Tell someone who cares. Social media is about real human connection.

Social media has been copping a bit of flak lately, from enabling cyberbullying, to Mark Ritson’s recent criticisms as an “unproven and misrepresented channel”.  Negativity aside, social media has been the golden child of the advertising world for the past few years. We’ve all read numerous articles about its scale, reach, engagement, effectiveness… and the list goes on. So the last thing you need is another article telling you how good it is, right?

But this story is too good not to share.

It’s not about social media delivering results for a client or building a brand.

It’s one of those warm fuzzy ones about the power of humanity and the willingness to help out a stranger.

My friend James had planned the motorcycle trip of a lifetime, riding across Australia with a mate in a straight line from Sydney to Perth. A rough and rugged adventure over achingly beautiful yet perilous landscapes, with the ever present fear of breaking down without a phone signal and ending up in a Wolf Creek situation.

They made it across without too much of an issue, but as the universe would have it, James’ motorcycle was stolen from the motel parking lot the day before they were meant to head back to Sydney (ironically this was also a day before his birthday). James reported the incident to the police, but wasn’t overly optimistic about getting it back given they had no leads.

Stranded in Perth, James called his wife Emma to break the bad news. A typical reaction when something bad happens would be:

Angry rant on Facebook > sympathy from your network > feel marginally better > end of story.

Emma decided to take a more resourceful approach. The only way she could help her husband while on the other side of the country was to reach out to those who:

1.     Were willing and able to help

2.     Would actually care

She reached out to the only people who could empathise with the pain of a stolen motorcycle – other motorcycle owners. With motorcycle owner and enthusiast Facebook groups keeping an eye out, their story played out differently:

Stolen motorcycle sightings reports > photos and videos supplied to the police helped the investigation > stolen motorcycle spotted parked at a petrol station > police called > motorcycle returned to its rightful owner.

Now the great part about this is that James was a social media non-believer – one of 32% of Australians that don’t use social media. He was astounded that his wife, who didn’t know anyone in WA, had harnessed the power of Facebook and get his motorcycle back.

I came across another case from the US demonstrating the power of ‘telling those who care’. Special interest groups delivered justice to Casey Nocket, a graffiti artist, who had left her mark in at least six national parks – Death Valley, Colorado National Monument, Canyonlands, Zion and Crater Lake. Under each picture she left her tag “Creepytings”, which was also the name of her Tumblr blog and Instagram account. Users on Reddit tracked her down, which ended up with Casey being banned from all US national parks and sentenced to 200 hours of community service for vandalism.

These cases take us back to the basics of social media. Underneath all the narcissism and the fabrication, people really do care and want to connect with others. People are still willing to ‘do the right thing’ to ‘help a brother out’ and see that justice is served. In fact, Accenture Research shows that 88% of the public feel they are an important participant in crime-fighting.

In marketing terms, this talks to the power of advocacy vs reach. Social platforms can deliver reach and scale. People will see your message… but will they care?

Even Facebook has reeled in the beast with their news feed algorithm change, going back to their core purpose – friends first, then the rest of the world.

So all you marketers out there, let’s get back to basics.

Let’s remember that the true power of social media is about real human connection.

Let’s think about how our brands can help facilitate this.

And most importantly, let’s think twice before we ruin a good thing.

 Author: Mei Wong, Strategy Manager, Ikon Communications. Loves yoga & Dachshunds. Not necessarily in that order.