Cara Pring

Why are Aussie businesses so far behind in the social world?

There is no question that Australia is lagging behind other countries (most notably America) in the social media game. No longer can we be content with just setting up a facebook page and hoping for the best. We can't expect massive sales from tweeting to our customers in an ad hoc fashion. Social media has handed us one of the biggest opportunities to really connect with our customers and prospects - ever - and for the most part we seem to be missing it. We need to get out there and try new things, even if it means missing the mark on the odd occasion. Forget TV, print, radio or typical online advertising - we need to put some serious money towards social and start making the trends rather than following them. So why then, are we still so slow to jump on the social media bandwagon?

social media laggardsI've read a number of differing reports in relation to where us Aussies are placed in the social race.  Some people seem to think we are doing well for ourselves - probably due to the ever-growing number of small businesses who set up a facebook page and/or twitter account and claim to be ‘socialised'. 

I don't really care if every Australian business has a facebook page AND a twitter account.  We are hardly pioneering the industry.  In fact - and I'm sorry to say this - we are falling way behind. 

Think of any digital conference or workshop you've attended recently.  How many huge or exciting social AUSTRALIAN examples were provided? And how many times have you searched your event hashtag on twitter to find a bunch of people disappointed by the lack of Australian examples? They tend to blame presenters, but I'm not convinced.  I went to the social stream at the recent ad:tech Sydney event and left with no really inspirational or groundbreaking case studies from the scores of Aussie businesses who presented on the day.  Probably my favourite was the RSPCA facebook game created by 3rd Sense guys, but even this wasn't really anything new.

The simple fact is that despite our countless wall posts and tweets not very many of us have gone out on a limb and done something truly awesome.  The one glaring success story that I can think of is Queensland Tourism's ‘Best Job in the World' campaign, which attracted millions of visitors and tens of thousands of entries.  The global reach of the campaign was proven by the fact that North Korea was the only country in the world that did not generate a web visitor to the site.  Impressive.

The rest of us have no excuse really - Australia has for a long time now been touted as ‘the most social country in the world' given the extraordinary amount of time we spend online within our social networks (most notably facebook).  It's only getting more important as our dollar strengthens, and in combination with the explosion of e-commerce capabilities (particularly overseas), we are facing greater and greater competition from international businesses.  If these guys are not only doing digital well but also social, we may never get our customers back.

So why then is Australia lagging in the social media race?

  1. Lack of people who know their stuff.  We're a small country with a small population (relatively) so it's going to take awhile for our workforce to catch up with the trends.  At this stage it's just hard to find anyone who fully understands the channels.  Of course there are plenty of youngins out there who are fully adept at facebook, twitter, myspace and the rest but that doesn't mean they understand the marketing, customer service and PR principles behind it. They probably don't have much project, campaign or stakeholder management experience either. Problem.
  2. Agencies pretending they know their stuff.  For those avid Digital Ministry readers you have probably heard all about this in my previous post about agencies sabotaging your social media strategy.  The point is that if you are trusting your agency to look after your social strategy and they are not equipped to do so, you are obviously not about to execute a game-changer.
  3. Fear and aversion to risk.  We are a smart race of businesspeople in Australia and we are not keen to throw money at projects that have largely unknown ROI in previously untested channels.  We like concrete figures. And proven strategies.
  4. Keeping up with the Joneses. Or in this case, keeping back with the Joneses.  We are very much concerned with what our competitors are doing and as long as we feel like we are on par or maybe a little ahead of them, everything is dandy. There's always safety in numbers.
  5. We're often the last to know. Just like movies, fashions and just about everything else, us poor Aussies don't always get access to the latest and greatest technologies or social functionality - eg. facebook deals.
  6. Stingy budgets. We're a conservative bunch and nobody yet seems willing to truly invest in social media. And I don't mean tens of thousands either. I'm talking hundreds of thousands and even millions (for the big guys). The Tourism QLD campaign was run on a budget of $1.7million - a (seemingly) huge investment to make in the world of social, and yet it's been reported that they generated global publicity valued over $80 million dollars. I'd say that's a win.

These may be the reasons why we are behind but really they aren't good enough. Social media marketing has been around long enough to prove it has genuine ROI. There's no excuse to be afraid or to submit to a lack of urgency since your competitors are laggards too.  And if your agency doesn't understand it and you can't find anyone else that does, find a better agency or figure it out yourself. If you really don't have any budget to spare, take some out of your marketing bucket that was reserved for something  much lamer you were planning on doing.

The truth is that right now social is one of your best opportunities to connect with your customers and prospects and build true brand favourability.  It's the best way to distinguish yourself and do something different because everyone and their dog now has a website and is out there advertising in traditional channels.  Sooner or later social media is going to get old, just the same as print, tv, radio or online.  Surely there are only so many pages and competitions we are going to want to like, follow or enter before it all becomes overkill.  You can bet your best dollar people are going to get a lot more selective a lot faster.  Be there first, get them involved with your brand and you'll find they will stay with you, spend more with you and recommend you to their friends.

So come on Australia. Get over your fears and stop being stingy.  Social is where it's at and you're missing the boat.  I don't want to go to one more conference where all the social examples are American.  Get out there.


Posted by John Richardson, 20 April 2011

One issues that Aussie "Social Marketers" face is the "my customers don't use Facebook / Twitter / etc" objection. Educating business owners & marketing managers that are stuck in the "old school" marketing era of how you can drive success is key.

Posted by Martin Kelly, 21 April 2011

America, way ahead? Glenn Fogel, Director of Corporate Strategy at Priceline, the hottest online US travel company, told delegates at No Vacancy in Sydney three weeks ago that social media marketers were "charlatans" and the medium was a waste of money.

Posted by Cara Pring, 21 April 2011

Hi John - good point, but in this age anyone who asserts that their customers aren't on facebook deserves a good slap in the face. Unless you're running a retirement home, they definitely are - and honestly I think even the most conservative businesspeople are beginning to realise this as every single member of their family and friend circle is talking about it. The problem becomes convincing them of the ROI involved with using social. Pretty soon that will be a moot question too because evidence is mounting as to the benefits... I just wonder if it will come too late!

Posted by Justin, 21 April 2011

Hi Cara - great article! It would be great to go to an international conference in the near future where Australia is the talking point of social media success!

Posted by Sue Cash, 21 April 2011

Hey Cara, your analysis of the Australian social media market is spot on. I'm working in social media now but I used to be a direct marketer ... way back in the dark ages of the mid 90's... and unfortunately this issue is pervasive across all sectors of marketing/media in Australia. Unlike the UK and US, most companies do not want to take risks to get the "first mover advantage". Over the years, this has affected the way that agency staff (even those from the UK and US) recommend ideas to clients. Even the experienced agencies prefer to present an low risk idea that is palatable to clients to get the business and then hope to increase sophistication over time. This is a lose-lose situation that needs to change!

Posted by Eileen Marable, 27 April 2011

I see two big problems: 1) the lack of dedicated developers who want to push the envelope in site creation, apps or even UI tweask, 2) a serious lack of interest in pushing the envelope with original campaigns. Maintenance seems to be the only bar.

Posted by John Lynch, 27 April 2011

HI Eileen, its all down to opportunity cost based on narrow experience. SM has to many risks for some and these myopic accountants slit tend to control the comms cash. Pushing the envelope if you don't have vision only increases this cost and risk as does maintenance. I had a client ask me what sort of SM campaign she could have for $1000. I said a bad one.

Posted by Mei Lim, 5 May 2011

Hi Cara, I don't think Australia is only behind in social media. We are behind in the whole digital media front in general, from our internet connectivity to use of videos and to going cross-platform dynamically as a marketing tool. It will change.


Cara Pring The Social Skinny Cara Pring
Company: The Social Skinny
Position: Founder
Social specialist, founder of and trained ninja. I've been fortunate enough to gain experience in marketing, media, events and social media strategy across a diverse range of industries - government, corporate events, club industry, private health insurance and the airline industry Read Cara's full bio

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