Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Complete Novice's Guide to Social Media


So, what is Social Media?
So, what is this social media that has the Internet buzzing with excitement? Well, Wikipedia (an interesting form of social media in itself) describes it as:
"information content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies that is intended to facilitate communications, influence and interaction with peers and with public audiences, typically via the Internet and mobile communications networks."
This can encompass not just text and information based services like blogs etc, it can also contain image and video based services such as Flickr and YouTube for example.
Social media instigates a sense of community, making users feel connected with each other through participation and communication via many forms of media. Technorati, a blog submission service, has over 133 million blogs indexed, displaying the staggering rise in popularity of people wanting to be heard and connect to each other.
Social Media and your Business
Social media can benefit any type of business and if approached correctly, can help build relationships with consumers and other companies through networking and raised awareness of your service.
With social media you can easily speak directly to your customers, using Twitter to gather feedback on customer satisfaction, raising awareness of a recently launched product through Digg or using YouTube to promote your move into a new office location for example.
An example of a company using social media in a great way is Starbucks. Starbucks created a whole new website and blog centred around customer suggestions for their service. A user would go onto the website and suggest a way Starbucks could improve, everyone registered on the website would then vote their favorite ideas and then Starbucks would post on their blog regarding which ideas they liked and how they would be actually implemented into the Starbucks service.
Companies are always thinking of better ways to run there service, social media gave Starbucks a way to connect with millions of existing customers and gave those customers an opportunity to build on the Starbucks service in a way only they could know how.
Burger King launched a Facebook application which encouraged users to 'sacrifice' 10 of their facebook friends in return for a free Whopper burger. It was taken down by Facebook not long after launch citing privacy concerns, however in the relatively short space of time the application was live, it gathered over 20,000 users and consequently over 200,000 friends were sacrificed in the name of free burgers. This social media example was well built, was easy to share and gave the user the incentive to network with friends which made it very popular in the short space of time it was available.
These are only two examples of successful social media solutions by companies on the Internet, companies like Sun, Ford, Dell and IBM are all currently reaping the benefits of using blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook pages and other social media tools to connect with customers and make there companies more transparent to consumers. Social media, blogs especially, aren't going to disappear overnight. They now act as invaluable customer service methods with the ability to conduct informal discussion with your customers and let them get to know more about you and your company in an inexpensive way.
Establishing a social media presence for your company gives you the ability to reach potentially millions of new customers through Facebook, Twitter, Digg etc, many of which may have been unreachable without a presence on these networks. Having profiles on the various social networks gives you the maximum potential to raise awareness of your brand, gain more visitors to your website and the capacity to convert those targeted visitors to customers.
Social Media in Numbers
searches through the Google search engine every day
tweets on Twitter as of March 2009
photos added to Facebook every month
blog posts every 24 hours
diggs the most popular bookmark on Digg has received in the last 12 months
years it would take to watch all of YouTube's content as of March 2008
hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute
Social Media Forms
Although social media can come in many forms, it has its main ones:
The most well known of 'obvious' social media forms. Blogs act as a frequently updated hub of contextual information where users can get involved and give their input through comments.
The oldest form of social media, in use before the term 'social media' was made popular. Internet forums act as areas for online discussion, usually centered around certain topics.
Content Communities
Content communities differ from usual forms of social media in that they allow people to share and use particular kinds of content that blogs and forums don't fully concentrate upon such as images (see Flickr), interesting bookmarks (see Digg and del.icio.us) and of course video (see YouTube).
A relevant newcomer in the social media world. Micro-blogging combines blogging and social networking in that it allows people to update small amounts of content online through web-based, desktop and also mobile clients (see Twitter).
Social Networks
Social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo etc allow the easy creation of personalised web page accounts that facilitates communication between users.
The Distribution of Social Media
People only have a certain amount of time to check their favorite websites, this mightn't even include blogs or social networks. Couple this with the fact that people seem to be working longer hours than ever these days and also using blackberrys and iPhones to work away from the office, and you're faced with a daunting task of attracting people to your blog or website.
One remedy to this has been the introduction of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. RSS feeds allow a user to effectively 'subscribe' to a website or blog, meaning they are notified through a newsreader when new content is available.
RSS saves people a lot of time when reading blogs and website updates, meaning communities can grow and become more valuable to both the user and author saving both parties time and money.
Social Networks
Joining a social network usually involves creating your own web page with information about yourself, be it personal, professional or otherwise and you then connect with other people on that network.
Although most of these networks are relatively young in their age, a selection of them are very popular and have changed the shape of the Internet for the near future at the very least.
After launching in August 2003, MySpace became the most popular social networking website in the United States in mid 2006, attracting well over 100million account holders.
MySpace has largely built it's popularity based upon its comprehensive music service where bands can upload tracks directly to their profile for fans to listen to, even launching it's own record label to release music from MySpace upon.
Bebo is a popular social networking tool with more emphasis on the younger user than its competitors. It is also geared towards colleges, schools and other educational institutes which is where Bebo has found it's niche. It was purchased by AOL in early 2008 for over £400million.
First available to University students, facebook was opened up to the public (people over the age of 13) in 2006 and it's userbase has skyrocketed ever since.
The service allows you to join networks and groups of organisations, sports teams, location specific groups etc and also offers developers the chance to write applications for the service at no charge
Facbook currently has over 235million account users.
LinkedIn has it's own niche in the social networking world in that it is targeted solely toward the working professional.
LinkedIn allows you to create your own career profile and network with past and present workmates and is mainly used for career-orientated networking and job / project searches.
LinkedIn has approximately 40million users.
Friends Reunited
Friends reunited is a social network based upon the theme of reuniting and connecting with former (and current) classmates. It is identified as the first social network to achieve prominence in Britain, surviving the dotcom bust.
A blog (standing for web-log) is a type of website maintained by an individual or company that is commonly updated with news on latest events, opinions, reviews and any other material the author deems worth of publishing.
With recent developments in blog hosting technology, it's possible for anyone with a basic knowledge of the internet to create and run their own blog using platforms such as WordPress and blogger.
The reason blogs are so popular on the Internet is because they act as a hub of information for any given topic. This can include website design articles (see a list apart), celebrity news (see TMZ), politics (see Huffington Post) and technology news (see techcrunch).
Although some blogs contain posts around a number of topics, the most popular ones have a defined theme and user base.
Almost all blogs have a comments structure in place allowing readers to submit their views on that blog or article. Comments act as a networking tool in itself, with many people growing the reader-base of their own blog or website through the clicks they receive from commenting on other peoples blogs.
The Internet forum is the relative grandparent of the social media family, evolving from the bulletin board style of networking which was popular in the early years of the Internet.
Like blogs, forums can be about any number of topics and attract people mainly looking for information and discussion around a particular theme or subject. Where the two mediums differ are that whereas blogs are usually the views / news from one individual or company, forums act as a discussion venue where many discussions are ongoing at once in different locations called 'threads'. Also, a blog has a clear owner, again that may be an individual or company depending on the blog itself but a forum is effectively ran by its members.
Many forums have been running from the early days of the Internet and have thus gathered a huge amount of members, Gaia Online has over 16million registered members and is one of the most popular on the Internet.
Content Communities
Content communities don't particularly adhere to typical social network frameworks, as they aren't particularly intended for networking between people using the usual means. Two examples of this are Flickr and YouTube.
Flickr is an image and video hosting website where people can create a personal account and upload photos they have taken. It's also used by bloggers and webmasters as an online photo storage system, where they can host all of their images in a searchable database. As of late 2008, it is claimed that Flickr holds more than 3billion images.
The social aspect of Flickr comes into play through the creation of various subject-orientated groups where users can comment on relevant images that have been uploaded.
Youtube is the largest video hosting website on the Internet with well over 120million videos currently hosted through its service. Youtube members can upload their own footage, create channels / playlists of their favourite videos and share them with friends.
Youtube has quickly become one of the largest websites in the history of the Internet with more than 6billion videos viewed on the service in January 2009 alone. Before the public launch of YouTube in 2005, there were very few methods of video-orientated social networking available via the Internet, YouTube changed this with the ability for its users to dictate its content through the uploading of personal video.
Microblogging is the latest in the way of social networking, combining blogging, instant messaging and the popular status updates of the Facebook service into one neat package.
Popular microblogging services such as Twitter allow a small (in Twitters case, no more than140 characters) text based 'update' to be published on your twitter page and to those who are 'following' you.
Although it is a web based format, over 90% of 'tweet's published via twitter are by mobile, desktop or instant messaging applications. Twitter is largely used by the web industry as a way of passing useful links to one another, as well as a very quick and easy networking tool between account followers.
It has recently began to attract a lot of press attention due to the amount of well known people using the service. President Obama used Twitter in the run up to the election to keep voters informed of his campaign, connecting to a completely new audience to previous candidates.
Although Social Media is a relatively new factor on the Internet, the advances we have seen in a short space of time have been staggering. Two to three years ago MySpace was the service everyone was using to connect with each other, who would have predicted that within 24 months there would have been a service in Facebook that overtook it as the Internets leading social networking tool.
The future of social media is an exciting one, and we could see some interesting developments even in the short term such as the adoption of the mobile social network. Although a lot of people are using Social Media on mobile phones already, this number is expected to increase significantly in the near future with the development of more and more clients for social networks on mobile phones.
Social media is expected to evolve and grow into exciting new services and shows no signs of dissapearing any time soon. The potential for growth and monetary gain for businesses is too great for them to ignore social media, helping spread news of services and offers to hundreds, if not thousands, of friends in an instant. Some companies aim for that kind of promotion and never reach it, some pay millions to get it, with social media, it is in everyones grasp.
A company that neglects both social media and the benefits of search engine optimisation is shielding its services away from millions of potential customers.
Opening your company up to social media services allows you to connect instantly with new people, couple this with a comprehensive search engine optimisation plan and you are in a perfect position to attract new customers and network inexpensively.
Well that's it for our guide to Social Media, grab yourself a cup of tea (or coffee if you're that way inclined) and relax.