Social Media – The Way Forward

Communication is an integral instinct of all human beings. The most important bearings of communication are best understood when there is a lack of it. Since the evolution of internet in 1960s and commercialisation by the 1990s, modes of communication have taken a quantum leap. World Wide Web, emails, social media platforms, and telecommunication tools have shown a way to keep in touch and achieved, what at one point was unthinkable.

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In his article Social media as the Next Web, Brian Solis points us to the much debated Web 2.0, which has made the web more open and interactive in the form of social networking sites. Social media no longer remains the forte of organisations and marketers. Today the impact and benefits of using social media is understood by common man. Social media has managed to connect people of different cultures and diversities to share their common interests. Social media has become a way of life. People have become the nodes of the network. As per statistics report by Nielsen and NM Incite, which was released in 2012, people spend a lot of time on social networks than any other websites. Facebook though still remains the most visited social network and home to about 12% of the world’s population. Other sites such as Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ have presented promising statistics over the last year. The race to remain at the top will be defined by the possibilities that can be explored and unlimited galore of activities that can be made available at the earliest to the nodes.

With the ever-expanding world of gadgets, connecting with friends is no longer limited to sitting in front of a PC. The mobile technology, though a generation younger than the PCs, has worked its way through in offering the same features, if not better as compared to any of the high-end PCs in the form of apps. Mobile web usage has gone up by 82% in 2012 over 2011 and mobile app usage has grown by 85%. Time spent on PCs is down by 4% during the same year. It is also pertinent to mention that as per Nielsen notes, while social audiences on PCs has declined by 5% since 2011; time spent has increased by 24%, which suggests that users are deeply engaged. 

Has social networking become such an obsession? We all love expressing, sharing experiences and connecting with people.  We also enjoy being appreciated and what other better means of doing so than social media. Mobile applications and PCs enable us to connect socially social media, which implies that social media is going to be the next web.

People Formerly Known as the Audience, written by Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU,  takes our attention to the fact that social media has empowered the public to be more real and able. “Freedom of expression” is every individual’s right to express their opinions without interference. People are entitled to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. In practice, however, this fundamental human right was frequently restricted through tactics by the media. Formerly print media and later broadcast media. The common people formerly known as the audience were those who were on the receiving end of a media system that transmitted information one-way in a broadcasting pattern. 

The audience had very limited options available. They had no alternative but to listen or read in isolation. Today the situation is different, courtesy the Internet. Mediums like blogs, podcasting, and YouTube have provided the platform for these audiences to come alive and participate or express their views. The “former audience” is Dan Gilmor’s term for people. Dan refers to the owners and operators of tools, those were once exclusively used by media people to capture and hold their attention. This does not mean that people will stop listening to radio or stop watching movies in multiplexes. Mass media and entertainment industry will still be the source of information and pleasure. However, unlike before, people will not remain passive anymore and they were named “active audience” by Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC.

Tom Glocer, former CEO of Reuters feels that if media needs to attract audience, it needs to provide originality and quality. The idea of media “owning the eyeballs” is spurious. Media needs to understand the fact that people have many more options than what they had in the past. Disseminating information was the primary task of the media so that people around the globe are aware of what is happening in the world. Today, the “former audience” has stopped being submissive and passive. It is time for media to understand that there is a new balance of power between them and the people. New media has made this possible. The public have become more realistic, more able and less predictable, and they are going to decide the course of future action. Despite that, both print and broadcast media still remains the primary source of information, but people are going to set the platform on the basis of their prerequisite and contentment of matter being provided by the media. This “new media” by the people formerly known as the audience is going to be the prospect of any nation or the world as whole.

The article, Users Flee Instagram after Privacy Outcry, details the effects of a gaffe by Instagram. Ever since the evolution of social networking, the owners of these services have spent millions of dollars to make their product better than the rest. Though the race to be the best takes different shapes every day, one thing remains common – the user’s needs and ever-growing wish list. Caught in the web of social networking, people are offered new options every minute, though sharing and tagging photographs remains one of the common attributes of all these social network services. Instagram is one of the social networking services that enable its users to take a picture, apply a digital filter to it, and share it on a variety of social networking services, including its own and other leading sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

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Since the launch of Instagram in 2010, it gained popularity at a rapid rate whereby acquiring more than 100 million users in just two years. Within two years of its launch the company was estimated at a worth of $500 million. In April 2012, the leader in social networking, Facebook, acquired Instagram for approximately $1 billion. The company had its busiest 24 hours to date over Thanksgiving in 2012, that’s when users shared some 10 million photos — mostly of food.

 Instagram decided to review its policy on 17 December 2012. The new clause would allow the company to sell user’s photographs for advertising and promotions without compensating the user. This announcement garnered severe criticism from all the users including celebrities who were Instagram clients. After the announcement was made, Instagram that peaked at 16.4 million active daily users every week had fallen to 12.4 million.

Soon after the news went public and attained huge condemnation, Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram tried to clarify the misunderstanding by stating that the company had no intention of selling its users’ photographs and the language used in the policy was confusing. However, the damage was done and statistics showed a steep decline in the usage. The controversy has definitely caused a huge dent in the reputation of Instagram and users might have switched to other networks offering almost the same benefits. Though the popularity of Instagram has not hit rock bottom but has definitely managed to create ripples amongst the trust of the users thereby providing undue advantage to other networks such as Twitter.

The above mentioned articles: Social Media as the Next Web, The People Formerly Known as the Audience, and Users Flee Instagram after Privacy Outcry, gives us a preview of what social media means to people today. People have become voracious internet users and by internet, I mean social media network. The People Formerly Known as the Audience, explains how there has been a decentralization of power from traditional media to social or new media. Social media has revolutionized the way people receive information. People are no longer passive. They have means available to express themselves. Social media in conjunction with mobile applications and latest technologies has made it possible for people to respond, reciprocate and express.

To conclude, social media is a very powerful tool. It empowers common man to express. However, the article titled Social Media is not Your Saving Grace by Brian Solis points out to a valid point. In his article, Brian said that connected consumers are spending a significant amount of their time on social media. However, social media is not the only secret ingredient that will make or break one’s business. Social media can be effective in understanding what people have to say about the company, products, or services. Social media is a means to design experience and a channel to express it. It is useful in building a relationship and taking it forward. Social media can do wonders to an organization, but for that to happen, the organization must provide quality service to its customers. Only then will social media be effective. 

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Why Social Media?

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In the previous blog, we were able to understand that social media users are copious. Having said that, it is important to point out to that fact that organizations need to connect with audience via social media platforms to establish themselves.

Let us look at the “Pin It to Give It for Breast Cancer – Elizabeth Arden” campaign. This social media campaign was launched on Pinterest to help women in the fight against cancer. Pinterest users were asked to keep pinning the image and spread the message. For every image re-pinned from Elizabeth Arden’s ‘Pin It To Give It’ board, the beauty brand would donate one Elizabeth Arden eyeliner to the charity with a total of 10,000 eyeliners. This campaign was a great way to reaching women who use social media and Pinterest in particular. This campaign helped Elizabeth Arden establish their brand image as caring for women. This was an interesting way of connecting with up to 10,000 women while involving them in the campaign.

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Connecting with public is a very important aspect of handling social media effectively. How Valuable is a Social Media Audience, Really? is an article that explains the importance of having audience on social media sites. Having a huge fan following is not the final step. The purpose of establishing the followers/ fan base is to open up a communication channel that will keep the audient engaged with the organization. However, an organization can keep the audience engaged only by determining the outcome they are trying to achieve. The first step to devising social media strategy is understand the goals.

Let us take a look at Thomas Cook Facebook page. Thomas Cook is an integrated travel and travel related financial services company. They offer a broad spectrum of services that include Foreign Exchange, Corporate Travel, MICE, Leisure Travel, and Travel Insurance. Thomas Cook social media team has kept their Facebook page interactive. They post photos of desirable destinations and ask questions about the destination. This is a good way to keep their audience enticed to their organization webpage. This method compels the user to think of Thomas Cook the next time he is planning a trip. Using social media creatively is the key to being successful.

Thomas Cook FB Page

Being creative is as important as being timely and prompt in responding to social media posts. Simply having social media page is not useful. Neither is being negligent. Using social media platforms comes with a lot of responsibilities. The organization has to stay aware of what they are posting and also about what someone else is posting on their behalf or about them. In spring 2009, Domino’s Pizza found itself in the midst of a crisis when a leaked video of two employees tampering with the food went viral.

The employees, Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer, recorded themselves while doing abominable things to the product. Domino’s took immediate action to clean up after the mess but the real challenge was gaining customers trust after the mishap. To overcome this ordeal, Domino’s president, Mr. Patrick Doyle recorded an apology video and posted it on YouTube. The message also included an assurance from Mr. Doyle about how they were dedicated to customer service.

This was a very effective way of utilizing social media to mitigate the crisis. Any person looking for the employee’s video would find the presidents video and would get the message.

These are only two example to demonstrate how social media can be utilized effectively during crisis and at other times also. Another example of how a company utilized social media platform during a predicament to their advantage and thus connect with a multitude of audience is “Oreo’s Snappy Super Bowl Blackout Ad.” During the SuperBowl blackout, Oreo took advantage of the blackout situation to convert it into an opportunity by tweeting an ad real-time using the caption “Power out? No problem” reminding Oreo eaters that “you can still dunk in the dark.” The timeliness and pithiness made this ad extremely popular and was tweeted over 14,000 times. The same ad was also posed on Oreo’s Facebook page which generated more than 20,000 “Likes.” Oreo superbowl ad

To just emphasize further on how social media using YouTube can be beneficial, I would like you to take a look at the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video. This video was Doves latest campaign, launched to connect with millions of women and tell them that they are more beautiful than they think. Since its release, The Dove ad has had more than seven million views on YouTube. This is a very effective way of not only getting you brand name conveyed, but also establishing a relation with you audience with positive and strong messaging.

These case examples show how an organization can use social media to not only connect with their publics but also to manage their image and reputation. This is an era of social media, but what is its future? We shall discuss the future of social media in my next blog.

Social Media: Introduction

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Social Media: Introduction

Social media, as referred to by some is known as social networking sites by others. These days, the term social media is tossed around very frequently. Social media is a two-way communication channel which enables the users to respond as well. Social media sites are not simply sources of information, but these are websites where the user can interact with other users and with different organizations.  Communication is essential to every organization and individuals. No organization can function in vacuum. Social media is the platform which can be used by business to communicate and prevent vacuum. In this blog I will emphasize on the importance of social media to any organization. The subsequent blogs will include my opinion about how organizations can use social media effectively.

Social media has changed the environment in which any business operates. Public relations and social media go hand in hand. In addition to traditional media and other media outlets, social media is an essential tool which public relation professionals use to communicate with their public and also hear back from the public. Before the social media era, it was a B2B and B2C setting, but now it has evolved to B2P, with P being people. With the rise in social media platforms, public demands an instant response from any organization.

Before we delve deeper into the importance of social media, we shall understand why it is essential to utilize social media to an organizations benefit. With the advancement in technology, receivers were exposed to the platform known as social media. Social media became the platform where people express themselves. They not only discuss and share information on social media pages, but they also provide feedback, reviews, comments and criticism on these pages. All this has become exceedingly easy with the increase in use of mobile technology. Mobile web has made it possible for users to provide instant response on social media pages. People post queries on social media pages to ask for other people’s opinions before shopping. The response they get from others is an important factor that effects decision making. Studies have indicated that Mobile web usage has gone up by 82% in 2012 over 2011 and mobile app usage has grown by 85%. This increase in mobile web and social media tells us something. It indicates that social media is the next web simply because people spend a vast majority of their time on social media sites. As mentioned earlier, it is important to understand that people are no longer passive receivers. The people known as audience are active social media user who have an effect on the organization’s reputation and business.

A recent article posted on PR Daily indicates that social media users can be profiled into 12 categories based on their social media usage. The article categorized people into groups ranging from “ultras” to “virgins.” Image

Through this point, I am only trying to emphasize on the point that social media users are ardent and abundant. They are so abundant that researchers have been able to profile them. Utilizing social media platform to convey the right message to all the users can be very beneficial to any organization.For example, videos like Kony 2012, Harlem Shake and Gangam Style and Gangam Style have over one billion views and are extremely popular viral videos. This rate at which the videos gained popularity explains how fast information travels on social media platforms. This aspect of social media can be utilized by an organization to make or break their brand and business.

Details about how can an organization use social media can be read in my next blog.

Social Media & Public Relations: Impact on Publics and Analysis of the Impact

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Public Relations Society of America defines Public Relations as: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

A PR professional is responsible for establishing mutually beneficial relationship between an organization and its publics. Social media, on the other hand, is a means to communicate with your publics using various platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc. Social media allows organizations to have conversation in a two-way symmetrical manner instead of simply relaying information using news and other mass media outlets.

Social media is very effective but can be dangerous to the organization, if not handled correctly. Not utilizing social media is ineffective, but not responding strategically while being active on social media page can be potentially damaging to a company’s reputation. When people decide to post negative comments on forums about an organization, the comment may seem insignificant. However, due to the intrinsic web of social media, the insignificant comment may become explosive and catch up like a wild fire, one which requires serious attention. Public relations understand the importance of having controlled conversation on social media platforms, which makes social media very effective.

Tom Malcolm, head of consumer, Diffusion, believes that social media is a big part of public relations. With the rise of various social media platforms, public relations have an added responsibility of coming up with creative concepts and ideas, those will attract people to the companies’ webpages. Public relations has to be the source of providing engaging content to media. A successful PR campaign involves feeding media’s hunger for interesting news, while engaging people by providing them with interesting stuff to talk and share about the company.

To engage media and publics, many PR agencies and firms have integrated PR and digital marketing mix. According to Andy Heaps, operations director, Epiphany, and Pete Goold, managing director, Punch Communications, their team creates content that is strategic while promoting online visibility by being engaged and thus builds brand engagement through social media channels. With the rise of social media, public relations professionals are becoming accountable and transparent. They are coming up with robust thinking that addresses a demographic sect instead of only an individual.

PR professionals like Tom Malcolm and Pete Goold have also tried to answer, “Have social media and PR become synonymous with each other?” They think that social media and PR are integrated but they are not synonymous with each other. Elements like creating and managing engaging content, which is a part of social media profile, support PR function. However, digital creative and paid media teams are essential in handling social media. Social media plays a major role in how companies succeed or fail due to their reputation. Social Media Statistics Compendium reported that, in 2011, 75% of purchase decision were based on reviews available online. These are the reasons why companies can’t ignore social media.

Engaging publics is a PR professional’s responsibility. To achieve that, PR has to stay abreast with innovative technologies. They use various platforms to build relations with publics and social media is one of the platforms. Today, new monitoring and analysis tools are developed which allow a company to track reviews or comments mentioned on social media about themself, thus allowing companies to respond if their reputation is challenged.

Engaging publics, and monitoring social media feeds using analysis tools like Social Sleuth is the basic step to use social media as a useful platform. The next part of handling social media is measuring the impact of social media on any organization’s relationship with audience. Counting mentions and measuring ReTweets and “likes” on Facebook page are ways of observing if the message is reaching the audience but the most important thing for an organization is whether social media is being used to reach the final goal. Social media contributes to PR campaign and ultimately helps in achieving the PR goal. It is essential to understand how to evaluate if the goal is achieved.

Social media has great potential to open up communication channels between an organization and the outside world. If a video or social media post is interesting, it goes viral in no time. Suddenly the organization is thrown into limelight. Organizations like Domino’s pizza and CNN have been in public’s eyes due to social media posts. Domino’s pizza’s reputation got tarnished when two employees posted nasty videos on YouTube. However, Domino’s management posted a video in YouTube in response to the nasty video and conveyed a strong message to public about their plan of action. Actor Ashton Kutcher said and I quote “I think it’s a huge statement about social media for one person to actually have the ability to broadcast to as many people as a major media network.”  It is essential that an organization understands social media’s potential and use it to maintain their reputation and build relations.

It is also essential that an organization understands the impact of a social media post before reacting to it. Social media provides PR with an opportunity to have an impact on the entire organization in the following ways:

–          Penetrate deeper in the demographics with your message

–          Generate sales leads

–          Gauge customer satisfaction

–          Increase Brand Recognition

Using social media is important, but in the end it boils down to determining success. After a PR campaign, the organization wants to get the right results, which means that the results impact the company and that the message conveyed through the campaign has penetrated. The success of this method can be determined using following key markers:

Follow your message: Simply posting a message is insufficient. The organization can determine success by observing where the message appears and analyzing the tone of the message.

Benchmark with caution: While determining the success markers, a company should analyze themselves before simply setting up very high benchmarks, those cannot be achieved.

Learn from success: An organization can learn from its success by tracking and comparing their activity and efforts against results. This helps in understanding activities are most effective in maximizing the message.

Spotlight the Results: After the PR campaign, it is important to translate success and PR success into revenue for the company to understand. Quantifying results is essential to explain the impact social media had on the organizations success.

To conclude, I believe that social media is an integral part of public relations. I would not call them synonymous with each other for the reason that public relations has a multitude of aspects and functions and social media is one of the function of PR. It is a very powerful tool and PR has the ability to utilize it to benefit a company. Social media is influencing PR. The role of PR is to establish transparent communication with audience and social media is a platform to do that. It has become a communication means to interact with media, customers, investors, employees, and other key stakeholders.

I can’t emphasize enough on how important are social media and PR for an organization. Despite being the core communications function for an organization, public relations professionals need to demonstrate tangible results to demonstrate the impact of social media. Social media has the ability to build relations with audience, or sabotage a company’s reputation even with a petty incident. It is essential that a company understands the gravity of a situation on social media platform and think strategically before reacting to it. Every key stakeholder has the power to influence the company’s online reputation. Hence, public relations professionals should have the authority to, and be prepared to control the company’s message and brand.

“Analyzing the Impact of Social Media: From Twitter to Facebook” is a white paper presented by Vocus. Link to article, “The impact of social media on public relations” is: http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/03/21/impact-social-media-public-relations