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Social Media is a rather a new concept in academic world and also for the business world. For the common individual social media comprises the various internet applications, such as Facebook and Twitter, which allow users to connect with others. Solis provides a broader definition in that “social media is the democratisation of content and the shift in the role people play in the process of reading and disseminating information” (2009). This interpretation of social media is accurate as it allows us to broadcast our opinions and influence others through the click of a button. Social media has begun to not only change our business practices but also the way in which we connect and communicate with other human beings.
Social media allows us to connect with others on an unprecedented level. It allows us to connect with and build relationships with individuals old and new. It has played a key part in the Arab spring and brought about revolutions in the Middle East. Social media was also utilised by the campaign of President Barack Obama to organise from a grassroots level which enabled him to go on and win the presidency of the United States. Businesses have also begun to realise the way in which social media can be used for their benefit as individuals can influence each other through these websites.
Social media has become increasingly popular among businesses. As a new technology that reaches out to many young people, who are the main consumers of products, businesses are looking to use social media more often in their advertising and marketing practices. Businesses have also turned to social media as it is the new form of technology that will take precedence over other older forms of technology. Audiences fast forward through commercials on their DVR players, listen to satellite radios which do not have commercial breaks and no longer read newspapers in a paper format. Businesses can no longer provide exposure to their products with the old way of advertising. Businesses have largely been turning to social media because they are forced to with the advent of the new technology. “Companies lost 100% of their communications a long time ago. People are discussing their brands, products and services, right now, across multiple forms of social media, with or without them” (Solis, 2009). Businesses may not necessarily want to engage in the social media revolution but they are being forced to as if they do not they would be left behind. In order to remain competitive in the modern technological age social media must be used by these businesses or they will be at a disadvantage compared to others.
Advertising is not the only arena in which businesses have begun using social media. All facets of a business have been affected by the advent of social media. “Social media is living and breathing and it touches every part of an organization from customer service, to frontline sales, even human resources and information technology” (Qualman, 2010). Businesses have begun using social media to hire employees. Social media sites, such as Facebook, have also been used as screening tools to determine if a candidate is appropriate for a job position. Businesses have also begun using social media sites for customer service tools as customers can contact customer service representatives through the use of instant messages. Customers can also receive support from websites to problem solve issues they are having with their technology. Customers can connect with other consumers to inquire whether they should purchase a product or not. Businesses must not just experiment or imitate other entrepreneurs in the use of social media. In order to be successful businesses must come up with new ways to utilise social media.
One of the main advantages for businesses to utilise social media is that they are able to access more people than they would have been able to do with television or newspapers. “The statistic that ‘an angry customer will tell up to 20 other people about a bad experience’ , that’s face to face. With the use of social media like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, those 20 people can quickly become 20,000 or even 200,000” (Safko, 2010). Businesses are also able to access these people with spending less money than they would have been with older forms of technology. As social media is a relatively new force advertising can be bought at cheaper rates. All a new business has to do is create a free facebook page and ask people to “like” it. Once a group of people like a page their friends will like it and word will spread like wildfire.
Social media also allows businesses to conduct more effective research about its consumers at a cheaper rate. “Social media puts customers back at the centre of the organization and gave marketers a new set of tools to listen to them and to encourage them to engage with the brand” (Smith, 2011). Rather than pay researchers lots of money to research consumer trends a business can go on websites like Twitter or Facebook to monitor trends. Businesses are able to use these trends to gear their advertising to the specific needs of its consumers. This allows businesses to be more resourceful with their advertising. Rather than marketing a product to thousands of people out of which only a handful may purchase it, businesses are able to market to specifically the handful of people who would be willing to purchase the product. Businesses increase the chances of their advertising to be effective with social media.
Although these tools allow businesses to gear the advertising and products closer to consumer preference, the tools have been accused of invading the privacy of consumers. As Qualman discusses the positive of the social media age come with costs. “However, it doesn’t come without a price; the majority of what we consider to be out personal privacy might be a thing of the past” (Qualman, 2010). Consumers may feel outrage at the invasion of privacy resulting in a refusal to participate on the website or to purchase the product advertised by the business. The invasion of privacy can have negative consequences for society as a whole as people no longer are seen as individuals but as mere robots who will buy whatever they see posted on their Facebook page. Businesses will have to learn how to balance their consumer’s privacy while at the same time using the advantages provided by the social media age.
Another disadvantage of the social media age is that businesses must change the traditional way in which they have conducted their business. “It is imperative for social media to be an integral part of a company’s overall strategy” (Qualman, 2010). With the advent of social media, businesses must adopt new positions within their organisations, upgrade technology and adapt new marketing strategies. This would require a large amount of investment in the business’s part to upgrade their business. It is also a risky venture to invest money into a new technology that may not be successful. Many new websites that jump on the social media bandwagon will not be the next Facebook. As websites such as Myspace and Friendster demonstrate that not all social media ventures are successful. Investing money into a social media website that is unsuccessful could be disastrous for businesses attempting to break into a new market.
A company such as Pepsi which has been around for decades has also had to evolve with the social media age. Social media is helping Pepsi gain insight about its consumers which it previously has not been able to do with the practices that they had previously attempted. “Pepsi bypassed a Super Bowl advertisement for the first time in 20 years in order to shift these millions of dollars into social media” (Qualman, 2010). The level of commitment towards social media from Pepsi demonstrates how business is shifting towards this new mode of media. In years past companies have spent millions of dollars on coveted Super Bowl advertisement spots as they know millions of people will be watching the game. Pepsi recognised that they would be able to reach these amounts of people through social media instead.
Pepsi has also begun to engage the consumer in the types of social media they use. Rather than utilise other social media websites to promote their product, Pepsi has converted its own website into a social media site. By allowing users to generate their own content on their site Pepsi allows its customers to be involved in the marketing of their product. Pepsi recognises the influences that people can have towards other individuals. While this has been a common conception held among marketing experts, social media demonstrates how much influence our friends and family can have on our buying habits and preferences. This new found understanding of the influence social media can have on other people is being replicated by other businesses who are changing their business models to adjust and adapt to be successful.
Another company which has changed their business practices to adapt to the social media age is the Ford company. Qualman describes the way in which the company utilised social media to promote their new car. “The fiesta movement, in which we gave 100 euro-spec Fiestas to digital influencers for six months, yielded amazing result. We let them do what they normally do: tweet, blog, post videos and photo, and tell everyone they know about the experience” (2010). The user generated social media promotion helped to propel the company forward from some difficult economic struggles. The website generated thousands of views from multiple other social media websites such as Youtube and Flickr. The campaign also helped to sell more Fiestas than anticipated as the campaign exposed the vehicle to more consumers who may have bought other vehicles had they not been exposed to the vehicle through the campaign. The user generated social media campaign resulted in the Fiesta selling as many if not more models as other more popular vehicle brands which had already been on the market for two to three years.
Fiesta used a similar model to the Pepsi social media campaign. Rather than advertise on Facebook as other companies had done, Ford created its own website which allowed its consumers to participate in the build of a vehicle. This concept is the epitome of social media’s principle of connecting consumers with businesses. Ford was also able to utilise the input from the users to generate new designs and ideas based around what the consumer desires. After the success of this campaign Ford continued to make changes to its business model to incorporate more social media in their marketing. “At Ford we’ve adjusted our marketing business so that 25% is digital and social media” (Qualman, 2010). Ford recognised the direction the company needs to continue heading towards as the social media campaign was a resounding success. Ford made the necessary changes the company need for all future ventures.
As Google is a company already created from the technological age it would not appear to need to change to meet the advent of the social media revolution. However Google has made attempts to adapt and needs to continue doing so. As social media became more privatised and pursuing profit, Google has been able to place search engine listings on pages like Facebook. Google has also collaborated with Facebook to promote its own products such as Google Chrome. (Kangas, 2007). The collaboration has led to more users using the browser as they have seen their friends using the website.
Google has not had similar success with other social media ventures such as Google Plus which serves to act as a browser with a social media component in which you can add friends and share similar features or searches. Although Google Plus was the fastest growing site in recent months however the users who signed up to the website did not use the features provided by the website. While the promotion of the website led many to sign on right away the functionality of the site deterred them from utilising the site. Google needs to be able to learn and adapt from the failure of Google Plus. According to Kangas, Google also needs to be able to expand their social media sites from just advertising as they will not continue to grow if they do not innovate as newer and more successful social media site emerge.
Although these examples of forward thinking companies provide evidence of how social media is working for these companies not all businesses have gone the route of social media. As Solis described many businesses are hesitant in pursuing the use of social media. “However only a few industries are embracing it and pushing things forward. Even though Social media is eliciting corporate participation and engagement, not all companies believe that this is the right step”. (2009). As these companies get left behind by companies who embrace social media, we will see the use of social media by businesses broaden and expand. These companies will also generate new ways to use social media, as Pepsi and Ford have done with their sites, so as to innovate and create new avenues for the use of social media.
We will also see businesses change their business models and change their allocation of revenue. As companies like Pepsi and Ford begin to devote more of their revenue towards social media funding rather than traditional forms of advertising we will see other companies follow suit. As more money is dedicated to social media we may see traditional forms of media such as television, radio and newspapers lose the advertising dollars that they would normally receive. This in turn would lead to changes being made in these traditional forms of media. Television and radio may find more ways to connect with social media or utilise social media in their own promotions. While these forms of media have begun to utilise social media in small doses, they will be forced to embrace social media more so to survive.
As businesses engage in more practices with social media we may see increased regulation from the United States government. Social media is largely unregulated however as more businesses engage in the practice we may see a need for increased regulation. The debate over privacy rights of individuals has begun to increase as more individuals are finding their rights violated. Supporters of a websites rights will argue that an individual can just choose to opt out of using the site. However this can be difficult to do as everyone is on social media. This will become even more difficult when more businesses are using social media sites for their advertising, customer support and purchasing sources. Individuals who are not utilising the social media sites will find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to socialising in the media age.
Social media is beginning to infiltrate more and more areas of our lives as more businesses expand their use of the sites. As social media will continue to expand the responsible use of social media will need to be explored. Academics and experts in the field of social media will need to emerge. As will regulators of the field. As radio, television and newspapers were once new forms of communication, social media is the next stage of the evolution of media and communication.
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