Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives with each other. It is fundamentally different from traditional media such as newspapers, television, books, and radio. The Social media movement is built around relationships. The people who use these sites want to engage with others, not just experience one-way communication. Social actions are powerful because they act as trusted referrals and reinforce the fact that people influence people. It’s no longer just about messages that are broadcasted out, but increasingly about information that is shared between friends. Social Media allows people to highlight and discuss issues and offer opinions on areas of interest or expertise.
Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, message boards, weblogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, and video. Technologies such as blogs, picture-sharing, vlogs, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, music-sharing, group creation, and voice over IP, to name a few. Examples of social media applications are Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Facebook (social networking), Digg (news sharing), YouTube (social networking and video sharing), Second Life (virtual reality), and Flickr (photo sharing),however, it does not stop there as the list of sites is nearly an endless with new ones coming on board all the time.
Businesses can leverage the unique aspects of social media to achieve their goals by becoming part of the conversations taking place within online communities. Depending on the industry, social media and networking sites can send quality traffic to the site. For instance, music and entertainment industries are successfully using MySpace to attract millions of users. Manufactures and retailers can draw traffic from photo sharing sites like Flickr or video sharing sites like YouTube to showcase their products. These are just examples of how companies are utilizing social media to drive traffic to their sites.
There are plenty of social media platforms that businesses can participate in today and potentially contribute to. The best way to choose a platform is to look at the people that hang out there. The idea is to create a profile on these websites that singles you out as an expert in your chosen field and start contributing or highlighting useful websites that have value to you and others or give your opinions or thoughts on areas of interest. Companies shouldn’t just stop at the top sites but look for social media and networking sites within their niche and enter professional or business-oriented communities such as ITtoolbox and LinkedIn. These communities provide them with the opportunity to reach consumers in the workplace as they seek experience-based peer advice to make important decisions and stay current. Users typically visit their professional community of choice several times a day to access knowledge and request feedback from other professionals. The bottom line is that just like millions of people are using search engines everyday, millions of people are using social media and networking sites as well and companies should take advantage of these social media tools to bring further attention to products, services, company news or even put a personal face on the company.
Beside the fact that social networking sites can drive traffic to companies’ web sites or even sell products and services, they can also provide branding opportunities. In the same manner that it is important for companies to make sure they have all the various domain names that relate to their brand (.com, .net, .org, etc…), it is now becoming important for companies to make sure they secure their brand on social media sites. Typical with most social media sites, after creating a profile you will be assigned a unique URL. That URL should include your brand name (i.e., www.linkedin.com/in/CompanyXYZ, www.flickr.com/people/CompanyXYZ, etc.). The brand name is also used in the title tag of the profile. Having a number of profiles spread out among various social media sites may help business to have better control over the first three pages of search results for their unique brand names. It also may help users of specific social media sites to find the company if they are actually looking for the brand. Finally, it keeps competitors from sitting on your brand and/or someone misrepresenting your brand.
Businesses can further benefit from social media thru networking opportunities. Many social networking mediums allow joining specific groups of interest and then interact with like-minded people. Facebook is a great example of this – not only can you join groups, you can create new ones, add events and even build interactive applications that run within the Facebook environment.
Social networking sites are also used to build link popularity. This is done by linking back to your original web site within the social media sites you set up. Many social media sites allows to include a blurb about yourself or your company and in many cases, add a link or links to the sites. Once you get these various social media profiles indexed, they will count as inbound links to your main site. In general Social media can be a very powerful tool to drive traffic and search engine optimization efforts. It can further be utilized as a method for gathering customer feedback through surveys, new product ideas and product feedback forms. And, since social media is supposed to be a conversation, companies should allow their audience to participate in the future of your products.
The idea of social media is not new, however from a business point of view social media is increasingly important. It should be one medium businesses are using among many in their communication with audience and customers. Every online business should be seeking to build itself a community. Building community is about building trust that brings people back to your site for thoughts, opinions, advice, service and even your products. Moreover, social media has a real impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Consumers who use social media are more influenced by user-generated content when making purchasing decisions than by information from brand advertisers and marketers. Build a community and you build repeat customers.