Reed Hastings, chief executive of video streaming service Netflix, on Jan. 31 informed the more than 260,000 followers of his Facebook page that one of the great things about New York City is the ability to choose between visiting the Museum of Sex on 26th Street and the Museum of Mathematics on 27th. He posted a photo showing he had opted for the latter.
On Thursday, Hastings told his Facebook followers that "over the last three months, you all watched over 4 billion hours on Netflix."
And with that we have a watershed media moment.
Only a day earlier, Netflix told the Securities and Exchange Commission it would avail itself of newly clarified rules allowing public companies to use social media sites to disclose "material information."
Just as Netflix upends traditional television, its use of Facebook to reach investors represents a small revolution in how businesses communicate with the public.
Make that a big revolution. It's time to think of social media as simply media.
Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and the rest have inherent strengths and weaknesses — no different from print, broadcasting and other platforms. But if you're in business and still dismiss social media platforms as a bunch of people prattling on about what they had for breakfast, you stand to have your lunch handed to you.
"It's constantly evolving, but if you don't have your finger on the pulse of those changes, you can really be left out in the cold," said Sean McGinnis, founder of Chicago agency 312 Digital.
Just four months ago, Netflix's Hastings was put on notice after a similar Facebook posting for a possible violation of the SEC's Regulation Fair Disclosure requirements. But what quickly became clear was that the rule, while less than 13 years old, already was in need of a tweak in response to the new realities.
Upon reflection, much like anyone else who's been resistant to entering the social media space, the SEC had to come to terms with the times. Hastings' Facebook page is as likely to be read as traditional channels for public disclosure of company information, such as SEC filings, investor relations websites, press releases, public conference calls and webcasts.
Social media's greatest benefits are agility, flexibility and the level of engagement that comes from the push and pull of interactivity with audiences and communities. Even as companies get used to the idea of using the platforms as a conduit to release substantive information, many already have found them useful in marketing, monitoring consumer sentiment in real time and in customer service.
A shrewd, coordinated and effective effort can connect on many levels all at once, separating the tweets from the chaff.
Lisa Zimmer, a community manager at Tenth and Blake, the craft and import arm of Chicago-based MillerCoors, was on the road recently when she learned she had received an upgrade for her United Airlines flight back to O'Hare. Wondering if the upgrade included the increased baggage allowance that would come with a paid first-class ticket, she put the question on Twitter.
A United representative responded by direct message in minutes, sparing Zimmer who knows how long on hold listening to "Rhapsody in Blue." "Big ups to the @united social team for a quick response on a Saturday night," she tweeted to her nearly 2,000 followers.
"One of the biggest pieces of information we've learned, even just recently, is that the customers we're helping through Twitter are oftentimes some of our best customers," said Mark Krolick, managing director of marketing and product development for Chicago-based United. "They are frequent business travelers, not necessarily the same demographic you would think of when you think of social media."
United's use of social media, Krolick said, "continues to expand and evolve as social media evolves and as the base of social media users continues to expand. … When you look at who we're helping through that channel, it is very clear that our best customers not only are participating in social media, but they are interacting with us through it. That's very helpful for us to know."
Facebook's penetration in the United States and the United Kingdom is around half of the total population, and more than a third in countries such as Brazil, France and Mexico, according to a Benzinga report last week. Twitter lags, with Argentina having the highest level of penetration at around 15 percent, more than double the U.S. level. Not all social media platforms break through or endure, but that's no different from any other kind of media.
"The technology changes, the platforms change, the sites you and I visit in three years probably aren't here yet," McGinniss said. "Google Plus (which benefits from its ties to the Google search engine juggernaut) didn't exist three years ago."
Because each site has its own limitations and advantages, United has tended to leverage its interaction to send followers to The Hub, or unitedhub.com, a site it launched in December 2011. The Hub enables the airline to make announcements and interact, present videos and promote new services. When its first Boeing 787 was rolled out of the hangar, the event was live streamed for those interested on the site.
"The Hub," Krolick said, "allows us to put more editorial and newsworthy information out for consumers that go beyond pithy marketing messages, but it's also not appropriate (material) for United.com, which is more of a transactional site. … The flexibility social media provides us gives us a richer experience because it can be multimedia and it can be updated quickly."
Those unable to update their mindsets just as quickly risk being left behind.