Does it always need to be Facebook?

It seems we’ve come to a point at which any conversation about social media ultimately leads to Facebook and Twitter. That’s the West. Interestingly, here in the East, we’re currently witnessing a very similar trend. Whenever people talk about social media, they will inevitably at one point mention Sina Weibo, which has seen stellar growth since its inception in August of 2009 (250 M users in Q3 2011) and is now being increasingly embraced by foreign brands, too.

So, we asked ourselves the question whether a conversation about social media would be possible without mentioning Facebook, Twitter or Weibo. As we have shown in our training on Friday, November 25, here in Hong Kong, the answer is most definitely ‘yes’. In the past 12 or so months we witnessed the emergence of a whole battalion of new social media platforms that are set to further drive the revolution that Facebook and Co once unleashed. Names like Tumblr, Instagram, Foodspotting and Foursquare (granted, this one isn’t exactly a newcomer anymore, but still emerging) will certainly play an increasingly important role in our world of social media marketing communications. A quick look at the stats is quite telling:

This past August, Techcrunch reported that Instagram had already seen the upload of 150 M pictures since its inception in 2010 – that’s 150 M pictures in about nine months. Remember Flickr? It took them two years to hit 100 M pictures on their platform. And don’t forget that Instagram is still only available on iOS.

Tumblr’s case is similar. Quantcast data shows that Tumblr is now seeing as many views in a day as they were in a month about 2.5 years ago. 250 M pageviews in all of July 2009 and again on May 16, 2011.

The significant influence of these platforms isn’t restricted to the numbers, however. They are also changing the rules of the marketing game.

When Web 2.0 and social media first entered the common parlance of marketing folk, they were heralded as a revolutionary shift of power from brands to consumers. Now, however, more often than not we see brands broadcasting the same old messages in the same old way, just on new platforms. But surely, some (and actually more and more) are getting it right. So, we can all be confident that this new vigor instilled into the social media revolution by these emerging platforms will help a couple of more brands to lift their marketing communications efforts onto a new level. A great case in point is Burberry. What this brand does on Instagram is a glimpse at what the future of our industry might look like. Burberry has freed itself from the shackles of the ‘campaign’ and is exercising true consumer engagement on a long term basis. This is what social media is all about. The shift from the brand to the consumer meant that brands were to become more accessible, less distant and more human. But who wants to interact with someone on a campaign-basis every 3 or so months? Consumers want to interact with their brands whenever THEY want to, on their terms. In Burberry’s case, they now can. Updating information almost in real-time, the British luxury fashion house gives users the chance to get a glimpse behind the polished scenes. And not just virtually. Geo-tagging even gives diehard fans the chance to check the places of action out personally. ­

Yes, users can certainly interact with brands on their Facebook pages. But in many cases, we witness too much distance between a brand and its fans. If only very carefully crafted posts are allowed to make it onto the main page, it’s obvious that the brand is still not comfortable with letting go of its control. What Burberry is able to convey on Instagam is a genuine feeling of mutual affection between brand and consumer. It’s less polished, and because of that, more human. And that’s what marketing communications should be based on in the end: human communication.