Social media circa 1900

This article by planning director Richard Madden from Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw brings up an excellent example of social media in action, circa 1900 – that of the Michelin brothers Édouard and André and their quest to build their car and bicycle tyre brand… by recognising that people were more passionate about food than tyres (shock horror).

As Richard says, ‘[The Michelin Guide] was genuinely useful, it invited participation, it was given away free at petrol stations, and readers were invited to provide corrections and suggestions. They were even encouraged to leave the guide in view when visiting restaurants to guarantee good service.’

One of the post comments states another good example: The Tour de France – a bike race started by a newspaper to get people talking and generate content.

Citing great pre-internet social media feats serves as a reminder that our toolkits – currently equipped with Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube and rest – are not the point. They’re simply transient vehicles for a timeless human desire to converse about interesting stuff.

Too often our social media strategies – or the token pinch in the mix that proves you’re ‘doing social media’ – starts with a menu of tools first and thoughts on what you could say second. This is sort of missing the point.

Albeit a cliche these days, the point of social media is to have conversations – or more accurately to remove barriers to having conversations. The great thing about the tools is that they enable participation in a two-way exchange, on a micro level. Two-way involves listening; and not just for the sake of it, but to build a network of influential promoters – your most (cost) effective sales team.

The challenge is as it has always been. It’s something the Michelins cracked and it’s very very simple:

Be useful and interesting.

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