'Challenge' culture in Social Media: How can Organizations benefit?

As time passes, different trends pop up on social media that get the attention of users - as viewers, as well as participants.  Sometimes, those actions are in support of specific causes, and other times they are simply for entertainment.  I find myself wondering how (and why) some things get so popular, and find it interesting how some businesses and organizations will often join in on the fun.

In July and August of 2014, we saw a number videos across various social media platforms that showed users challenging eachother and sharing content in support of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  These videos went viral on Facebook and Youtube, and soon, nearly everyone, young and old, knew someone who participated.  Companies/organizations even joined in in support.  You could argue that companies got involved by way of humanizing their marketability across social media - but it also could have simply something fun to do.

Even earlier than this, we saw groups getting together to participate in creating videos that added to the Harlem Shake meme as early as February 2013.  Other fun examples include the Running Man Challenge (with players from the NBA contributing to the meme), and most recently, the Mannequin Challenge.

When organizations choose to get involved with 'challenge' and viral video culture, it ultimately gets their branding out to new audiences in the world of social media.  Arguably, they will want to align with a viral challenge that does will not harm their image - for example, the one-finger selfie challenge is likely not something that most organizations will want to participate in.  But, there certainly are benefits to organizations who can align their branding with current viral media.

An example of this would be Jimmy Kimmel's viral video on 'twerking' (which audiences didn't know was fabricated until after it went viral).  We could argue that viral videos (when positively received) are some of the most powerful mediums for promotion and advertising.  In the case of Kimmel's video, he likely gained additional viewership towards his comedy show because of the viral video.

For social media marketers working for organizations, it is important to keep up with what's current and trending in order align social media campaigns with interests that audiences are likely to engage with.  Balancing your branding with 'challenge' culture across social media  and the internet has it's challenges (ha!), but may create some of the most effective engagement in way of promoting your business.  Knowing how your organization can benefit from 'Challenge' culture and creating social media campaigns that have this in mind will likely create opportunities for gratis advertising, and has the potential to engage with audiences that traditionally would not see your organization/brand - which will ultimately grow your influence.

Does Social Media influence the outcome of elections?

As most are aware, there is a fiercely entertaining (though serious) competition currently underway around who will become the next president of the United States.  Our candidates could not be more different.  One - Senator Hillary Clinton - is an experienced politician with decades of experience (and public criticism) under her belt.  The other - Mr. Donald Trump - is an economic powerhouse with decades of (sometimes questionable) business experience, as well as multi-media experience in his corner.  Albeit their approach to politics seemingly could not be more different, some may argue that it will not be their platforms that win them the presidential race - but rather, how they engage with public perceptions.

When it boils down to it, one could look at the presidential race as (quite possibly) the world's most influential Reality TV show - something that Mr. Trump has years of experience with, with his television series The Apprentice.  There is significant importance placed on public perceptions in this 'game', and how people view you and your candidacy as 'the winner'.  Organizations, in turn, are able to influence  the public in favor of their candidates in a number of ways, but one of the most influential ways to do this is through user engagement on social media.

For example, hashtags (#) on Twitter have become renown for their ability to allow the public at large to voice their opinion about a given issue publicly.  When you look at the Twitter threads created using one of the hashtags that contain this year's presidential debate, #debate2016, you'll find a number of expressive (and very relevant/recent) political affiliations being expressed by a large cross-section of users (some more serious/coherent than others).  This is an important thing for organizations to be aware of, as this allows them to gauge public perception about their business (or in the case of the presidential candidacy, their political platform), and in turn, afford them the opportunity to mitigate where necessary.

There is a mantra for organizations to "meet consumers where they are".  So, if consumers (ie. voting US Citizens) spend a lot of time on various social media platforms, it seems only fitting that organizations would spend time (and resources) on promoting their 'brand' to the public through social media.  The user engagement factor is also important because if users feel like they are able interact with an organization through their social media, then users will develop a more engaged rapport with those organizations.  This can certainly work for the benefit of organizations, but they must also be aware that this can work against them as well - if they are not keeping on top of their perceptions and presence on social media, truths (and non-truths) are able to blown out of proportion.  

This is the power of public perception, as influenced by every day people on social media. 

Do all organizations today require a social media presence?

I think about YouTubers - some of whom I tune-in to their content on a daily - that have built their livelihoods on creating content that is, simply at the end of the day, entertaining.  Sure, it might be complete garbage from an intellectual standpoint, but ultimately, people are watching/engaging with their content, and businesses/organizations recognize this and love it - and want to benefit from it.  For example, it's always interesting to watch vlog episode from Casey Neistat and all the cool and interesting things that companies sent him in his mail time segments.

Today, where everyone and their grandmother has at least one (most with many) social media (SM) profiles online, we might wonder what the point of it all is.  It can certainly, at times, be a rather overwhelming experience.  Yes, people can check-up on you to see what you're up to.  They can also communicate with you directly on SM, rather than have to call or text you on a 'private' line.  It seems like we forget that privacy, social media, and online data collection are in a perpetual, endemic discourse with one another - seemingly, they don't see eye-to-eye.

But, all this does not take away from the fact that society is engaging with a diverse set of platforms on SM on the daily basis, and organizations are certainly taking note.  In order to engage with your audience, you certainly will want to meet them where they congregate.  This has never been more true for SM, as we are being influenced with advertisements and algorithms coming from organizations on a daily (maybe even hourly) basis - whether we are conscientious of it or not.  In order to stay present in the global discussion and communications with your audience, all organizations must have some form of social media presence.  Otherwise, they become irrelevant (virtually non-existent), and even so, people might not even know HOW to engage with those businesses/organizations outside of a social media context, as getting to know an organization through its social media has truly become the normative approach.

I think about my decision to have sushi for dinner last night.  What did I do? - I went online (Tripadvisor, specifically), so see which restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie had the best public reviews.  I didn't call them, I didn't even review their menu first.  All I really cared about was what, socially, people were saying about the restaurant.  That whole process, albeit super introverted, makes a powerful claim to how we function in the social media age.  Did I mentioned I do this exclusively with hotels I book to stay at, too?  It's interesting to reflect how influenced I am on from the opinions found social media - maybe even a little scary!