Social media isn’t a new “Internet Hip” that just popped up, but it has been around for years in the shape of forums and newsgroups. So what has changed? The introduction of various new tools and the tremendous increase of the internet user base in the last decade along with easier internet access gave the big push. To best define social media, we need to break it down. Social is relating to human society; the interaction of the individual and the group. Media is a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary). So, social media is a media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media uses Internet and web-based technologies to transform broadcast media monologues (one-to-many aka traditional media) into social media dialogues (many-to-many). Primarily, social media depends on interactions between people -as discussions and integration of words -using technology as a conduit. Social media has been touted as presenting a fresh direction for marketing by allowing companies to talk with consumers, as opposed to talking at them (Wikipedia). It lives on the contributions and feedback of everyone. It eliminates the gap between the writers and the readers and forms a conversation-like content.
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As mentioned earlier, social media comes in the forms of various online tools or services. These can be categorized into numerous groups each with its own characteristics and usages. To elaborate, blogs, for example, aka web logs are an online journal for the writers to share their experiences, opinions, and thoughts while providing the readers the option add their feedback and comments to the topic. Social networks are online service websites consists of personal or commercial profiles of their users, their social relationships, and offer a variety of other activities (Wikipedia). Micro-blogging is a networking service that allows mobile users of cell phones and other Internet connected devices to stay attentive of activities within a group by receiving frequently published updates, typically of 140 characters or less. Text messages are uploaded to a micro-blogging server, and then distributed to group members (R. Kayne). Social bookmarking is a service that provides its users with the ability to store, organize, share, search, and rate bookmarks for web pages. There is also a specialized form of social bookmarking sites known as social news where users vote on articles and news. These are some of the social media variations available and are the most influential ones for businesses, There are others but are not mentioned as they are either hold no significant use toward the purpose of this document or reside outside its scope.
2. The gain of adopting Social Media Marketing
Social media provides companies with the capability to closely reach a large number of consumers providing similar experience to direct marketing with much lower costs. It gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the power of word of mouth (WOM) or in this case electronic one. According to a study done by Steffes and Burgee from Towson University, the information the students gained from eWOM is more in¬‚uential in their decision than speaking with friends in person (2008). Also, according to Alexa, A web traffic monitoring company, out of the top 10 most visited websites in the world, four are social ones and the rest are general search engines. Looking at Malaysia’s top 10, the number increases to five with the first spot occupied by Facebook -a social networking website (Alexa.com). Social networks like Facebook has over 350 million active users of which 70% are international ones with an average time spend of 55 minutes per day (facebook.com); MySpace -another social network -has over 100 million active users (myspace.com); Technorati has more than 133 million indexed blogs (January 2009) and 77% of active internet users are reading blogs (Adam Singer, 2009). Being able to influence even a small portion of a consumer base of this magnitude will produce noticeable results despite the difficulty of relating social activities to a percentage of revenue. Bear in mind that Social Media Marketing (SMM) is not to be used to sell, at least not directly. However, SMM is used to generate awareness and exposure to the business, reduce overall marketing expenses, increase traffic or subscribers to own website, create new business partnership, rise up in search ranking, improved PR, and an ending with more loyal customers (Michael Stelzner, 2009). If approached with intent to sell, internet users are now are savvy, they will be able to smell you coming and will shun you immediately.
3. The Way to Successful Social Media Utilization
The use of social media as a marketing tool -if done right – can yield into huge benefits. To fully utilize the social media, the organization should include it in their marketing planning as it needs a careful preparation to know the medium best suited for the company’s activities. Unfortunately, lots of people look at social media as a free marketing tool, leading into little planning which in return yields no benefits and in some cases even negative ones. While it might not take much -if any- financial wise, social media marketing do consume a lot of time. On the other hand, the financial requirement makes it the best choice for start up companies and individuals. The first step in the plan is to see if social media is suitable for you as it is not for everybody. Businesses with products targeted at elderly or retired people, won’t generate much benefits from using it. Also, companies with tight government regulation supervision shouldn’t pick social media as a marketing tool. After ensuring that you belong with the majority, whose social media engagement suits their activities, you have to decide on your objectives; the desired results from engaging into social media. This in return will help in choosing the best suited tools (Anita Campbell, 2009). This paper will cover in some details a part of these tools and their uses later.
Within the social sphere, organizations can’t push their messages or products to the consumer; rather they have to lure the consumer toward them. To be able to achieve that, the message should attain certain attributes to be considered attractive enough to lure them. First of all, the message should sound familiar to the target audience. People like to communicate with each other. Try reaching them, listening to their ideas and thoughts, and then formulate your message. Adding a budget to the mix in the form of incentives can encourage much better feedback as well as help spread the word associated with the incentives. The third element that can be thrown to the mix is fame. Providing the audience with a chance of fame, be it as small as it gets, it can really stimulate the audiences interest. The forth element is the fun, entertaining one, which is shared with most of the online activities. Adding the fun entertaining factor can excite the audience to spread the word. Lastly, the message should contain the mobility factor; the ability to move from one person to the next (Richard Clark, 2009). Having at least one the first four elements along with the last one will encourage a beneficial response from the community.
An organization should continue to listen to the community as long as it is in business. Since anyone can say anything, a company should always keep an eye on the sphere. Listen to what the communities say about it. This help in controlling bad press and empowering good ones. Of course, monitoring the blogosphere may seem impossible, fortunately, there are some tools that keeps the company notified whenever a new entry with its name appear in the wild.
4. The Way to a Catastrophic Social Media Utilization
As beneficial as SMM can be, a misuse or unplanned approach can result in a total waste of resources. Lacking a staff member who can handle a frequent delivery of quality content can degrade the social effort. Also, the absence of a strong message that can create a community around it will result in a partial loss for the impact on people. Social media is global, so, cautious should be practiced at all times to avoid any offending messages. Not only that, a corporation should realize that social media is an open platform and there is no such thing as off-the-record and for that not only should they monitor their own channels but also their employees. There have been many incidents where companies had to fire their employees for inappropriate messages posted in their own personal spaces. One famous incident when Delta Airlines had to fire Ellen Simonetti a flight attendant over inappropriate pictures posted in her blog in the company’s uniform (Ellen Simonetti, 2005). To avoid such incidents, the organization should provide clear guidelines to what is appropriate and what is not when it comes to their social messages.
We have mentioned earlier different social media tools that can be utilized to the benefit of the organization. Now, we will discuss these in further details while providing real examples for the usages of these tools by other organizations or individuals. Starting with blogs, which as mentioned earlier is a website with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material usually maintained by one person with few exceptions where they are maintained by a group of people depending on the function or goal of the blog. Blogs also give the readers the ability to leave their comments in an interactive format. This feedback mechanism of the blogs is one of the main reasons why blogs are one of the most important social mediums. From an SMM point of view, the feedback is the opinion of their consumers, their needs, or their dissatisfactions which make them a gold mine of information for the company. A lot of companies had already adopted blogs and integrated them to their daily operations starting with CEOs like Jonathan Schwartz (President & CEO, Sun Microsystems) and George F. Colony (Chairman & CEO, Forrester Research) and a long list others. So what does these CEO talk about? Most would think that talking about their company’s milestones, new products or services, or future plan would be the obvious choice. But going back to the reason should most companies based their activities on social media is to raise awareness. Not many people will want to read about the company’s achievements or its products, that’s the purpose of the main website of the company. These CEOs’ blogs actually contains interesting and useful materials. If we take a quick look at George Colony’s blog, we will find his personal thoughts, expectations, review, etc. but all with a unified theme, the CEO perspective. One of his entries were regarding the imminent dominance of Apple’s iPhone among CEOs over the Blackberry ones and listing iPhone features that the blackberry lacks. Normally, you wouldn’t expect to see a mobile review in a research company CEO blog though he still managed to keep it relevant to the overall blog theme, but that what makes it interesting. That’s what makes people coming back to you. Because each blog will compete with millions of other blogs and to stand tall among the crowd, you have to distinguish yours. If you are a small business owner, your blog could be relevant to your industry. But regardless of the blog’s theme, without valuable content, the blog will be a definite waste of time. Passing the CEO blogs and going further into the companies’ hierarchy, we can also find many of the management team, adding their own touch to the blogosphere like Tom Berquist (CFO, Ingres) and Michael Tiemann (CTO, Red Hat). Going further all the way to developers, analysts, etc., you will find plenty of other blog writers. Some companies have also what can be called an official blog. These official blogs are similar to an announcement board, where organizations announce new products, technologies, or ideas of future plans, though in most of these cases, these companies already have interested loyal audience who are eager to listen to them. A good example is Nokia Conversations. This blog might seem to be a portal to announce new mobile phones, software, or services. But it is more than that, as the name suggests, Nokia tries to engage their readers as much as possible. They hold social activities sometimes, for example, a photo context for one of their camera phones. This blogs provides lot of valuable knowledge to Nokia. Based on the feedback from this website, Nokia fix problems, annoyances, or add missing features to their products from the comments and suggestions of their audience. This creates loyalty to their brand. It is a win-win situation for both; the customers get the product and the company gets the sales. Of course, when it comes to small businesses and entrepreneurs, the case is usually different as their first and main objective is to raise awareness as oppose, for example, to Nokia Conversations where the main goal is the good publicity, the customers feedback and the loyalty. For those individuals, creating a blog, or creating a page in a social network -as discussed later -is not enough. For people to come to you, you have to get to them first; participation on other blogs -in the same industry -will inform the audience of your existence, your personality, and you interests. You can’t tell people to come to you, but you can go to them, raise their interest and let them follow you back.
One of the best utilizations for the power of blogs is demonstrated by Adobe Inc. They have create a comprehensive network that allows for personal interaction between people with common interests-those interests, of course, are related to Adobe and their broad range of software products. The result is an officially sponsored message board and blog site dedicated to informing the public about Adobe, answering questions about products and product applications, and what’s more is allowing public input on the developmental process of future Adobe software titles. They have compiled all of these features together in a feed aggregator called MXNA (Adobe XML News Aggregator). According to Adobe, this tool is designed to monitor over 2400 Adobe related blogs and news sources all in one place. As a result, users can search through all of these sources for articles, tutorials, code samples, downloads, sample applications, information or help they need and if they have a question that doesn’t have an answer, they can post it to get their answers from Adobe’s staff. Thus creating communities that are completely and wholly devoted to being the definitive destination of any and all who seek answers about all things Adobe (Greg Brian Martin, 2007). From Adobe’s perspective, they have given customers the satisfaction that the company is committed to helping them get the most out of their purchase and making sure that the customer is satisfied with the product. Second, the originated communities also exist so that those users who have discovered solutions to problems they feel are common or troublesome (or both) may share these ideas with fellow participants of the communities (Greg Brian Martin, 2007). By giving the public the opportunity to not only ask when they need help but also, to answer and help other members of the community, Adobe has exponentially cut down on their customer support costs. Usually the return on investment in social media cannot be quantified, but in Adobe’s case we can somewhat relate to the result of their investments. Their costs of service and support went down by $6 million in the same period between 2006 and 2002 when the communities where introduced.
6. Social Networks
The second tool of interest in this paper and one of the fastest growing is the online social networks. These networks function like an online community for internet users. It is different from site to another, but usually members share a similar interest e.g. Flixster -for Movies enthusiasts -or similar hobbies like Spoccer -for Soccer players. Yet, there is the general type where most of the crowd resides. Ahead of the crowd is Facebook follow by MySpace in terms of the number of active members. It differs from one site to another, but once you sign up to one of the services, all of them will suggest that you create your profile. Though the available fields to fill differs depending on the interest, they all ask for the same basic information whether you are an individual or an organization. Honesty is an important factor when filling the profile, as getting caught lying in a social network is more devastating than off one. After preparing your profile, you should try to look for people with the same interest to start connecting. Depending on the type of industry, you might want to look into different sites. The most common website among professional is LinkedIn, though, when you are targeting the general public Facebook is the best choice as it has the largest base of members. But if you are working in music industry, for example, MySpace is usually a better choice. Though, Willa Plank would argue that for small businesses, it is better to start in smaller more related communities as it is easy to disappear among huge crowds (2009).
Social Media Marketing has been adopted by many of the large corporations like Dell, Hershey, and Kraft but one of the most outstanding is a community for moms called Vocalpoint by Proctor & Gamble. The program recruited thousands of women who were picked because of their large social network. They were recruited to talk about P&G products to their friends (Robert Berkman, 2008). But SMM is not exclusive to businesses, but it can also help hobbyists and individuals. For example, if you are in a garage band, as mention earlier, MySpace is known for its music services and it would be the best place for the band to start promoting itself. One of the best examples is OmniSoul (aka. The Crash Motive), a Newark, Delaware band. The five member of the group met at University of Delaware and they first hit when they won Battle of the Band competition there. Then the band began touring around their local area growing their fan base and the local radio started playing their songs. Eventually, they developed their own website and their MySpace pages. Their individual pages were like any normal page with basic information. The band page, on the other hand, includes a profile picture of the entire band, an audio player with four of the band’s original full-length songs in rotation, a list of upcoming tour dates, a list of friends, and a comment area where friends can leave messages to the band (Greg Martin, 2007). Derek Fuhrmann, the lead singer of the group had the following to say about MySpace, “MySpace is an amazing tool for bands today to not only promote their music, but more importantly to keep in touch with their fan base. Making fans an intricate part of a band’s world through daily interaction is really a brilliant concept.” (Greg Martin, 2007). The band is hoping to get the nationwide exposure they need from the MySpace page. They hope that the social networking feature of MySpace will help their exposure, by adding as many friends as possible. The more friends the band has, the more people will come into contact with them. The exposure is not for the band name only, but also for their music. We mentioned earlier they had four full-length tracks in their space, any of their friends, can take these songs and post them on their personal Space, where it will be played whenever someone visited their website. On top of gaining the exposure, they also hope to strengthen its relationship with preexisting fans. They kept feeding them information of the band’s day to day activities, news postings, the occasional MySpace promotional contest, and by posting on friends’ comment spaces, the band seems to be committed to reinforcing the ties it has already created. Their efforts paid off and on December 27th, 2009 they performed their last show on their first nationwide tour at Deer Park in Newark, DE.
The success stories resulted from social networks are beyond numbering, however, for the sake of diversification, two more quick examples will be mentioned. Social networks were there to help corporation and small businesses, but they also exist to help individuals, too. Kristen Luke is a principal at Wealth Management Marketing, a small financial marketing advisory firm in San Diego. Her story with social networks started out with LinkedIn. There, she was found by Dow Jones News Wire reporter. The reporter formed some interest in Kristen, so she called her and quoted her in a couple of stories in Wall Street Journal. This turned into increased traffic on her website (Stephen Arnold, 2009). The second story is a bit different than the norm as Bradi Nathan and Terry Starr started by conducting a survey on Facebook before launching their business. The survey was targeted at working moms and moms who wanted to go back to the workforce. The idea behind the survey was to find out what moms would want from a mom social network. The results of the survey are the bases of their blossomed business (David Spark, 2009).
Micro-blogging is one of the most recent tools to appear; yet, it is growing at an alarming rate. As mentioned earlier, it is a service that allowed its users to publish short messages of around 140 characters or less. Its limitation of 140 characters is overwhelmed by its tight integration with mobile phones. Most micro-blogging services provide the ability to add a new entries using SMS and also receiving others’ entries by SMS in addition to the regular browser from any pc or even cell phones. This ease of access is what helped burst its success. Though, the 140 doesn’t seems like much to say, yet, the last couple of years have shown, as will be shown later, its devastating power. Throughout this paper, Twitter -the most successful micro-blogging service -will be used interchangeably with micro-blogging.
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Micro-blogging shares the some common grounds with the other social media; if you want to be followed, you have to be interesting to people. Whole Foods Market realized that fact and since their first day on twitter, they abide by that rule. Within a week of highlighting some fun things that were going on at specific stores, people started noticing them on twitter. From there the market kept getting more publicity and within a year, they had over a million followers (Cody Nolden, 2009). While Whole Foods twitters were related to their stores, the CEO of Zappos.com took a slightly different approach. He personally drives the corporate account and always has something interesting to say most of which are not related to work. But most of them had one thing in common, humor. Now, Zappos has over 1.6 million followers (Cody Nolden, 2009). Dell has a more direct approach toward its twitter. It uses the medium to send exclusive offers to their followers. By June 2009, they made over $3,000,000 in twitter related sales (Antone Gonsalves, 2009)
Interest will get you followers, but to keep them, the personal element should be added to the mix. JetBlue Airlines and Southwest Airlines have two things in common; operating in the same industry and they both twitter. Both companies offer similar messages in their twitters; however, JetBlue has 600,000 followers more than Southwest. By taking a closer look at both channels, you will notice that over half of JetBlue’s messages are in fact replies to other people where in Southwest’s the percentage goes way down. People tend to feel wormer toward a personal response (Cody Nolden, 2009).
The best methodology to approach the micro-blogging differs by the industry, the goals, and the targeted audiences and limited by creativity. A group of tourist information enthusiasts at Coos Bay, Oregon, led by Katherine Hoppe, looked at twitter differently. Instead of taking a direct approach, they looked at twitter as an opportunity platform. The group kept looking around twitter hunting their town’s name; looking for an opportunity to promote it. One day, Lee Hopkins along with his friend were planning a road trip from Seattle to San Francisco. They twittered their friends to suggest a place to stay, and one of them suggested Coos Bay. Katherine caught the message and contacted Lee and she was successful in persuading them to stop by the city. They stayed for a couple of days, enjoyed it, blogged their trip, and added what became a popular series of videos for the trip.
Unfortunately, not all companies apprehend the concept of social media and micro-blogging. JCPenney has taken a strange twisted approach to reach people on twitter. They stalk anyone who mentions the word shopping in an entry. They ambush the writer with a message similar to “check out JCPenney online at www.jcp.com â€¦” No wonder they don’t have too many followers.
Micro-blogging has been useful to many, useless to some, and it has been disaster to others. Twitter has a hidden ugly face too and it showed it to Horizon Realty Group a Chicago real estate company. The story began with one of the company tenants Amanda Bonnen. Amanda twittered to her 20 followers that the company “didn’t care about the mold in her apartment”. Because of the comment, the company filed a law suit against her, asking for $50,000 in damages to their reputations. They argued that there was no mold in her apartment. The next day, the law suit became one of the hottest topics in the whole twitter network which mean, the comment of irritation to 20 twitterers became a hot topic to thousands and thousands of people. Social media users do not read all the facts carefully before flaming. Whether Horizon Realty was right or wrong, no one in the social network would see the $50,000 as reasonable, either.
The ugly face of micro-blogging doesn’t just scare, it usefulness goes beyond that sometimes for a whole city like the city of Phoenix, AZ. One night at the city, a group of friends found out that their car had been towed as a part of a towing scam that’s been going on for over a year and a half. The group behind the scam didn’t know that this group was one of the most active twitterers in Phoenix. As a result, within 24 hours, there has been an investigation, and the word has reached the mayor and city council. Within 48 hours, the local media got involved covering the story. Within 72 hours, the scam has been shutdown (Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon, et al. 2009). So, what does the mean to businesses? Even though it makes twitter looks scary, it should only makes companies to jump in with both feet and eyes. Jumping in with both feet can help the company building a close relationship with the consumers. But that’s not all; they should also keep an eye on what people say about them. Being there in the first place before disasters can help form a better response and ease spreading it around.
8. Social Bookmarking
Social bookmarking started as a service to keep your bookmarks with you wherever you go. Then it was morphed into a full fledged social community to share sites of interest, articles, images, or videos. Other people can rate, tag, and comment on these bookmarks which might seem like a social filtration for these bookmarks. The usage for these services is a straight forward one and the easier it is you make it for visitors of your website to bookmark it, the faster it will spread giving the interest factor existence. NBC11 in California realized the benefit of social bookmarking so they started by adding the option to share their news on Digg with a click of a button. Soon after, they realized also that the news with pictures are the most submitted ones. Since the inclusion of Digg into NBC 11 website, the site traffic has spiked (Figure 1) (Adam Singer, 2008).
Fig. 1 Traffic History for NBC11 before and after integrating Digg
9. Video Sharing
As the name implies, the websites helps their member to upload and share videos with the community. So many people became famous overnight because of these websites. The top most viewed video on YouTube -the most popular video sharing website -for 2009 was for a 48 years old Scottish lady signing in British Got Talent TV show. Now that lady signed a contract with Sony Music and released her first album which is on number 1 spot in the top 200 Billboard list (Stan Schroeder, 2009). The business sector wasn’t left behind; some companies were able to utilize the power of these websites too. One company to make a successful use of the video sharing is Blendtec. They introduced a serious of interesting, funny, and low cost advertisements which immediately gone viral over the network. Because of the series, the ads resulted in increasing the sales of the company five times (Samir Balwani, 2009).
When traditional media giants like CNN or MSNBC jumps into the social media wagon, you realize that it is not something to be taken lightly. Social media is here to stay; it is not a passing event. For businesses, it is only a matter of what is the best way to take advantage of it and there is no special formula to answer that. It is not a “one size fits all” thing. But it is safe to say that the different tools of the social media can work well together and making use of more than one tool can produce better results. For example, simple things like linking your twitter or blog to your social network account, so that you can share your feed immediately in your social network. Another usage would be to twitter your blog entries. In the Coos Bay incident, mentioned earlier, the group created a Flickr -a social site for sharing images -album to hold images from around their town and encouraged the people in town to post their pictures. Social media marketing should be planned carefully, even though the financial costs might be nominal to none, but the time consumption factor isn’t to be overlooked.
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