By Louise Vaughan

In July last year a Japanese graphic designer sent the world’s 20 billionth tweet demonstrating the increasing importance and phenomenal growth of Twitter, the 140 character micro-blogging service. It took four years to record the 10 billionth tweet, sent in March 2010 and just four months to double that number.

The explosion of digital communications now offers the ability to engage, inform and empower communities, down to street level, in debate and discussion about the changes, challenges and choices. With the ever present pressure of budgetary cuts the role of social media in providing effective and cost-effective channels of engagement and service delivery is being taken increasingly seriously.

Just how connected Britons are to their communications gadgets and services was made very apparent in a survey by the communications watchdog, Ofcom. According to the survey more Britons are willing to cut back on almost anything except the technology which allows them to talk, text, tweet or interact over the internet.

The survey disclosed that some 19million people in the UK visit Facebook, spending an average of six hours a month on the site. This is a 50% increase in just 12 months.

Asked which areas of spending they were most likely to be cutting back on in the current economic climate, 47% said going out for dinner, 41% said DIY and 41% chose holidays. This compared with just 19% who said they would rein back on mobile phone spending, 16% on TV subscriptions and 10% on broadband services.

These surveys demonstrate the growing use of the internet, social networking sites and digital communications throughout society, across age groups and demographic divides.

As it continues to refine and develop, the future in digital communications is all about building communities, groups of people with shared or common interests and information needs, regardless of their location and interacting with them in ways which are both effective and cost-effective.

So, how is motors.co.uk, the UK’s second largest used car website, embracing digital technology and social networking to best serve their clients and customers?

The opportunities are endless and not always obvious. Acceleris was tasked with promoting the Motor Sensei’s Twitter feed and Facebook page using both online and offline methods to maximise awareness of the brand across all platforms. While both of these feeds already existed, they were receiving minimal amounts of interaction.

Acceleris began activity in July 2010 and began by publicising the Facebook page and Twitter feeds alongside the motors.co.uk CARdio Tai Chi Roadshow — a series of fun events held all around the country which encouraged children and adults alike to remain calm during summer travel by taking part in tai chi demonstrations and learning moves which they could replicate in the car. (To learn the art of in-car relaxation visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zToyx5EkG5o) Offline promotional activity directed consumers to both the Facebook and Twitter feeds, while online posts were regularly made promoting the events and encouraging visitors to upload their photographs and videos from the events. Acceleris began following a number of regional and national tai chi groups to encourage their participation in the events.

On Facebook particularly, photographs from all of the events were uploaded and participants were encouraged to tag themselves in the pictures and share them with their friends. During summer 2010, the re-make of the Karate Kid film was also released. This provided a great opportunity for motors.co.uk and the CARdio Tai Chi tour to jump on the back of this ‘trend’ on Twitter. Acceleris regularly ‘tagged’ the Karate Kid in posts so that when consumers interested in the Karate Kid searched on Twitter, the Motor Sensei’s Tweets and messages would also appear in the results.

A video of karate master Dean Hodgkin, who took part in the CARdio Tai Chi tour, was uploaded to video-sharing site YouTube. During the campaign links to this video were regularly posted on social media feeds resulting in the video receiving over 2,000 views. By August 2010, the campaign had increased the motors.co.uk Twitter and Facebook following by over 340%.

Social media outlets offer direct engagement with customers and clients in real time allowing you to interact with your publics, answer questions and respond quickly to any feedback — good or bad. Social media is just one in an ever increasing arsenal of engagement tools available to brands in the digital age.

Louise Vaughan is Director and Head of PR at Acceleris Marketing Communications Ltd, the retained PR and Communications agency for motors.co.uk