf and the midnight screening of a film (psycho-sexual gene-horror sci-fi Splice) that no other cinema in our area was going to show. I was told if I could guarantee a dozen bums on seats, it would cover costs. The first night it showed there were about 22 people there, maybe 8 of whom I didn’t know at all (the rest were friends, colleagues, and film-buff associates of mine). It felt like an awesome little event, a private cinema club that made for great goodwill towards the cinema brand and which was thoroughly enjoyable for all (even if the film wasn’t quite to everybody’s taste!).
Splice played at midnight for the rest of the week, and I gather there were people there for each screening. Had the manager not been on Twitter and chatting with her customers, this wouldn’t have happened. The manager also organised, via Twitter, for various local business people and customers to have a tour of the cinema, seeing projection rooms and so on, which garnered yet more positive comments and appreciation of the brand online (this I couldn’t attend; I was,frankly, more than a little gutted).
How is this showing a misunderstanding of social media, I hear you ask? Early on in her Twitter engagement, the manager asked for justifications that she could give to head office for having a local presence. I listed a load, and I doubt I was alone. This morning she tweeted that the branded account she’d been using for the last year or so was regretfully going to cease, and that we should follow her personal account instead (which I have duly done). It’s not been said in so many words, but my inference is that word has come from the top that she’s “not allowed”.
I understand fully the value of protecting your brand; a big slice of my day job is spent trying to convince researchers that they don’t need a logo for every little project and centre when we have a perfectly good, very well recognised and valued one for the whole university. But social media allows people who love your brand to spread that love around, allows a peep into the personalities of the people behind the brand. When it became obvious that the manager of our local chain cinema loved films as much as we did, and was willing to engage with customers, absorb ideas, enterprise, innovate, and connect, we felt a sense of loyalty to a brand that we had absolutely none for before.
Head office has just put a big dirty black smudge over that loyalty.