Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Social Media Transformation

From just fun and games to business necessity, the world of social media has undergone a transformation. Actually, it's more of a maturation. A piece in Chicago's The Business Ledger , written by associate editor Sherri Dauskurdas, delves into this phenomenon.


Social media a commerce-driven necessity

Navigating the maze of social media platforms can be a challenging, if not daunting task, but as the Facebook revolution takes hold in our country, more and more businesses are finding participation online is not simply a benefit, but rather a necessity to survival.

Experts and business professionals met March 25 at NIU-Naperville, to discuss social media and its implications for use in commerce as part of the 2010 Business Ledger Newsmakers’ forum series.

“Social media is not about technology and tools, it’s really about people,” said Barbara Rozgonyi, principal at CoryWest Media, LLC. “You can use Twitter to listen, you can search, respond to people for customer service. If people have a problem you can get to it right away. You can ask questions and connect with people, and you can also spy on your competition.”

If that still sounds overwhelming, don’t despair. Brian Tomkins, chief information officer for Boom Media, Inc., is seeing older adults taking the reigns on social media sites these days.

“The average age on Facebook is now 38 and the average age on Twitter is now 37, and it’s moving up,” said Tomkins. “You are seeing the demographic get older. It’s not for kids.”

That is allowing for a sea change in social media, from the social and entertainment focus under which it began to a developed exchange of information and a more valuable asset to marketing than ever before.

“It really comes down to using all the tools available to not replace traditional techniques but to supplement those,” Tomkins said. “We’re not replacing anything; we’re just enhancing them.”

It’s a simple transformation to understand. Traditional medium – television, radio and newspapers – are one-way tools, while social media is interactive. It allows participants to engage, said Brett Flickinger, creative revenue expert for Next Level.

“The power of social media is that so many people are allowed to participate in it,” said Flickinger. “With social media, we’re changing the rules as to how we as businesses communicate with existing customers, stakeholders and potential customers.”

In fact, Flickinger added, about 1.7 billion people were on the Internet last year, and 72 percent of America was online. That’s a lot of potential customers, and major companies are responding to that captive audience.

“Fortune 100 companies are now taking on kids right out of school at $30,000 a year to sit at a cubicle all day and tweet,” said J.D. Gershbein, president of Owlish Communications. “So we have arrived, and if companies aren’t in social media by now, they’re not only missing the boat, but they didn’t even know the boat was there in the first place.”

Tomkins added that 79 percent of Fortune 100 companies are on Twitter, and there are 50 million Tweets per day.

“So a lot of companies are spending money on this,” Flickinger said. “Some of these are probably your competitors. Think about that.

“Studies have shown, time after time, people don’t trust advertising. They don’t trust the message,” he said. “But they do trust the words of their peers. That’s the strength of social media. Peer recommendations are a driving force to get business.”

Yet even the major brands can only facilitate a portion of the discussion.

“Over 75 percent of what’s on the Internet was not produced by them,” said Tomkins. “It was produced by people talking about them. So if you’re not online, 100 percent of the content about you and your company is produced by somebody else. Do you really want to put that power in their hands?”

Instead, the experts suggest, companies should use social media to create positive brand association, enhance brand awareness, influence search results, support business development activities and enhance intent to sell. All these things can retain customers and shorten the sales cycle, as well as increase a company’s value.

“Your social media presence, those online tools you use, those are online assets. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, that’s real estate that stays with you,” Tomkins said.

Businesses must move quickly and understand social media and how it works, which is much different than other media. Online, it’s all about credibility, Tomkins said. You have to be credible online, back up what you say and be engaging.

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