Shopping malls and limitations of social media

I recently published a post about what I regard as silly rules about not being able to take photographs in shopping malls/centres. I have been reprimanded for taking photos in Melrose Arch (a very photogenic centre/complex), Balfour Park and Killarney Mall. The response (or lack thereof) which I received to my posts/tweets has been an interesting case study in social media adoption locally.

While I am vain enough to believe, not so deep down, that these malls should pay attention to what I write about them and respond in a meaningful and constructive manner, this is perhaps wishful thinking and suggests that not everyone subscribes to my notion of effective use of social media. It also points to a limitation of social media: if the person in my position making comments about a product/service/organisation is not influential enough to have a real impact on that product/service/organisation, ignoring that person (in this case, me) is a pretty low risk exercise.

Sure there was a little buzz on Twitter when my post was published and Melrose Arch replied saying it would get back to me but there is no real incentive for them to actually reply to my questions about the policy on taking photographs in their centre. The controversy was a flash in the pan from their perspective. It barely occurred from other malls’ perspective. As much as we talk about social media’s power, it is an abstract for many companies who deploy a social media marketing campaign as yet another channel to push commercial messages to consumers rather than an opportunity to truly engage with us plebs.

The unfortunate reality is that unless you have significant, real-world impact on an organisation, it can ignore you online with little fear of any measurable consequence. Social media is a powerful force for change but it depends on numbers of people participating in that process. If you represent a small movement, the risk is minimal, academic even, and not worth responding too.

This is also where truly consumer-centric organisations will shine. They will listen to the little people because their business is based on one person at a time and an investment in each of those people is worth making. One company that is doing fairly well in this respect is First National Bank. The @rbjacobs persona may not be a real person within the bank but the person behind that persona seems to be making a sincere and effective effort to respond to the little people tweeting about FNB. It is the sort of attention that makes a world of difference to little people like me, even if my thoughts don’t have a material impact on the bank.

Companies that take social media seriously will shine in their customers’ eyes. One day that attention could pay off when some of those customers become truly influential. And if they don’t, they will still have a few more loyal and passionate customers and all it will have cost them is a message here and there which says that they are listening, they care and they are engaged.



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  1. Vincent Hofmann avatar

    Hi Paul,

    Your opinions are well constructed and well founded. However, some times a well constructed rebuttal or response can be formed instantly, particularly when an issue is at the superficial level a rather simple one. However when the issue is more complex, than perhaps your posts on the Melrose Arch setting might imply, the parties involved need to deliberate and ensure that you are responded to with honesty and that any response we do in fact send you is an amalgam of the opinions of all those who invest their time in the best interests of Melrose Arch.

    I have sent you an email addressing most of your concerns outlined in your previous email and have attempted calling you to put you in touch with someone who can address your issues directly but alas your phone was off. I want to assure you that none of your posts go unnoticed. Instead your post on Melrose Arch had an immediate effect, suggesting that instead of conversation being one sided that it is a process in which conversation is taken to all interested parties and then responded to and that ultimately your post let to decisive action, and perhaps might lead to policy change.

    Thanks again for commenting!

  2. pauljacobson avatar

    Hi Vincent, thanks for your Melrose Arch photo policy feedback. I didn't see any messages from you on my mobile but with MTN coverage in Joburg, its entirely possible I was driving through a deadzone the moment you tried to call me.

    I got your email and responded to it separately. I think it would be far more beneficial if Melrose Arch responded more publicly with those reasons. I am sure I am not the only person who would like to share local tourism experiences in Melrose Arch and your client may even receive some smart, helpful suggestions from Melrose Arch fans that could both address its concerns and enable Melrose Arch to take advantage of what could become a growing, passionate and engaged fanbase.

    It would also be great to hear from a Melrose Arch representative directly on these issues although you have been helpful responding on their behalf. I do want to point out that when it comes to Melrose Arch's carefully considered response, this isn't the first time I raised this issue. I originally blogged about this issue almost a year ago at“ rel=”nofollow”> and didn't receive a response then.

    To be fair to Melrose Arch, it is the only shopping centre that has responded to my humble posts so it is at least paying attention to a degree.

    Thanks again for commenting.

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