By the time subscribers to The New York Times settled into their Wednesday morning paper with steaming cups of coffee in hand, the fact that Scott Brown had just won a monumental victory in Massachusetts for Edward “Ted” Kennedy’s senate seat was already old news.
In addition to the breaking news being posted on news websites worldwide shortly after Brown’s 9:25 p.m. victory, social media users were posting their own reactions on sites such as Twitter and Facebook almost immediately following the announcement that the Republican had taken a long-held Democratic seat in the Senate, a move that single-handedly will likely change the direction of national health care reform.
“The reality is, besides traditional media, we now recognize that each of us — all of us — are members of the media,” said WordHampton Public Relations President Steve Haweeli.
Haweeli added that he believed trusted news sources, like newspapers, are critical to ensure non-biased information is making it through the spin machine, but that ultimately the impact of social networks on news, public relations and marketing is staggering.
“The growth of the social network is beyond a phenomenon,” he said. “The numbers are simply staggering.”
There are currently 350 million users, worldwide, on Facebook, said Haweeli, making Facebook the fourth largest country in the world.
“It’s a comfortable place to be, it’s a fun place to be,” said Haweeli. “You can control your content or what you want to see when you want to see it, and you can un-friend people. From a marketing standpoint, it can widen your audience and it allows for updates in real time.”
For example, said Haweeli, Town Line BBQ in East Hampton has engaged friends on Facebook by leaking a Monday night pub quiz question on their Facebook page and using the site to announce their winners the next day.
At WordHampton, Haweeli has found embracing social networks to be critical to the business’s growth and development, and something he urges his clients to take part in.
WordHampton jumped on the social network bandwagon early in its heyday, starting on MySpace and, like the rest of the market, shifting their focus to Facebook and Twitter.
“We had been tracking the trend of social media since May of 2006,” he said. “And we were able to quietly build a base of knowledge and were ready before our clients were.”
Last year, said Haweeli, the social network phenomenon truly took hold and WordHampton was there to help clients set up and run their Twitter and Facebook pages, but more importantly understand what they needed to do to successfully use the sites as marketing tools.
“I would never have considered myself a techie, but I would say I might be one now because I think understanding our world as it relates to communications and marketing means I need to understand where this kind of mobile marketing is moving,” he said.
On Twitter, for example, Haweeli said it is critical to understand what your voice is, who you are marketing to and what your ultimate message will be in the series of 150-word updates you leave on the site. Best practices are also key, he said, ensuring you are not bombarding your friends on Facebook with news about your business, but sending out updates in digestible chunks.
“You also have to be careful,” said Haweeli, about who in your company you are willing to entrust with passwords and posts, which is why he recommends each company develop a social media policy of their own.
For many clients, simply having the time to keep people engaged through social media can be a hurdle in itself; but, according to Haweeli, embracing this new kind of outreach is an absolute necessity for any business in this day and age.
“People understand now this is real – it’s not just for kids or college kids,” said Haweeli. “In fact, women over 50 are the largest growing demographic on Facebook.”
Haweeli added that the social network phenomenon is only growing as we become a more mobile society, many relying on smart phones like the iPhone as their main link to the Internet. Mobile websites and media like iPhone applications are the wave of the future, he said, as are text message campaigns.
“Just look at how that has impacted Haitian relief,” he said.
As of Tuesday, over $22 million had been donated by U.S. residents via text message to support Haitian earthquake relief through the American Red Cross. That organization said in previous years it had yet to break $500,000 using similar text message campaigns.
WordHampton Public Relations is located at 512 Three Mile Harbor Rd. in East Hampton. For more information, call 329-0050.
Pictured above: Nicole Starr Castillo, the executive vice president of WordHampton Public Relations, checks on the company’s Facebook page, one of several social networks that increasingly have played a larger role in the marketing of local businesses on the East End.