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Social Media 123

Few distinct characteristics which seem to be consistent in the way social media is being used today. They are:

  • Participation
  • Openness, transparency and disclosure
  • Conversation
  • Community Driven
  • Facilitation (facilitating conversations that are already happening online)


Participation

It’s an undisputed fact that consumers today already participate in social media. One statistic that blows my mind is the Youtube growth rate from 2005 to 2006; where it grew a whopping 2,000% and now boast 25.5M unique visitors a month. There are a ton of other examples of sites like Digg, Del.icio.us, and Stumbleupon that are also exponentially growing in usage and traffic.

Clearly, consumers are not afraid to join communities, generate content and engage in conversations about topics that interest them. The question that marketers need to consider is whether or not they want to participate in these conversations that are already happening. Do they want a seat at the table or not? If they do, they need carefully consider the next four characteristics.

Openness, transparency and disclosure

The question isn’t “if marketers engage with social media?”, it’s “when marketers engage with social media”, they must be open with their audience, transparent and disclose that they are in fact employees of the company. History tells us that when you claim to be someone you aren’t, and get caught, your brand will suffer negative consequences in social media and even the main stream media.

Being open in a conversation and disclosing who you are is the first step in building trust with your audience. It’s the same dynamic when building relationships offline with friends, acquaintances and significant others. If you are deceitful, you can severely crush the perception that others have of you, and of course the brand image of your company.

Conversations

Social media is all about conversations. They are happening all over the place in blogs, wikis, forums, discussion and news groups, etc. These conversations are real time with real people. Consumers today no longer want to be marketed to; but would rather be communicated with through these conversations. They expect to be heard and guess what? They now have a channel to express their thoughts, opinions, recommendations and complaints.

Community Driven

It takes a community to build a brand – well, church organizations, political organizations, sports leagues, mommy groups and the list goes on. These are small micro-communities of people with word-of-mouth behavior that share opinions, experiences, advice, recommendations and commentary about products, services and companies usually based on personal experience. And, we haven’t started talking about the online communities either. Every form of social media has a community component to it.

Facilitation

Guess what? Consumers are in control, but not total control because marketers can participate; and facilitate these conversations. The fact is that consumers are already talking about your products and services. Not facilitating those conversations is like not hiring a lawyer when you are on trial. Your voice and expertise about your products and services will NEVER be heard if you don’t facilitate the conversations that are already happening.