Ramblings of a jet-lagged luddite

Wednesday, 2 November 2011, 15:35 | Category : General
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After a couple of weeks in Thailand I am now finding myself waking at ridiculous hours of the day and night, struggling with jet lag. You will have to excuse the ramblings here, but writing this post helped me pass the tedium of the early hours of this morning and get back to sleep. But, I do hope it doesn’t put you to sleep 🙂

Unless you’ve been snoozing for the last few weeks, you can’t have missed the fact that Thailand is suffering some of the worst floods in its history. A third of the country has been affected and nearly 400 dead – many more displaced and no sign of an improvement for the near future. Many predict that devastating effects will be felt for as long as the next decade. The impact on the economy is huge. Tourism (which contributes heavily to the country’s GDP) has dropped dramatically as news of the floods reached fever pitch and many holidaymakers cancelled trips. Also, as a number of facilities are under water – notably Japanese car giant Honda as well as lots of small manufacturing businesses – things are at crisis point. Thousands are without homes, many more without a livelihood. It’s a sobering thought as I sit here in a very dry, nice suburb of London.

I don’t want to depress you – there’s enough of that on the news – but highlight the overwhelming role that social media has played in this situation. Something I find incredibly interesting in my line of work.

In a country where corruption is commonly accepted as part of the politics process and the government is still reeling from the riots of two years ago, many have lost faith in the government to communicate truthfully and effectively in a crisis like this. The media is still largely owned by the former prime minister (Thaksin Shinawatra) and as such is often perceived as a voice for the government’s propaganda. As such, many used Twitter, Facebook, Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and other local version social media sites as the way to spread information from community to community. At times this led to unrest and panic, but it also saved lives as people were able to evacuate ahead of time. For me, this was incredible proof that social media isn’t just a PR platform but totally ingrained in our human psyche (as the swiftest method of communication). Particularly in a developing nation like Thailand, it’s breathtaking to see the sheer volume of people who are online and run their lives through mobile devices and social media sites; from the business man in Bangkok, to the stall holder on the beach in Hua Hin. For those in Thailand, social media communities and communications is way more than a gimmick used by “the yoof”, it’s often a trusted source of information.

I came back to work this week (with a crash) and went straight into a meeting with a visiting US exec. He was explaining the problems he has encouraging his marketeers to use better online marketing and social networking tools. He gets constant push back that as a B2B company, it’s just not relevant. I felt his frustration. As communications professionals we are often trying to compartmentalise social media, digital marketing or online PR – or whatever term we want to use here – but the reality is that it’s got to be at the heart of everything we do. Whether a company is B2B, B2C, a start up in Norwich or a family restaurant on the beach (getting ratings on TripAdvisor) we need to be cogniscent that this is now a way of life not a communications tool. My Thailand trip was huge proof of that for me. This is why we insist that all of our clients follow a methodology that includes digital counsel on every client. We have also run regular training courses (last one held last month) to ensure that everyone in our Network has an understanding and a capability to advise clients on approach. No comms specialist can afford to be ignorant of it, and no client regardless of sector can ignore it.

I for one, am definitely embracing it – I’ve seen real life examples of how this “new world” can make the difference between life and death and am convinced that it’s here to stay.

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