Lynch Mobs, New Media Moguls and the Socially Promiscuous

Themes in UK Social Media 2009

By Mark Iremonger Head of Digital & Planning Proximity London February 2010

Content Lynch Mobs, New Media Moguls and the Socially Promiscuous
Themes in UK Social Media 2009
Introduction Social Promiscuity New Media Moguls Lynch Mobs and Lobby Groups – Bra Wars – Subverting Xmas Pemanent Influencers Conclusion Links 1 2 3 4 5 7 9 11 12


Humans are social. We always have been. This is why social media platforms have massively outpaced traditional content providers online. So the past six years or so has seen web technology enable what we like to do best: catch up, exchange views, swap stories, find partners, power or allies. We laugh, argue, smirk, smile, nod, agree and offer a helping hand. Whatever. In the UK, February 2010 is the month that New Media Age, the UK’s main digital industry news magazine reports that Facebook is now challenging Google’s Adwords for direct response advertising spend. NMA reports that market leading brands like O2 (Mobile Telco), Virgin Media (Cable Telco) and Vodafone (Mobile Telco) are switching spend away from paid search towards Facebook advertising placements. This is a significant indicator of how social media has grown up in the UK. It has dramatically changed people’s behaviour online and is a mainstream part of people’s lives in the UK. Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the UK and yet is only six years old. In this short time it has grown dramatically and quickly integrated itself into people’s lives, becoming part of their everyday rituals for staying in touch with friends and family. This makes it a good time to look back at what has been happening in the UK and see what we can learn that might perhaps be useful or entertaining, that can be applied to advertising and marketing in social media. “Lynch Mobs, New Media Moguls and the Socially Promiscuous” identifies themes that have been drawn from watching what is going on in social media.

Social media platforms have outstripped traditional content platforms.



Theme 1 – Social Promiscuity
Social media has given people a new dimension to their social lives that is fun and convenient. It has given people new ways to find and make friends, as well as created new ways of seeing people, through their profiles and networks. Research in 2009 from nVision confirmed two interesting facts: About a quarter of people on social media sites in the UK have friends they’ve never met, (who they have regular contact with). These are people they have never met face to face. These friends are more akin to pen pals of a non-digital world. More surprisingly than this, nearly a third of people go on to meet people they’ve met on social media sites in the flesh. So we are finding new ways to make friends and the barrier between off and online has really broken down; online is mainstream, and social media is central to online. At the same time people’s number of friends, followers or contacts is becoming important to people’s perceived status, which makes it not unusual to find people with networks of hundreds and hundreds of people. Back in the 70s, Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University posited the idea that there is a “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.” This became known as Dunbar’s Number, and is broadly accepted to be between 135 and 150, and is based at looking back at society from early tribal days up until today. Dunbar’s Number –150. More recently Professor Dunbar assessed Facebook behaviour using the criteria ‘friends you care about and contact at least once a year’, and found that this number still holds true. This Social Promiscuity in new ways to make friends and meet people is here to stay, but expect a backlash against quantity being an indicator of quality, and see people start to prune their friends and followers over the coming year. Expect lots of ‘defriending’ as people put quality before quantity. Although Social Promiscuity is seductive, if you are investing time in social media concentrate on ‘who’ rather than ‘how many’.

Social Promiscuity has opened the door to the New Media Moguls.



Theme 2 – New Media Moguls
One of the new beliefs created by social media is that people have much more power as consumers. But the truth is, that for every person who manages to create real change as a consumer, or a person, there are millions of people who fail to create any influence whatsoever. There is a big gap between the influence most people like to think they have compared to their actual ability to influence anything at all. The New Media moguls are the exception to this. Jon Morter and Beckie Williams are good examples of the New Media Moguls. Two people who created big waves in the UK in 2009 that are hardly heard of six months later. Jon is 35, from Essex, and works for a hi-fi company. He generated more music single sales than ever before in the UK. Beckie, a 26 year old Brighton Based writer, persuaded a leading UK brand to reverse a pricing decision and publicly apologise over a period of about six weeks.

These are the New Media Moguls. Social media allows them to connect and motivate networks of people to create real change, through Lynch Mobs and Lobby Groups.

The Influence Gap. The difference between people’s belief and actual ability to influence.

Oh bloody hell,” he said, as the consequences of what he had done became clear. Composing himself, he said: “I think it just shows that in this day and age, if you want to say something, then you can – with the help of the internet and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. If enough people are with you, you can beat the Jon Morter status quo.

This is absolutely fantastic news. I just want to thank all the women who have stood up for what they believe in. Beckie Williams



3 – Lynch Mobs and Lobby Groups
Lynch Mobs and Lobby Groups are what have driven the observation that consumers have more power these days. When conditions are right they can form very quickly and create real change. Two examples in the UK in 2009 dramatised the power of the new social media lynch mobs and lobby groups.

‘What people say about you is more important than what you say to them’.



3.1 – Bra Wars. Beckie vs M&S
In mid 2009 Beckie, created a group called ‘Busts4Justice’ as a vehicle to express her dissatisfaction that bras at M&S, the UKs market leader for underwear in the UK, were priced at £2.00 more for larger cup sizes. How can this be fair? she asked, when other clothes are not charged differently for different sizes. She set up a Facebook group and a Twitter feed. Mainstream press picked up the story quickly, dubbing it Bra Wars. This prompted M&S to respond formally. In their press release they put forward a fair and considered response that explained their reasons for charging more. Beckie’s Facebook group started swelling in numbers and soon attracted 17,000 members. Beckie bought a single share in M&S to challenge the company at their AGM, and everyone followed the story closely in social media. The Bust4Justice network grew rapidly. Everyone had an opinion on bra pricing policy and was happy to express it online. The story attracted mainstream press and in the face of a growing stack of digital content that saw M&S pricing as being unfair, M&S folded under pressure and did a dramatic u-turn. They turned this into a positive and ran an advertising campaign to let people know they had listened and responded. An M&S spokesperson said: “We’ve heard what our customers are telling us that they are unhappy with the pricing on our DD-plus bras and that basically we’ve boobed. So from Saturday 9 May no matter what size you buy, the price is going to be the same.”



3.1.2 – Bra Wars. Beckie versus M&S
The Bra Wars happened very quickly. Over a space of several weeks M&S reversed their pricing policy and invested in an advertising campaign to let people know. Looking at the search volumes for Busts4justice in the chart below you can see that there was a big spike in search interest that ended as soon the campaign did. A more interesting and permanent legacy that is now attached to M&S for the foreseeable future is the wealth of content in social and traditional media that chronicled and tracked this event. From discussions about the relative merit of size pricing, to mainstream news stories and video content. In the UK a Google search reveals about 50,000 discreet hits for Busts4Justice in the UK and nearly 1,000,000 worldwide.
1,000,000 search results worldwide connect Bust4Justice to M&S in its digital footprints

M&S quickly lost the bra war, reversing its pricing policy in a dramatic u-turn in the face of a determined lobby group made possible by social media.
Search and news reference spike over just four weeks



3.2.1 – Subverting Xmas. RATM versus X Factor
UK Xmas Number 1s have been dominated by the TV talent show The X Factor in the UK for the past six years. The show attracts up to 19 million viewers (63% audience share) in the UK and 10 million votes where cast in series six. It has been taken as a given that the winner of the infamous TV talent show will enjoy taking the Xmas Number 1 music single slot, because of the timing and popularity of the show. In an incredible two week period in December 2009 the UK saw millions of people mobilise across Facebook and Twitter to generate unprecedented music downloads, the X-Factor winner Joe McElderry was pipped to the post. Millions of people in the UK celebrated Xmas 2009 with the most unlikely of songs at Number 1. Little known rock band, Rage Against the Machine had an unexpected and unimaginable moment of glory when their single, Killing in the Name beat X Factor winner, Jo McElderry’s The Climb. At the end of a nail biting week that broke UK singles sales records, as the mainstream TV show X-Factor battled it out against a determined and huge social media movement to disrupt what was seen as the inevitable. This campaign was very different from Bra Wars. It mobilised millions of people in the UK and spawned thousands of pieces of user generated content. The band Rage Against the Machine stepped in, offering a free concert in the UK, and to contribute sales proceeds to charity. The social media movement came under intense media speculation. Everyone from X Factor TV producer Simon Cowell to Sir Paul McCartney had a view. Sir Paul summed up the situation nicely in an interview with Sky News: ““Everyone expects Joe to do it, and if he goes to No1 then good luck to him. He’s just some kid with a career ahead. I’ve got nothing against that, but it would be kind of funny if Rage Against The Machine got it because it would prove a point.”

Facebook groups often had up to one million fans



3.2.2 – Subverting Xmas. RATM versus X Factor
The campaign was kicked off by New Media Mogul Jon Morter, on his second attempt, having failed to get traction the year before. A record breaking 4.22 million singles were purchased in the UK over the 7 day period. The charts below show how X-Factor search volume has matched the shows increasing popularity over the past six years, and how the RATM campaign generated massive news volume. At the peak of the campaign Rage Against the Machine briefly out stripped ‘X Factor’ in search volume. This is a powerful dramatisation of the power social media has to raise awareness over a very short period. In the words of RATM, this was “A historic grassroots rebellion made our song ‘Killing in the Name’ the number one Christmas single of 2009. The people of the UK toppled the X-Factor giant, raised a great deal of money for homeless charities, and shocked the world. As a thank you to our UK fans and freedom fighters we promised to play a free show. we come. June 6th, Finsbury Park, the celebration/party/revolution is ON!!” - Tom Morello

Generated st £93,700 charity donations on Justgiving

‘X factor’ news reference volume ‘X factor’ search volume ‘X factor’ (red) & ‘rage against the machine’ (blue) search volume and news volume

Lobby Group or Lynch Mob? RATM versus X Factor dramatically demonstrates how networked consumers can create change, generate value and disrupt established media power.


4 – Permanent Influencers – identifying and influencing the real directors of consumer sentiment
While the New Media Moguls will come and go, briefly creating dramatic Lynch Groups and Lobby Groups the Permanent influencers have always been around. These are the people who have a vested interest; a personal or professional connection with a given subject or community. Social media has made it much easier to identify and observe more of them. They are a tiny, but influential subset of Forrester’s ‘Creators’ group (that make up 15% of online adults in the UK). ‘Creators’ are identified as either publishing a blog, web pages, uploading video or audio they created, or publishing articles or stories online at least once a month. The Permanent Influencers have a disproportionate effect on the conversations that play out on and offline. This is because they are the people who are pushing content and opinions into the social media space. What they publish is what stimulates debate. A brand can choose to try to be a Permanent Influencer, and/or to build relationships with existing, established Permanent Influencers. Identifying Influencers using listening and social media tools like Proximity’s ‘Six Sense’ is simple, and analysing the types of conversations they stimulate gives a valuable insight into what is important. Permanent Influencers need to be listened to, responded to, understood and held close. If you can build a mutually beneficial relationship with them, this should be a key step in influencing online conversations. If you can identify the Permanent Influencers who relate to your brand then they should be an immediate priority when considering social media activity. If you can’t build a relationship with them, watch them closely and have a strategy that at the least balances content that they may be producing. In the UK Proximity London reached 11% of young people in the UK by embarking on a co-creation project with just 12 YouTube video bloggers. Online conversations are facilitated by people, networks and search, and fuelled by content. The Permanent Influencers are the content generators.

The Permanent Influencer dilemma is ‘What am I going to say today?”. Brands can help answer this question because they have resources, insights and expertise the influencers can benefit from accessing.
In some cases it will be better to invest in influencer relationships rather than go directly to consumers.



Social Promiscuity, New Media Moguls, Lynch Mobs, Lobby Groups and Permanent Influencers have all made themselves felt in the UK in 2009. Social Media is a natural part of people’s everyday lives in the UK, and as social media platforms mature they are opening up incredible opportunities for brands to gain insight, engage and influence consumers. In 2010 in the UK expect to see people cutting back their networks to put quality ahead of quantity. New Media Moguls will come and go, bringing Lynch Mobs and Lobby Groups with them. Listening to and responding to these new social phenomena opens up real opportunities and challenges for brands. The Permanent Influencers are here to stay, and for brands, identifying, listening, understanding and responding to these key conversation starters and sentiment builders will be key to social media marketing over the next 24 months. If you’d like to find out more about how Proximity helps brands connect with consumers in social media, or have any questions about this paper please get in touch. Proximity Worldwide Simon Bond Global Head of Business Development Proximity London Mark Iremonger Head of Digital Planning



Bra Wars
Busts 4 Justice Facebook Group – php?gid=18589103563 Busts 4 Justice Twitter Feed – Telegraph reporting – Busts-4-Justice-Marks-and-Spencers-defends-extratax-on-bigger-bras.html

Subverting Christmas
Rage Against the Machine BBC Interview, YouTube – Rage Against the Machine Website – Rage Against the Machine Killing in the Name – Joe McElderry singing The Climb on X-Factor, YouTube – watch?v=jEca0ZnzOKw Joe McElderry official video, YouTube – Joe McElderry YouTube page –


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful