What is Social Media, Really?

Social Media is the fastest growing phenomenon to hit personal relationships and the business world since the rise of the internet.  There are many definitions regarding SM, and the one that I prefer is “Social Media is the use of technology combined with social interaction to create or co-create value.”  In a way, the definition doesn’t really matter nearly as much as the application and changing role of building and sustaining relationships and marketing in a social media world. 

Social Media is many things and one of the most effective uses of SM is as a company suggestion box.  Good, bad or indifferent, people are talking about companies and more and more companies are using SM tools to tap into the conversations.  Failure to listen will only be taken as evidence that the company doesn’t care.  Customers now have the ability to respond to messages and to discuss their opinions among themselves.  They do this whether companies invite them to do so or not, so it is incumbent upon businesses to become involved in these conversations.

By engaging prospective customers in active dialogue, companies can showcase their expertise and domain knowledge and generate buzz around their products and services while eliciting feedback as well as collaboration from product evangelists.  “Conversation Marketing” means creating a dialog with customers in which useful information is exchanged so that both parties benefit from the relationship.  As trust builds, customers develop loyalty that makes them long-term partners, leading to a more lasting relationship.

Social Media is at its most basic sense, a shift in how people discover, read, and share news and information and content.  It’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialogue (many to many).  The first ten years of the internet were pretty much the “read only” years and over the last few years we have entered the “read//write” era.  SM is the democratization of content and the understanding of the role people play in the process of not only reading and disseminating information, but also how they share and create content for others to participate.

All things being equal, people do business with and refer business to people they like, know and trust.  This is as true as gravity and while technology will always change, people don’t change much.  Regardless of country, gender, or other differences, people will always do business with people and companies that they like, know and trust.  Many companies are learning how to use SM as a strategic tool to increase their “like, know, trust” factor and not be seen as corporate monoliths of the past.

ROI has been known as Return on Investment for many years in business.  In a more and more hyper competitive, over-caffeinated, Blackberry obsessed world, ROI as it relates to Social Media means “Risk of Inactivity”.  SM is affecting every industry and everyone has pretty much figured out that SM is not a pet rock, mood ring or hula hoop.  Social Media is shifting industries and there are many emerging companies that are figuring out how to level the playing field with the big boys without having the multi-million dollar advertising budgets.  It’s very telling that for the first time in over 20 years, Pepsi chose not to spend one dollar on Super Bowl advertising, instead taking the entire Super Bowl budget and applying it to their SM campaigns.

If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country behind China and India and right before the USA at over 450,000,000 members.  There are over 1,000,000 new Facebook accounts being opened every day and the number is accelerating.  Facebook is very social in nature, but the business applications of Facebook are growing quickly.  The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women over the age of 54.  Facebook can also pretty much be considered the world’s largest high school reunion.

LinkedIn is the largest business networking platform in the world with over 60,000,000 members.  The average LinkedIn member is 42 years old and earns $109,000 a year.  This is obviously a very desirable demographic for many business purposes.  LinkedIn effectively merges our Rolodexes and makes visible the connections that we always had, but were previously invisible.  Large numbers of businesses are figuring out how to leverage this huge online network for business development, joint venture, strategic alliance and recruiting purposes.

Twitter is a form of real-time global text messaging.  Once thought of as just teenagers talking about what they had for lunch and who’s cute, Twitter has become a very powerful business and research tool.  Through the effective use of Twitter companies are able to identify potential clients and Centers of Influence regarding their products and services.  Some businesses have been able to quadruple their revenues in a year by strategically using Twitter as a communication tool with their customers and clients.

Embracing change is the only sure success strategy in a business world that is evolving faster than we have ever known.  Few rules- only risks and opportunities and emerging principles are swirling in cyberspace.  Complex patterns of governance are already emerging, driven by a set of shared values that aren’t codified but just understood.  As each voice is added, the community gets stronger.  Many experts predict that the internet will become the world’s largest advertising medium within the next two years.  It took television 40 years to reach 2/3rd of all US homes.  The internet has gone from infancy to market dominance in 17 years.

While the technology is amazing, the irony is that the primary skills you need to succeed in SM are the same skills that everyone is familiar with.  They’re the skills that are essential to a healthy personal life: the ability to talk to and have meaningful relationships with other human beings.  When technology is leveraged to facilitate and enhance social interaction, a great deal of value can be created.  Use these new tools properly and they’ll prove to be invaluable in your effort to strengthen existing personal and business relationships.


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