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.