A few days ago I started my day like any other day. There were a large amount of emails in my inbox, tweets to respond to, friend statuses on Facebook to mull, text messages and a few voicemails, photos to like on Instagram, my daily dose of news from all around the web when a quote from Bill Gates that caught my eye and it read “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
A strange thing happened at that moment. I did not think of a leader as a person, but rather as someone who allows amazing things to happen. Social media today has democratized conversations, empowering today’s leaders to craft powerful messages on a global scale.
The benefit? We are able to discuss our thoughts, ideas, and opinions on important issues – as soon as they happen. I’ll give you an example.
I love sports. Last year, we were all watching the Super Bowl XLVII showdown between the 49ers and the Ravens. And if you’re not a football fan, you were watching Beyonce’s epic half-time show. At some point in the third quarter of the game, a power outage caused the lights to go – and we all had to take a break from the game.
However, somewhere in New York, Oreo’s 15-person social media team realized that this was their chance to spark a conversation amongst 108 million football watchers. Oreo’s simple picture: an Oreo with the message, “Power Out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark”, generated 15,000 re-tweets and 20,000 Facebook likes, and a good chunk of PR for the sandwich cookie.
Luck? Not quite. An article from Wired explains that the company had several versions of a picture ready for social media amplification. However, this one tweet bought them a fraction of the brand lift that television advertisers get for running ads during the big game; for less than a fraction of the cost.
The point I’m making is that brands like these aren’t just “in the right place, at the right time”. They are smart and strategic, they allow the conversation to happen organically and they are the future of brand marketing. Brands are slowly starting to realize that consumers love social media; and with the right strategies in place, they can create organic conversations about their brand and topics that it represents.
This is a game-changer in our industry because brands are no longer the only ones making decisions – so are their consumers. Social media has given consumers higher expectations for the who, what, how, and when of their favorite brands. Furthermore, brands are expected to have opinions on issues that matter to consumers. 42% of consumers want brands to respond to their questions within an hour – according to Edison Research.
So, this truly is an era for brands to not just become “newsrooms” as the industry has told us, but also to become leaders. Empowered by social media, brands can now start ground-breaking conversations and initiatives, lead global movements – and engage millions of consumers in these conversations.
Brian Sirgutz is Senior Vice President for Social Impact at the Huffington Post.
©2015, The Tomorrow Project, LLC