New Zealand is the sixth most "twitterous" country in the world, with just over three per cent of the population - over 120,000 people - using the popular Twitter service. And Nielsen Online stats show nearly half of us Kiwis have created, updated or looked at an online profile on a social networking site.
Those are the figures for New Zealand, and we're typically behind the curve. Adoption rates around the world, particularly in Asia and the US, are much higher. Even across the Tasman they're spending more time online than they are watching TV.
But there's something even more interesting than the increasing numbers of people using social media. It's how it changes things.
In the past, organisations - businesses, broadcasters, governments - communicated one-way: television, radio and newspapers all pushed information out to viewers, listeners and readers with no way for them to talk back. Now everyone has a voice. This means that not only can your customers talk back to you fairly easily, they can talk to each other, with just the same power and reach that was once reserved for professional communicators.
It means that everyone - including you - can be a creator of content. You're no longer just limited to old ways of community, you can run your own television station online, for free. And that's just one example.
Everyone - including you - can also be a consumer of content. This means you can watch, listen and learn from what your customers, or potential customers, are saying online. That means YouTube videos, blog posts, and tweets on Twitter, as well as customer ratings on travel websites like www.tripadvisor.com and www.rankers.co.nz.
And everyone - including you - can be a curator of content. A curator sifts through content to find what will be most relevant and useful to an audience. This role is particularly valuable in tourism, where a tourist usually wants to know as much as possible about the place they're visiting.
How do you get involved? Here are a few tips:
- It's not about the technology. There are a whole bunch of places you can be on the web and it's impossible to make the most of all of them. Start by finding out where your audience is and strive to become part of their conversations.
- Listen and learn. Use Google Alerts, Twitter search and www.socialmention.com to find out what people are saying about you and your region (and even your competition!).
- Play. The best way to learn is to have a play with things. When things are busy, it's easy to let this experimentation slide. Don't let it happen. Schedule in time for you and your team to play with social marketing ideas.
- Seek help. Work with a social media consultancy like iJump, or at least join your peers in learning more about social media at http://nzsocialmedia.ning.com/