What’s Happening to Social Media?

Social media began in chat rooms and email chains. In most households, it started with dial-up access to services like AOL, each with its own built-in community. The idea that an individual could connect with someone else on the other side of the country, or the world, was not altogether foreign. But the idea that those connections could happen between strangers – and that one person could communicate with hundreds or thousands of others at once… that was a privilege once reserved only for businesses who could pay for air time on traditional media.

Today, we take it for granted that a single individual with something interesting to say can immediately transmit their message to millions of internet users around the world. With a lot less money than before, businesses can still pay for more exposure, but it took some time to figure out how to deal with the “social” part of social media.

We now understand that social media is a platform for engagement, conversation, and connection. Businesses small and large have learned how to leverage social media with transparency and humility. They’ve learned the differences between traditional advertising and social media marketing; that listening is just as important as sharing.

But as much as businesses have learned over the years, it seems like our government is just starting to crawl. We currently have a president who still seems used to the days of propaganda, when newspaper and television reporters could be easily swayed by media advertisers and stakeholders. The POTUS uses social media quite infamously, but his use resembles traditional advertising where the message used to be one-sided. However, now that he and his administration are seeing how easily other social media accounts can respond – or simply share their own information – there’s a mad scramble to shut it down or discredit anything that isn’t theirs.

The problem is, they’re late to the game. Businesses and individuals have established credibility for over a decade now. Authors, artists, scientists, restaurants, clothing brands, and home-grown photographers have built an audience of rabid fans from all over the world. In every small circle, the influencers who have earned their keep control the message. Social media is already so intricately and tightly bound that even the richest, most powerful person in the world couldn’t infiltrate all of it.

That is, not without playing by the rules.

Take Reddit, for example, a community of anonymous users posting content: the only way for content to rise to the top is for other users to “upvote” it. No one there cares who you are, what you’ve posted in the past, or how much money you have. What matters is that your content is relevant and interesting; and if so, it could be the foundation of a whole new internet trend or movement. (Except r/me_irl – they’ll upvote anything)

These rules aren’t quite so strict on sites like Facebook or Twitter, but in order to be a true influencer, the same concept still applies: your content has to be worthy of a virtual “upvote.” In other words, Donald Trump can say whatever he wants on Twitter, but even he is not immune to immediate feedback, fact-checking, and simply being ignored. In fact, he’s only the 57th most followed user on Twitter, behind several musicians, athletes, news sources he’s deemed as “fake,” and yes, Barack Obama (number 3 on the list).

So as we all sit around and wonder what’s happening to social media, it’s important to remember that there aren’t any real secrets to it… Every individual has a voice, every user can choose who to follow, and every influencer has to earn her or his own audience. That’s always been the case, and it was a hard lesson to learn for businesses. Now we get to watch while our government learns the same lesson.

One For One | TOMS Shoes, Social Responsibility & Branding Success

It’s very simple.

You purchase a pair of shoes for yourself and a pair of shoes goes to a child in need. A pair of tortoise shell sunglasses could provide sight-saving surgery for the visually impaired. You purchase a product that you want, and by doing so you may give something so needed that it changes the life of its recipient forever.

Buy one. Give one. That’s the TOMS mission.

Blake Mycoskie and his socially good company TOMS are no strangers to giving. Founded in 2006, TOMS has been devoted to helping the global community by providing much desired footwear to children in need. Aware that many children in developing countries lack the proper footwear for healthy living, the company personally delivers a pair of shoes to a less fortunate child for every pair of TOMS shoes purchased. One for One.

Consumers, especially young, socially conscious consumers, are drawn to the idea that TOMS is providing a quality product as well as a service that helps those in need. The One for One movement allows customers to feel that they themselves are making a difference. Rather than donating a percentage of sales, like many “socially responsible” brands, TOMS goes the extra mile. Putting a foot ahead of the others (see what I did there), TOMS is giving the very same thing that you are buying.

For every purchase you make, you are providing a brand new pair of shoes to a child in Guatemala, or outfitting an orphanage in Haiti. The giving aspect of TOMS has become such an essential part of their brand that the company often holds a contest for their supporters to take part in Giving Trips.

TOMS founder, Blake Mycoskie.

When it comes to branding the One for One movement, TOMS marketing clearly targets forward thinking customers. Specialty fashion shows, clubs on university campuses, social media campaigns and global events like One Day Without Shoes (a day set aside where TOMS supporters go shoeless in an attempt to better connect with, and bring light to the problem they’re addressing) attract a kind of young audience that fuels corporate and social responsibility and lives to make a change. To meet the needs of their consumers, TOMS products have even been created to fit different environmental ideals and adhere to vegan restrictions. This, however, never outshines the brand’s true mission: One for One.

The brand’s strong marketing of One for One has gained the attention of millions of devoted followers. Since 2006, TOMS has sold over 35 million pairs of shoes and, as promised, delivered 35 million pairs to 70 countries across the globe.

The impressive sales figures show that the success of TOMS has increased exponentially as more and more socially responsible consumers join the One for One movement. To shed some light, the company sold over 1 million shoes in 2012, 140,000 shoes sold in 2009 and just 50,000 in 2007. Fashionable products and a knack for helping out are earning TOMS the corporate image gold medal that it deserves. Who doesn’t want to support an awesome brand and make a difference too?

Having gone strong for nearly nine years, TOMS is showing no signs of slowing down their efforts to leave the world a better place than before. Joining the success of TOMS shoes, the brand has introduced a line of summer eyewear, coffee, bags, etc. In typical TOMS fashion, each purchase of these products improves the lives of people in need.

The success of TOMS has also opened the door for an array of other One for One oriented businesses. Companies along the lines of FIGS, a recent startup that prides itself on providing clean scrubs to international medical providers for every set of FIGS scrubs purchased; and KUTOA Health Bars, a brand of granola bars giving vital nutrition packs to children in third world countries. TOMS has painstakingly carved a market niche for these, and future, givers to enjoy.

Bike Sharing: A Branding No-Brainer

Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman, corporate exec, young professional or an emerging twenty-something like me trying to find your way; chances are pretty good that you’ve heard about NYC’s bike sharing program: Citi Bike. Media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and HuffPo, and audiences on Facebook and Twitter, have been validating and scrutinizing Citi Bike’s arrival to the Big Apple.

New Yorkers won’t accept Citi Bike… Citi Bike’s here to stay. Citi Bike won’t have enough riders to make the program worthwhile… early Citi Bike passes have already sold out. Citi Bike’s saving the planet… it’s leading to New York’s demise. Citi Bike, Citi Bike, Citi Bike. And when you hear Citi Bike, you’re hearing Citibank, the program’s key financial sponsor.

That’s right. When New Yorkers and tourists hop on the blue two-wheelers and head down Broadway, they’re doing more than riding a bike; they’re actively strengthening a brand by becoming a mobile advertisement.

In today’s society, where sustainable activities are becoming increasingly popular, bike shares allow residents and visitors in urban areas to access alternative, eco-friendly, quick and easy transportation. Likewise, these same programs are becoming an increasingly popular way for forward-thinking brands to generate more attention.

More and more of you see banks, corporations, universities and non-profits sponsoring bike sharing programs in developed urban areas throughout the country. Even hotels, such as Starwood’s Element Hotels, are offering bikes to their guests as a part of their Bikes-to-Borrow campaign. The hotel is not only providing a quick and easy mode of alternative transportation to their eco-loving patrons, but also introducing a fleet of mobile advertisements that allow the hotel’s name to reach all corners of an urban area.

So, the decision to sponsor a bike share should be pretty simple, right?

Businesses are given the opportunity, for a fee of course, to purchase a fleet of bikes, develop specialized “bike parking depots,” and then advertise that they are offering such a service. Though the preliminary expenses may appear daunting to a fledgling brand trying to market itself in an urban area full of distractions, the benefits can greatly outweigh the cost.

Citi Bike riders took nearly 8 million trips in 2015.

Recent studies have shown that the majority of bike share participants are millennials. You know, the young people who are willing to pay a fee to ride a bike during their commute before they support buses and taxi services that add to congested city traffic while emitting who-knows-what into our air supply. They, along with their trendsetting, early-adopting friends and co-workers, are riding these bikes to bars, restaurants, parks, concerts and the office with ease. The more people that see the bikes, the more people ride the bikes. And the more people that ride the bikes, the more people introduced to your brand.

In addition to getting their brands out to a large audience, the sponsors who choose to support bike shares enjoy particular financial benefits in the end. For example, Citi Bike, despite its mixed reviews at start, has sold 10,000 memberships, put its corporate logo on over five hundred Citi Bike depots and generated countless hours of earned media mentions and exposure.

Recent studies show that a brand sponsoring even the smallest of bike share programs in a metropolitan area could equate the sponsorship opportunities to a total of $2.8 million in annual media value. Some may say that those numbers alone make sponsoring a bike share a no-brainer, and we tend to agree.

Andrea Learned, an urban bike enthusiast, marketing professional and sustainability communications strategist, sums it up best.

Learned says, “Branding your corporation through bike share (or sponsoring bike events) these days is a powerful way to reflect awareness of what is hip and what is smart, without having to put out a press release about how hip and smart your brand is.”