— blending the mix

Why is the UK not getting social media?


Three things got me annoyed yesterday:

1) Not being at Web2expo – i’ll get over that, i’m trying to get to Berlin 😉
2) Preparing for a practical workshop on blogging only to realise that 75% of the time is going to be spent explaining what tags are and rss is rather than discussing how they can be of benefit to a business.
3) Control freaks – people who think that a little bit of knowledge think they know it all (won’t go into that one!)

In particular, number two got me thinking that as a country, we are woefully under-educated when it comes to social media. Why are we still having conversations about what these tools are rather than what they can do for you?

I’d like to throw a few thoughts into the hat and see what people like Neville, Stephen, Steve, Becky, Will, Dave, Robin, Hugh, Jas, Stuart and maybe even Chris, Brian, Geoff and Pete have to say:

Is online social interaction (the principle of people/customers meeting online to share things and meet each other) SO far beyond people’s grasp they just do not get what happens and what people do?

The idea that without your work hat on, “I don’t use the internet like that , so why would my customers?”

Does the rate of change/growth of new social media tools scare IT departments or marketing/pr teams that anything they may decide to adopt may be obsolete in a few months? What about the sheer number of tools they could use? Is it realistic to expect a marketeer to keep track of everything that goes on?


Are we  our own worst enemies? Do we like to talk XML, php, css and other jargon too much that we actually alienate the very people we are hoping to adopt the tools we talk about?


This relates nicely in fact, to point number three. People who have traditionally been in total control of their customers (when their customers didn’t know any better) are now petrified that they can’t control what their customers are saying. Burying their heads in the sand won’t work.

Previous tools such as websites, direct mail, press ads and email were great at telling customers what the brand wanted them to hear but now marketeers have to get their heads around the fact that those same recipients are talking back – just that they are telling other customers not them!

Tone of Voice

After decades of talking AT customers, brands are now having to talk TO WITH (thanks Gregory) customers. How do you talk to people you have spent years ignoring what they say? How should you speak to them? Learning THAT takes either a lot of listening, training or plenty of both.

Social Media Tools are “a phase” of internet growth

Several years ago (early 90’s), when working for a large mail order company, the whole business began gearing up for this "internet" thing that was coming.

HR were booking training sessions for people like there was no tomorrow , business-wide email was starting to roll-out and you could sense that people knew something big and important was going to happen. 15 years and 1 billion online users later – they were right.

The impression I get of what many of us might call the proverbial “sea-change” in the internet is that social media and its associated tools are nothing more than evolution rather than revolution.

I’ll end with some links to a couple of great posts, (from Suw who is organising the blogger outreach for the Berlin Web2 Expo and the legendary BL Ochman)all around exactly what I am talking about above as well as the Chris’s 12 reasons why he thinks the UK isn’t blogging or adopting social media tools:

1 – You don’t understand why you’d want a business blog. Neither does your CEO.

2 – You are the CEO. And you’re not going to allow your minions to blog.

3 – You think it is too risky to allow your colleagues to write blog posts.

4 – Your PR agency thinks blogging is a bad move.

5 – You mentioned something to the techies. It is in their development schedule.

6 – You haven’t figured out who will contribute to the blog, or what you will write about.

7 – You can’t see any benefits whatsoever. It would be a waste of time.

8 – You don’t see any return on investment. It would be a loss leader. We don’t do loss leaders.

9 – You have no clue about how to set up a blog.

10 – You think blogging is all hype / a passing fad / for kids.

11 – You are happy to ignore blog activity in the US. The US is a totally different environment for this sort of thing.

12 – You think blogging isn’t right for your business.

  1. Chris says: September 18, 20084:42 pm

    Interesting post..

    Perhaps a reason which you have not included in the list is time investment?

    All this takes a fuck load of time and resources, especially if you cannot directly prove you are selling more do dahs..

    Also, surely not all niches are suited, a plumber for example, car mechanic?

    Perhaps the USA are just born to evangelise? (thinking loud here) most of the evangelising I see around So.Me in USA is around tech companies, makes sense if their audience are also techies… no?

    If a plumber can put an add in the local paper for 400 quid for a month and get 10 phone calls, it’s job done.

    Up a level, if someone is hunting horses trainers in Windsor and they pay someone to put them top three in Google, job done again.

    Though my partner uses the net the first place she goes is top three google.. not blogs or So.Me networks..


  2. Chris says: September 18, 20084:48 pm

    Oh I forgot..

    USA is massive on personalities..

    I argued this here:

  3. Dan Thornton says: September 18, 20084:58 pm

    I think Chris has a valid point about the time resource, and importance of Google/Search within the UK (Although I’ll never admit it to his face!). But I think it is, and will change.

    One important factor is the availability of broadband. Back in 1998 I went to the U.S. for a year, discovered broadband, and essentially ignored a university course to play with websites, forums and chat rooms.

    When I came back to the UK, I was faced with AOL dial-up, and my interest faded pretty quick.

    It takes a long time for change in a big company in general, akin to trying to U-turn in the QE2. Companies which are now engaging, like Dell for example, started the changes 3 years ago. 3 years ago, I would have gone to Google with any query or question. 3 years ago, I didn’t have a Facebook profile, a Twitter account, a job in social media.

    I also think there is still a bit more entrepreneurial spirit in the U.S (at least until the current financial crisis), which means that a lot of younger entrepreneurs and business people have quickly risen to a position of influence with broadband as a natural tool of everyday life. And you now see how the effects of that are spreading in companies like Zappos, making mail order shoes cool and social.

    And finally, I think some of it could be geographic – the U.S has a very large, diverse and disparate population which consumes media in a different way, and which has proportionally larger corresponding groups of ‘early adopters’ etc. The example of how blog networks etc have had success when they are U.S. or global, but UK networks have struggled by comparison probably supports this.

  4. Jed Hallam says: September 18, 20086:19 pm


    I agree with Chris’s comments to an extent – it will take a lot of time and effort.

    However, it’s our (the royal ‘our’) job to put this effort in and educate clients and other PRO’s/SM ‘Experts’ and help them understand the benefits.

    We (again, royal ‘we’) have the benefit of finding out the importance of social media and ePR (urgh) before most businesses are even considering social media as anything other than a time wasting exercise for staff – when you converse with other social media ‘frontliners’ all day, it’s terribly easy to think that everyone is as progressive.

    Social media and PR2.0 are helping to expose the PRO’s that say from the PRO’s that do; those that ‘say’ pretend to build relationships, those that ‘do’ are utilising social media to grow more relationships (see Drew B’s take @ http://tinyurl.com/3e7due).

    (Cue sensationalist nonsense)

    PR is in a continual state of flux, that’s what makes it exciting.

  5. Craig McGinty says: September 19, 20082:33 am

    I think there is so little opportunity for people in businesses to try out or experiment with many of these online tools.

    A couple of days ago I was talking with a chap who works for a company that you’d have thought was pretty clued up in this area, but they don’t have any type of blogging policy so there was a block on people trying new things out.

    But, I have been helping a group of landscape gardeners use Ning which came out of the fact that they were not getting much assistance from their membership organisation, or 10 calls from a newspaper ad.

    Now the landscapers are beginning to see the benefits of shared information and advice, there is a lot of knowledge locked away in the minds of people but it takes a lot of work to get it out.

    But I do think that overall there is still a mindset that many 2.0 tools are a waste of employees’ time – although they most probably waste more time repeatedly pressing Send/Receive on Outlook throughout the day.

    Now I better get back to work 😉

  6. Zack Brandit says: September 19, 20083:41 am

    I think the reason is mainly cultural. In the US communication is on a more superficial level than most European countries. There is more chitchat. That is why social media is gaining more momentum there.
    The UK has a more pragmatic approach and the others are even more conservative.

    VC’s also play an important role. They have a strong impact on the creation of new startups, and therefore on the social media environment. No country has as many VCs as the US (though Israel is slowly gaining ground).

    If the UK is under-educated what about Belgium and the rest of Europe (except maybe of France)?
    We’re far far behind.

  7. gregorylent says: September 19, 20087:18 am

    telling the frog in the well that there is an ocean is a teaching story in asia …

    i will offer that your personal understanding of the possibilities are too narrow for you to form general principles easy enough for anyone to grasp …

    if tags are tough for you (labels on jam jars) social media will be impossible to explain …

    if you think marketing has shifted from AT to TO, you don’t get it, because now it is WITH …

    it is nothing new, only the same as we are doing but better is the starting point …

    it ain’t them, it is you, is the short version …

    enjoy, gregory lent

  8. Dave Kinsella says: September 19, 20088:16 am

    Re: the vast number of social tools available – here at web 2.0 expo (had to mention it) I’ve seen a huge number of new tools and I feel that businesses need to be looking at methodologies rather than specific tools. I recently blogged my opinion that business relies heavily on processes which are not always flexible enough to deal with the messiness of human interactions. Perhaps social media methodologies would serve as a bridge between the business processes and agencies such as KMP who could deal with the specifics of which tools were suitable and methods with which to use them.

  9. paul.fabretti says: September 19, 20088:25 am

    @Chris – agreed. Time is an essential ingredient if you are to develop long-term relationships with customers.

    That said, if a business sees that those efforts are beginning to pay off, then “customer engagement” time is of equal importance to say, creating a direct mail campaign or other marketing activity. The crux, as you say is that until there is some kind of positive return from the activity, then there will always be reluctance to commit to that resource.

    From the point of view that not all industries are suited, again I agree. Don’t shoe-horn social media into your business just for the sake of it. At the same time though, we shoudl never rule out th eimportance of social media (blogs in this case) for the little guy/gal:




    Both are “microbrands” who have used blogs to demonstrate their expertise, which is invaluable to any business.

    @Dan On the broadband front, I think we have largely caught up. From memory, 65% (ish) of UK households have broadband (however it is specified) giving us and business no excuse that availability of good speeds are stopping us.

    On the other hand, I agree about the Entrepreneurial spirit, which actually ties in with Chris’s comment about personalities. Big personalities help to sell an idea but also publicise and promote it (Loic Le Meur for example).

    @Jed I totally agree that spending too much time in “the bubble” can make you think that everyone is in it – when they are way behind.

    @Craig Is that a particularly English thing do you think? A natural reticence to speak one’s mind? Great case about the landscapers – proof again that the tools are truly applicable to everyone.

    @Zack – as a fluent french and spanish speaker, I can only imagine how frustrating is must be for you guys to join in these conversations in English. That said, consider Seesmic (started by Loic) – there is a significant French presence on there – and I guess most networks have the opportunity to create language-specific networks.

    But, as in life offline (whatever that is!), if you don’t talk the language of the majority, you will always be the minority.

    @Gregory perhaps I did not explain myself clearly. I have no issue with explanations – although some of my posts may argue to the contrary 😉 . My frustration stems from the fact that most meetings about creating/developing ideas USING social media begin with explanations of what the basic features/functions do. This is no way to generate creativity when only half an hour before, most of the room had no idea what any of it al did.

    I disagree with the sentiment of your post – once explained my clients and audiences have a much better understanding of what I am talking about.

    I do however agree that using the word TO was the wrong choice of word and I shall be correcting it forthwith. TO is no different to AT so for the purposes of correctness I will be updating the post 😉

  10. paul.fabretti says: September 19, 20088:40 am

    @Dave – you’re at Web2Expo? Who knew?!! Hope it is as good as it looks! Say hi to the guys from me!

    Interesting point – and from my interpretation, that is pretty much where I see PR fitting into the whole scheme of things.

    As you say “business” is frequently too large to respond appropriately to the sporadic nature and obscure sensitivities of humans yet PR could be fantastic at this – as long as it gets it head around the WITH rather than the AT/TO that Gregory brought up.

    Perhaps working together, people like KMP can facilitate the technical side of the relationship building that PR is capable of delivering?

  11. Zack Brandit says: September 19, 20089:35 am

    @Paul – I do not believe language is the real issue. It’s about mentalities and industries.

    Belgium was in the European top 3 regarding broadband. It is also an economy built on entrepreneurship. But this has changed for several reasons I won’t enumerate here.

    Belgian economy revolves around diamonds, chemistry, pharmacology, metal and food. Most of it is B2B.
    Those kind of companies are usually not of the pioneering type.
    On the other hand, social media startups can be counted on one hand and only Netlog and Drupal are in the higher spheres.
    Think how it is in the UK.

    The other issue with smaller countries is that their market is very limited and companies focusing on the local market do not see any added-value investing in such solutions.
    How big is the UK market?
    10 times Belgium?

    Another important criterion is decisionmaking. There are indeed internal processes and administration, but the place where the decision is taken is highly important. Most large scale companies in Belgium are foreign, which doesn’t help.
    How many British companies are in the top?

    Luckily, we are often perceived as a good test market (see ebay).

    Wathever we do Belgium is a “divided” minority and this is the case, to a certain extend, for most European countries
    We often think “problem” instead of “solution”.

    Investing in social media should help companies improve their glocal communication, but there are many internal “political fights” between different “national” offices.
    How do UK offices handle it?

    Companies should first improve their internal communication by investing in social applications before pretending to be “customer centric”
    (I’m actually planning to write a post about it)

    Finally there is also the famous cost-cutting and many marketing departments are seeing their budget depleting.

    In any case, companies will have to adapt, it’s a matter of time. There is hope as more and more are starting to listen.
    Investing in Business Intelligence solutions was a first step, now that this market has come to maturity, social applications will follow.

    From all European countries, the UK has the best socio-economic environment to lead this evolution, and we will be following.

  12. Robin Wilson says: September 19, 20084:00 pm

    This is a great topic for discussion and one which could get me going ad nauseum. However, just to share some recent experiences. I spent about ten minutes today trying to explain to someone who shall remain nameless, that a blog wasn’t a website were people wrote their diary, that blogs wrote about useful stuff. I also failed to convince the same chap, who is very intelligent and successful, that there is no easy way of determining the ‘reach’ of a blogger and that on Facebook you can’t approve people’s comments before they post them on a brand Page. So, apart from repeating ‘head-desk, head-desk’ until I pass out, I think our challenge is to convince people of the value of engaging with people in social media. And without any scientific evidence or analysis, the best way to do it is with anecdotal stories e.g. Dell, LG Viewty, Wispa etc. I think only then will people who don’t have the geek-streak really get it.

  13. Matt Anderson says: September 22, 20088:16 am

    I think that the key barrier is understanding the concepts of web 2.0.

    Some potential clients that I have talked to have only fully understood the internet with regards to the old brochure sites.

    I think that it is up to the informed in the blogosphere to come out of their comfort zone (i.e. the blogosphere) and engage with the masses.

    At Montage we launched http://www.PRBristol.co.uk using a traditional PR campaign to explain the virtues of online PR and web 2.0.

    This has been followed up with a series of seminars in order to educate the Bristol business community regarding the benefits.

    Also I have found that the time requirements of blogging have put people off in the past. Thats why my PR agency offers a fully integrated blogging service.

  14. John Galpin says: September 22, 200811:45 am

    I think unless people have experienced it or are touched by it in someway they just cannot seem to relate to it. My experience is that people are really dismissive of things they don’t understand. Maybe they are simply threatened by it.

    I agree with Robin’s post. Lets forget talking about tags and RSS or the concept of social media and focus on the stories about the impact of it. Aswell as the corporate examples there should be some more personal examples about where people have shared really sensitive and important stuff with the world and how this might have helped them.

  15. Jas Dhaliwal says: September 25, 20084:47 am

    Paul et al, a very interesting point with great comments. Here’s my take on this.

    I’ve helped to deliver a number of workshops on social media tools over at http://www.punchaboveyourweight.com to a number of SME’s. Over the series of workshops, I’ve com

    1. Terms such as RSS, blogs etc are essentially industry terms, they don’t really mean anything to the average man in the street. Thus, I always try to get away from actually taking in such language. People understand terms such as ‘diaries’ and ‘journals’ far better. RSS becomes a ‘feed’, or connection in my talks. In fact, I’m seriously thinking about creating a PDF glossary, turning jargon into real language to get the message across.

    2. I think as ‘social media’ enablers, we ourselves concentrate too much on jargon. At times, we drink too much of our own cool aid and forget how hard some of these concepts are to explain to businesses, large or small. Traditionally, data, feedback, inner voice and thoughts have always remained secrets things for most companies. Mainly because the internal info was a source of competitive advantage. The world and Internet as since changed.

    3. Telling compelling stories and using great case studies is the way to get the message out there. Nobody wants to be the ‘first’, or wants to spend too much time playing with tools. My interviews and case studies http://tinyurl.com/3nzcuj have shown businesses get excited about new things and don’t want to be left behind. The problem of course is they want all the benefits of social media overnight. Sadly, it doesn’t work this way. Essentially, it takes time to build the new ‘brand capital’.

    4. Brits in general err on the conservative side. Many people still don’t feel very comfortable in sharing thoughts and ideas. They perceive, the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ as a very bad thing. It takes time to challenge these perceptions.

    5. There are a LOT of tools right now. This causes businesses anxiety. Learning curve issues, security, etc…. How do you easily sort the wheat from the chaff?

    I have some thoughts and ideas on how we can help solve this problem. But I’m going to need the help from some of you guys..

  16. paul.fabretti says: September 25, 20085:36 am

    Hey Jas, couldn’t agree more mate.

    That’s why I have decided to create the UK Social Media Case Study Wiki (link at the top of the page) to have a space where all this can go.

    Hopefully, the more we build it up, the more compelling case studies we can show in many different markets/industries.

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