What is Social Media?

Seems like the answer to this should be pretty simple, considering the fact that you can’t turn a corner without a marketer throwing the term social media at you. But, alas, it is not.

First, let’s say what Social Media is *not*:

  • Blogs
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube

But, Shanee, those are exactly what Social Media is, aren’t they?” Common misconception. What you need to remember is: Social Media is not the tools. I repeat. Social. Media. Is. Not. The. Tools.

“So, Shanee, what is it?”

Pretty simple, really. Social media is engaging an audience in a two-way conversation. If you are only pushing content out, regardless of the platform you’re using (Twitter, Facebook, etc), then it’s not social media. The tools are just vehicles for the conversations. I’m sure some people might be shaking their heads furiously at this, but to them I say, leave a comment and let the discussion begin.

Why should I be doing social media?” I think a lot of companies’ answer to this now, is “because everyone in our industry is doing it, so we want to as well.” That’s really only half the reason, the other half is because your community, media, partners and analysts are already engaging online. (Of course, you should first confirm that this is actually the case, that these folks are online, see below for some first steps on how to do this and to get involved in social media). It’s like everyone’s at a party online, having a great time, they’re swapping stories and making new friends. You have the chance to attend that party and join in the fun–everyone’s really welcoming–or you can stay at home and watch The Hills.

How do I start doing social media?” There’s no right answer to this, but I’ll give you a few easy steps to kick you off.

    1. Set up some listening profiles. Use Google Alerts, Twitter search, RSS feeds, whatever. Just figure out what people are saying about you online. Get a sense of what people feel about you and where the hot spots for conversation are. The good, bad and ugly. (note, there are amazing premium tools that can also help you do this, but if you’re short on cash, don’t be afraid to do the legwork). If you see there’s a need for you to jump in, based on your findings, then move on to…
    2. Put together a plan. This is one of those important steps I think a lot of folks are jumping right on over. But, without the plan you’re not really going to be able to keep your program on track. You’ll just be shooting in the dark. The plan can be simple, think about answering the following:

    • What is our goal? (Increase sales? change perception? address FUD? get input on products?)
    • Who are we trying to reach? (Customers? partners? analysts?)
    • How will we measure success? (use your goal you outlined in bullet point #1 to decide what to measure)
    • What internal resources are available to us? (Social media takes time, especially if you want to do it effectively. Figure out who can help and how much time they can dedicate. Budget’s of course something you’ll want to figure out as well)

    One thing I do want to mention here is that bigger isn’t necessarily better. 10 super engaged fans are more valuable than 100 people who followed, then forget you. You’ll need to factor in this type of context to your reporting, so you can decide if there’s a need to course-correct your social media strategy.
    3. Get started. Choose whatever vehicle you want, (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook etc) based on where your listening profile shows you your audience is, and start talking, listening and responding. Keep your expectations realistic and know that if you give your community value through things like exclusive content/offers, customer service/support etc, they will respond in-kind.

For most of you, all of this is old hat, and to you I say, keep on truckin’ and keep on sharing your wisdom with the rest of us. For those of you who are new to social media, just remember not to get caught up in the tools. Yes they’re important, but if you know who you’re trying to reach, why you’re trying to reach them, and how you’ll measure if you’ve reached them successfully the tools will be interchangeable.

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2 Replies to “What is Social Media?”

  1. Well, I hope I don’t cause any flame war here but I disagree with
    “Social media is engaging an audience in a two-way conversation.”

    First, social media is not an action (engaging), but an object (medium).

    This is the type of medium that allows the mass to voice their opinion easily and frequently (eg. write a blog post, start a forum thread, tweet on twitter, post a status on facebook, post a video on youtube, etc..). It’s much easier than traditional media because it’s absolutely not easy to get on TV, radio, newspaper, magazine.. etc.. to voice your opinion.

    So what happened when it becomes so easy to voice one’s opinion?
    Many opinions are voiced!! Some are correct and are not. Some are sincere and some are just malicious attack. This is what social media ‘effort’ is all about: dealing with information about your company floating around on social media.

    There are currently 2 approaches on ‘social media effort’:
    – Engagement: this is what Comcast, for example, does. When some one says something like: ‘Comcast sucks, my internet connection keeps dropping’. Some one from the Comcast social media team will jump on and reply in the comment of the blog post, or post a reply in the forum thread. Hopefully, the angry person would be less angry, and any passerby reading the reply would be impressed with Comcast’s effort.
    – Aggregation: Collecting the massive data on social media to identify major opinion/comment about your company, analyzing them and producing report for your technical/production team so they can address the problem. This is the Microsoft’s approach and fixes the root problem.

    I personally think the engagement approach is a bad idea. Several issues:
    – You have to get through a lot of data, and you cannot respond to everything you see. Especially true for big company/brand.
    – Ineffective use of money! Why spend money on engagement on social media when you can spend that money in your customer support department. If your customer service department is adequate, then people wouldn’t need to rant on social media. Fix the problem instead of trying to tell people that the problem is not there (or you will fix it soon).
    – You need to keep track of the engagement trail. i.e. you cannot let person A in your team do some of the conversation and person B do some. So you need a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution for that. Your customer service department probably already has this, but you cannot use it because passing too many tickets there prematurely would overwhelm that department. So separated system is needed. This is very expensive, and has a lot of overhead.

    I would love to write more but I think this is quite lengthy already..

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