Making Social Media Work For Your Business

Social Media and the Development of the Web 2.0

Designed to be spread through social interaction, Social Media relies on accessibility and consumer usability. Taking full advantage of the wide spread use of the Internet, social media uses web-based technologies to engage singular media sources in dialogue with one another. Social media has brought democracy to the dissemination of information and knowledge, giving a voice to the general public, transforming the masses from content consumers to content producers. Social media has been defined by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein as “a group of Internet bases application that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” Many business have started to take advantage of this “user-generated content”, also known as “consumer generated media”. The wide spread use of social media has taken the information age one step further into what is becoming known as “The Attention Age”

With so much content available on the web and so many voices contributing to web-based conversations, the question in play now becomes how to capture the attention of the masses and rise above the noise that has been created by the constant online media “buzz”. Distinguishing any one particular site, person or idea on the web takes a great deal of creativity and innovation. This need has created a whole new pool of professionals who specialize in driving traffic or attention to a specific Internet “site” or place. Now that everyone has a voice, the goal is to become an “authority” in a certain field or on a specific subject. Much of becoming an authority is developing a following.

Businesses large and small have begun to take advantage of this idea and the facility of user generated content and consumer generated media in order to use their customers as marketing tools. With a few simple incentives, business have to power to use their customers as promoters, increasing brand exposure and positive consumer feedback. With the extensive reach of social media sites such as Twitter, messages and information can be spread instantly to thousands of individuals across the globe.

Other forms of social media include networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, online forums such as Wikipedia, media sharing tools such as YouTube and MySpace (also a social networking site) podcasts, social bookmarking, blogs, vlogs and social network aggregation platforms.

With the widespread use of online media and the prevalence of the Internet, it is in every business’ best interest to take full advantage of social media as a marketing and sales tool. In the United States, social networking accounts for 11 percent of all time spent on the Internet. Over a quarter of Internet page visits in the US were to top social networking sites. Twitter processes more than one billion tweets each month and averages about 40 million tweets per day. While these numbers may seem staggering, they are increasing every day.

There are many ways businesses can use social media and Internet marketing to their advantage. By creating their own online profiles, they can develop following online through sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as distributing content through Wikipedia, a business blog and their website. Since the goal of social media is to start and spread conversation, businesses have to offer a point of intrigue, be it through interesting content or an incentive in exchange for participating in an information exchange.

Businesses can also use the information that sites such as Facebook offer about their users to target Internet advertising at a specific market. Since Facebook publicly shares information such as occupation, location, martial status, educational background and interests, it is easy to design and target advertising campaigns at a specific group of users.

If done right, online media can be used to have the consumer do the marketing. Similar to a store selling a t-shirt with their brand name printed across the front, businesses can use their customers as their own advertising tools. For example, if a business creates a Facebook fan page that they invite their customers to join by offering a simple incentive such as a coupon or access to “insider information”, their business name will be displayed on all of their fan’s profiles in the live newsfeed of all of their fans’ friends. By increasing exposure, they will expand their following, thereby gaining more customers.

Social vs Industrial Media

Media can be loosely defined as “a source in which people gain information, education, news, etc.” Online media is distinct from industrial media in that it is generally far less expensive and more accessible. Anyone can publish social media, whereas industrial media usually requires significant financial backing. While both social and industrial media have extensive reach, the ability to produce social media is available to anyone. Social media is also far more user friendly. Anyone with access to the Internet can create a Facebook profile or sign up for Twitter with no special training. Industrial media creators, on the other hand, have almost always received some sort of higher education specializing in the field. Perhaps where the two forms differ most is in the fact that social media has the ability to be published in real time. Whereas there is a time lag between an occurred event and the information being published in a newspaper, social media is broadcast instantaneously. It is true that news-reporters can broadcast live to television, but they can only be in one place at one time whereas social media users can send out information from thousands of different sources. Take the recent earthquake in Chile, for example. While a few reporters and camera crews could show live footage from a specific point of interest, anyone with a computer or cellphone could instantly send updates on what was happening from wherever they were, thus providing thousands of live information sources on what was happening in real time. Because of the nature of the Internet, social media is permanent whereas industrial media is destructible. Conversely, however, once industrial media is published, it cannot be edited or altered. On the other hand, social media can be changed almost instantly.

Web 2.0

The term “Web 2.0” first came into play just before the new millennium when Darcy DiNucci used it in an article she wrote about the future of the Internet. Whereas the web was once a static place for gathering information, it has now become an active forum for information sharing and development. The term started to become more widely used in 2004 when O’Reilley Media and MediaLive hosted the first Web 2.0 conference. Web 2.0 does not necessarily refer to complicated technology upgrades, but rather to how the web is used, and the modern ability to interact with it.

The idea of Web 2.0 centers around the idea of using the Internet as a platform. Users are able to do far more than just retrieve data. Users now have the ability to interact with site features (post comments, live chat, upload images, music and video, etc) as well as store, manage and own data that they post.

Social Media is a large part of the nature of Web 2.0. Being able to have live conversations, instantly broadcast information to thousands of users at the same time as well as interact with other sources (live or computerized) has transformed the Internet from a library into a playground.

So where are we headed next? Have we already crossed the line into a new iteration of the Internet? Have we entered into the realm of Web 3.0? The expansion of social media platforms and the web’s ability to track and connect user preferences suggests that we are indeed entering into yet another stage of how the Internet is used. Companies have a responsibility to keep up to date with these emerging trends as it is sure to effect the way we conduct business.

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