Recent research by Aberfield Communications into the presence of the top 150 companies in Yorkshire on social media showed that it is greatly under-used by the region’s businesses.

After Yorkshire’s top flight performance in the Olympics and our reputation for being home to some of the friendliest and most open people in Britain, why aren’t we performing better in terms of our business community’s online engagement?

Yorkshire’s Olympic athletes, including Jessica Ennis, the Brownlee brothers and Nicola Adams, not only delivered winning sporting performances, they also provided some of the most engaging, emotional moments of the Games. They now all have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter who they are still engaging with.


But Yorkshire’s businesses appear to be ignoring opportunities to engage by shying away from social media, which just isn’t like us! The huge success of networking group The Yorkshire Mafia, which started and still largely exists on social media platform LinkedIn, would suggest that we are more than willing to embrace new technologies to explore new business opportunities and share ideas with our fellow Yorkshire folk. It is also an excellent case study of how using social media can have tangible business benefits.

Whilst the publishers of the research report accept that a ‘one size fits all’ or ‘blanket’ approach to social media isn’t necessarily right, they also highlight that ignoring it all together or not using it to effectively engage and build relationships is short sighted.

So, what’s going on with business use of social media in Yorkshire?

Why are certain sectors embracing social media more than others?

The top performers in the Social Yorkshire report are the region’s leading retailers. The likes of Sheffield-based Go Outdoors are using multi-media content across a range of platforms to connect and engage with their existing and potential customers.

However, a recent article in PR Week talked about how the UK’s banks (a number of which have their headquarters here in Yorkshire) are shunning social media because of fear that it will damage reputation further by opening themselves up to direct criticism. What they don’t realise is that it is happening anyway and by not engaging with it they are making things much worse!

There are excellent examples of companies in more ‘traditional’ sectors such as law firms like Blacks Solicitors, using social media platforms like Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn to bring what they do to life and get the personality, skills and expertise of their people across. This is a million miles away from how the legal sector traditionally operated.

What we need is more good case studies of senior business people in Yorkshire using social media with real business impact.

What is stopping some of the top Yorkshire companies from embracing social media?

The report identifies a set of typologies of Yorkshire businesses on social media from ostriches who have no presence, to meerkats and monkeys who are on there but not making the most of it, to lions (like Yorkshire Water) who are taking a much braver approach and actually engaging with and responding to their audiences. This full-throttle approach may not be expensive but it can be incredibly time consuming and requires buy-in from the top of the organisation to make it work and ensure that the potential risks don’t outweigh the benefits.

One of the typologies identified in the report is so-called Magpies – organisations which have set up a presence on social media and then quickly lost interest and done nothing with it. This may be largely down to a swarm of ‘social media gurus’ going into companies and persuading them to start using social media but not getting everyone’s buy-in and making it a key part of the business strategy. This isn’t sustainable and can’t be justified at board level when it comes to reviewing where time and money is being spent during tough times.

What are the biggest missed opportunities for Yorkshire companies?

Many of Yorkshire’s top 150 companies will be headed up by ‘baby boomers’ who are coming close to retirement. Some of these people are incredibly forward thinking and recognise that they need to look at how people will communicate and do business in the future. However, there is a common misconception that social media in business is just about business development and customer/client engagement and in some markets there is still a lot of cynicism around whether it works for anything other than social interaction amongst young people.

The biggest missed opportunity for companies not embracing social media is in the way they do business generally. There are huge opportunities to save on recruitment, other HR issues, travel costs and much more by becoming a ‘social business’ and making sure everyone has the right communication skills to take it forward.

What can be done to get Yorkshire’s top companies to embrace social media?

The report is useful because us Yorkshire folk are both competitive and proud. Pitting us against other regions is one sure fire way to get Yorkshire business leaders to sit up and listen. However, a bigger cultural shift is needed if social media is going to become anything more than an ‘add on’ or ‘fad’. For senior professionals to see it as part of a ‘bread and butter’ business strategy, it needs to be taken seriously at board level as something that cuts across all aspects of the business – not something that just sits in the marketing comms team as a ‘nice to have’.

The term ‘social media’ has so many non-business connotations that it is easy for many senior business people to see it as irrelevant to them, their organisation and their sector. The term ‘digital communications‘ is more useful because it is more holistic and takes away the ‘fear factor’ of social media as something that is other than just another way of communicating. We need to use what we are naturally good and not let anyone tell us that it’s a ‘dark art’. We like things simple here in Yorkshire. We’ll catch up and when we do, we’ll do it on our own terms – and probably reap the rewards of being ‘late adopters’ by stripping away all the ‘fancy stuff’ and getting it right!

Right, I’m off for a brew…