One of the most amazing features about the Web is that it allows many people to take advantage of features they did not originate. Livejournal, Twitter, Digg, Reddit and each of the many other Social Media sites were proposed and implemented with a relatively small cadre of people, yet thousands of businesses are finding ways to use these sites for promotion and improvement every day. These sites allow for communication with the nearly captive audience that is any business’dream.
f course as is the case with any innovative process many businesses jump in to Social Media Marketing without understanding the problems at hand, and find themselves ignored or scorned for seeming to be incompetent. In some cases this is a failure of research, while in others it is a case of forgetting that these audiences are indeed people with complex opinions and attitudes. Combine these traits with the mass communication capability of the Internet, and you have equal potential for word of mouth fame or disaster.
Before jumping into SMM, every business needs to consider the core options available to them and see just which ones truly suit the organization and its needs. The leadership must consider the objective of their business and the audience that will facilitate this objective. Then they should consider not just which Social Media sites this audience frequents, but how to reach them in a way that makes them care. To that end, what follows is a short review of some Social Media sites and a comparison of their roles to highlight these issues.
Twitter is Social Media at its barest; short messages are sent out to anyone following the account, usually consisting of no more than a brief comment or a short URL. US President Barack Obama relied heavily on Twitter during his successful White House bid, using it to promote rallies and campaign meetings. The very brevity of Twitter gives it some of its most unexpected strength. After all, what could be more mysterious than a message reading ‘Tyler Park, 9:30 pm, bring chips and sunglasses’? Sunglasses at night? Chips? It immediately gets the mind racing with questions and interest.
Yet in a classic example illustrating that audiences are not simply feedback devices, but actual people, consider the gone-wrong story of the Republican Party in Connecticut. In an effort to satire some of their opponents, the party set up 33 fake Twitter accounts impersonating state Democrats! Twitter shut down the accounts citing terms of service clauses against impersonating other individuals. The move raised a number of ethical questions and is a classic example that users should always ask if ‘can’ necessarily means ‘should.’
Facebook and Myspace
The title of this section indicates a common perception in the media that these competing services are offering essentially the same product. In a sense this is true, as both offer users a chance to join groups, manage and customize a profile, and use a variety of applications for entertainment or business. They represent the more involved tier of Social Media, combining aspects of blogging and websites for easy access.
However the facts show that perceptions can be misleading. Facebook only allows for plain text customization, whereas Myspace allows users to customize with HTML and CSS. While this may not sound like the greatest of distinctions it does make Facebook more accessible to the ‘casual’ user of Social media, while Myspace by default becomes the realm of those more interested in website design. If your business’ aim is to recruit potential designers, this distinction alone tells you where to focus your efforts.
Digg and Reddit
These sites and others like them are in essence an Internet popularity contest. Users submit content, and other users vote on whether they find it interesting. The theory of use here is that these sites can be used as a benchmark for public opinion, based on a reading of what is popular at any given time. Except it isn’t always that simple. Digg has faced criticism that the site’s owners have a great deal of direct influence on which stories make it to the front page, which does call into question whether it actually represents public opinion.
Not the Final Word, Just a Thought
Above we mentioned the curious case of Republicans attempting a bit of satire and finding themselves called on ethical questions. Another fact to consider is the irony vote. It is not unknown or even uncommon for Internet hobbyists to vote en masse for an irrelevant news story just to see if they can make it popular as a jest. For example, the infamous and popular social site 4chan seemingly organized massive, worldwide boycotts of the Church of Scientology because it could.
Working with a professional social media marketing agency can help ensure that your online efforts are focused on the right sites, with the right message, to the right audience for maximum ROI.
Above all, the lesson that must be learned is that the Internet is not a static collection of people waiting to obey the input of various broadcasters. Each audience is composed of many distinct and individual users, many of whom are intelligent, critical thinkers with opinions and ideas of their own. If your campaign treats them as a switch to be thrown, it will fail, period. If you want your campaign to succeed, treat these audiences with respect and develop a campaign that communicates with rather than at them.