Someone asked me the other day what I thought the key trends in communications and public relations would be over the next few years. In answering the question – an answer which unsurprisingly veered into social business territory – a thought occurred…
For a few years now we’ve talked about ‘digital natives’: the generation of people who have been born and grown up since the internet has started impacting our lives, who have almost never been without the web and mobile technologies and for whom the use of social media is as natural as walking and talking (perhaps more so). This generation is now in the workplace and, more than that, they’re starting their own businesses. I believe that this is giving rise to what I’m now calling ‘socially native’ businesses.
These are organisations for which sharing is entirely natural, happily giving insight through social technologies into every aspect of their organisations, the good, the bad and the ugly. We learn about the spark for the business, the passion of the founders, the frustrations and sheer hard work behind every success, however small. As I say, this is natural to this generation. It isn’t seen as marketing, communication or public relations, it’s just what you do. But in behaving in such a naturally open, transparent and honest way, we can’t help but get caught up in the story ourselves and it becomes brilliant marketing.
My favourite current example of a socially native business is Vulpine, which produces high-quality cycling clothing (and therefore taps into my own personal passion for road cycling). Vulpine was set up by Nick Hussey who (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying…) was probably born just before the internet became pervasive. Literally, from day one, Nick has told the story of Vulpine through social media. I’ve never met Nick, but I do know that he’s an incredibly passionate guy who cares deeply about not only his business by about cycling itself. Check out one of Nick’s first blog posts. Heart on his sleeve stuff. And it hasn’t stopped since (which any followers of Nick on Twitter will appreciate!) Interestingly, as an aside, Nick tweeted the other day about how pleased he was that the Vulpine Twitter account‘s community of followers had just passed his own.From my perspective, the Vulpine ‘brand’ is so intertwined with Nick’s own personality (and team members like Jools) that I don’t differentiate.
Ultimately this means that as a passionate cyclist and therefore potential customer, I’m constantly connected to Vulpine through a really compelling (true) story. I’m desperate for Nick and Vulpine to succeed, and in my own small way (by buying the odd bit of kit and talking to others about the Vulpine story…like through this blog post) I almost hope that I become part of the story too. Nick clearly recognises this, and has blogged himself about why he thinks start-ups are better at marketing than corporates:
Corporate marketing is controlled by fear. The fear of saying something that’ll be disagreed with by those up the line. Something real, passionate, heartfelt, genuine. The fear comes from good people who worry they will lose their jobs in an environment where standardisation and approval is key… And so their marketing becomes, ironically, ineffective, anodyne. An unseen diluted beige wash. All that money and talent leeched away.
I truly believe and hope that as more naturally social people start their own businesses and, indeed, rise through the ranks of established businesses, we’ll see more and more organisations become naturally social themselves, and reap the benefits from being so that Nick and Vulpine continue to do.
And when PR, communications and marketing becomes something natural, when founders and their employees feel empowered to tell their honest and heartfelt stories, is their a role left for the consultants?