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What is Social Media, and Why Should I Invest It?

“Social media”, in its short history as a phrase, has been applied to a range of technologies, entities, and relationships. The ambiguous nature (not to mention using the word ‘social’ in business or technological environment) can make the initial decision of whether to expand a web strategy to include social media a difficult one for companies.

A recent post by Alex did a good job of differentiating the social network from the internet community, at least as far as the common understanding goes. A social network as most people use the term is a place where users can create profiles for themselves (or for their business) and connect to friends. Like interests can play into connections that spring up between individuals who’ve never met, but generally the emphasis is on friendship and relationships. Contrast this to an internet community, which can be envisioned as an environment dominated by die-hards, whether they are die-hard techies, golfers, gamers, knitters, or dog-lovers.

Yet another layer of the ‘social’-net is social bookmarking, tools that allow a user to create an account, and then cast a ‘vote’ for any websites, blogs, images, videos, or other online content that they enjoy by tagging it with a term or phrase that describes it. A user’s bookmark collection can be viewed publicly, and used by online searches who are looking for items tagged by certain terms can use the bookmarks to find relevant content.

So why should a company care about social networks and communities, especially when times are tight and advertising dollars must be carefully tracked?

The influence of social networks in people’s lives is hard to dispute. Tupperware became a household name, and multi-million dollar corporation, because housewives tended to have large social networks. New technologies arise and quickly gain popularity, thanks to internet forums devoted to geeky interests. Decisions about where to stay when going on a trip, where to eat, what brand of shoes to buy, are surprisingly based on the opinions of others: research reveals that “consumers report being willing to pay from 20% to 99% more for a 5-star-rated item than a 4-star-rated item (with variance depending on type of item/service)”.

Imagine a potential customer of any product or service. If considering something new, they will need information, which they connect with in multiple stages. They will seek out websites and other sources while researching and planning a purchase. At this stage, they draw on what they know and refine their goals based on the information they find. If it’s a trip being considered, they will gather input from reputable, information rich sites, plan routes and calculate driving times. If its a service, they will refine their expectations of the service based on provider websites, as well as testimonials, videos and reviews by past consumers.

During the planning process, people talk through ideas and exchange stories with friends, family, and coworkers, but they also communicate with people they don’t directly know, via online discussion boards and social networks. Their conversations will be reflected online when individuals post status messages and queries in Facebook and Twitter, upload pictures and videos to MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, and write in message boards and their blogs.

The best part of social media is that it costs less than other advertising media! The smart way to generate attention-getting messages that people will place trust in is to leverage the social networks themselves, and let the members of a site do the messaging. It would be extremely expensive and challenging to create marketing messages as numerous, varied, original and compelling as those that people will independently author on social networking sites.

Ready to get started? Learn more about Pure Visibility’s Social Media Strategy.

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