Social media is a broad term. It is used by many different domain experts. The term has a good formal definition (WikiPedia). But one needs to be careful in how it is used. When a term has broad use it does not always “mean” what you expect it to mean. In business, marketing and management domains social media is used to describe groups of people connected through a network. This network can be member based or group based. Twitter networks are based on individual accounts, this is a member based connection or network. MySpace is the web’s largest music networking sites with thousands of pages (bands, songs, musicians.) MySpace is a group based connection or network. Linked-In‘s introduction of groups in 2009 has changed the way it’s networks are organized. Now member and group based connections are possible. Social media also refers to format, technology and specific usage. For technologists, writers, editors and advertising services the tools and sites are “social media”. The actual operation and use of the tools and the format is also referred to as “social media”. Essentially today, until we have better descriptions, social media covers all these domain specific meanings.
When social media is used by marketers there are two meanings. The first is the distribution of a message to a focused audience. The second is building an interest group like a fan club or a user group. Social media message delivery is done through a network of people and sites much like viral marketing. This makes social media the digital form of viral marketing, or word of mouth marketing (an older term.) Viral marketing depends on connections between people to distribute a message. Marketers love viral marketing. The only catch is how to formulate and launch a viral marketing message. Viral marketing works in niche sectors and on broad markets. Apple’s iPod and iPhone marketing campaigns are a good example of broad viral marketing. Apple itself starts with advertising and a launch splash, but most of the buzz comes from somewhere else. In Apple’s case the media and affiliates (sales channels, mobile operators, corporate resellers) are marketing more than the company itself. There is also a large gadget community that is promoting the products. But the true power for Apple in viral marketing is the promotion of it’s product from one person to another. Friends show friends the iPhone and they “infect” them with information, enthusiasm and even desire to have one. Viral marketing depends on networks, more someone is connected more he spreads the message. This is where social media becomes a powerful marketing tool.
Social media marketing is also used to describe fan club and interest group building. Essentially the “communication media” in the sense of tools to deliver information (news, entertainment and information.) Fan clubs and interest groups are the basis for public social networking sites like MySpace, Linked-In and Facebook. Each person or group is connected to others with some similar interests and together they make up a small social network. MySpace band and song pages can have tens of thousands of fans. Each member of a fan page is also connected to other members directly making their own small group. (we can probably use a sketch here) Band fan pages are a base with demo songs, news, official profiles and tour dates. Some bands have blogs built into their page and comments from fans, this way people can see other fans and connect with them. As a fan you can connect to other fans with similar taste in music and see what they like. This is how viral messages spread, a friend likes something new, you see it, your are “infected”. Marketers of music (CDS, downloads, subscriptions), related items and services clearly understand how to sell on fan pages. You can see advertisements from iPod covers, show tickets to download sites (iTunes, Amazon.) MySpace is the oldest big social networking site and has succeeded with music content. Other networks are too new to have a clearly set market focus, although Linked-In has a paid Jobs section and sells ad space. Linked-In by it’s nature is a great tool for recruiters and job seekers. Basically recruiters can see anyone’s resume without placing advertisements or making phone calls, for free. Facebook has an application approach. Developers can build a complete application right inside Facebook. For now dating, tutoring and games seems to be the successful applications. There are also groups for political causes and professional networking and self improvement, it may be too early to see how developers and users will tap into the Facebook user base. Maybe Facebook will turn into the leisure site. Marketers of cruises, travel guides and car rentals will end up profiting.
Next article I will look at blogs. Also at the big site indexes (or directories.) Blogs are turning out to become a single topic social networks. As people start using short update messages in social networks, blogs suddenly look static. Even blogs with new posts a few times a day are slow in comparison to Twitter and Facebook updates. The use of communication is speeding up, that’s a natural progression of how we use technology to keep up with each other. Well, this is a start, come back for more.