Business and Operations
Marketing Insights: The state of social networking
By Michelle Brisebois
Much has been written here and elsewhere about social networking: the
pros, the cons, how to do it and why you should do it. Have we beaten
this horse to death? Probably not. Social networking is much like the
telephone or television was many years ago – scary and intimidating but
full of promise.
Much has been written here and elsewhere about social networking: the pros, the cons, how to do it and why you should do it. Have we beaten this horse to death? Probably not. Social networking is much like the telephone or television was many years ago – scary and intimidating but full of promise. Imagine you’re in a room of executives a century ago and everyone’s talking excitedly about the phone’s potential impact on business. There were likely naysayers, but here we sit today with not just a phone in every home but a mobile one in practically every pocket. If you are ignoring social media, you’ll likely eventually test the waters. For those who are starting to dip their toes in the pool, let’s take a temperature check to see how the medium is progressing.
|A 2009 study showed that younger small businesses were more active in social media.|
A 2009 US based BIA/Kelsey’s Local Commerce Monitor study found that nine per cent of small and medium-sized businesses were using Twitter to market their businesses. In addition, 32 percent of those polled indicated they planned to include social media in their marketing mix in the next 12 months through social sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace. Another 39 per cent of businesses planned to include customer ratings or reviews on their own websites, and 31 per cent wanted to include links or ads placed on social sites or blogs. The study revealed adoption of social media by small and medium-sized businesses is more prevalent among younger companies.
Facebook isn’t the only game in town
Facebook is a very popular, innovative form of social media but it’s not the only option for people. When you read that people are leaving Facebook because of privacy concerns or time constraints keep in mind that they may well be migrating to other social networking platforms, and not leaving them altogether. Facebook represents about 44 per cent of all social networking, as reported by Techcrunch.com from research conducted by Gigya, a social optimization technology company. However, as new platforms emerge, the landscape will change.
Privacy issues are being defined
Facebook has been under the gun lately for allowing user content to be mined for marketing purposes and for disregarding user privacy issues. In May, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced modifications that will allow users to choose whether to share information with friends only, with friends of friends or with everyone. The settings will work retroactively with previous posts. “Now we feel like we have the privacy model that’s going to help us scale the service to millions and millions of more people and this is the end of the overhaul that we’re doing,” Zuckerberg said during a conference call. Users can also access advanced settings to further customize exactly what is shared and how widely. This is new territory, so everybody is feeling their way, and privacy concerns over Facebook and other social media platforms will continue to evolve and become further defined.
Social networking meets retailing
Here’s a development that should make anybody with a store or restaurant perk up: retailing is going social. A technology study by Deloitte, a major accounting and consulting firm, reports that 56 per cent of those surveyed belong to social networking sites, with 43 per cent of those people using the sites for shopping information. The study says: “Their cross-channel skills are sharpening too, with 33 per cent buying more online than a year ago and 75 per cent doing online scouting before or during the shopping experience (half of them say an online review has influenced a purchase). And, 21 per cent have used a smartphone in the shopping process.” New technologies are being piloted that allow a customer to join a community of retail categories. Let’s say your business is part of a community and that you list your signature pizza as a Margherita. If a consumer who’s signed up to access that community also lists this entrée as a favourite you can send them electronic coupons and notices automatically when they are in proximity of your restaurant. It may sound “big brotherish” but if the consumer has opted in to receive these offers, it’s perfectly acceptable.
Social etiquette meets social media
A waitress at a pizza restaurant in Charlotte, N.C., vented about a couple of customers on her Facebook page after a long shift. The pizzeria had a policy about not criticizing customers and she was fired. It’s tempting to overreact and declare that social networking makes us too vulnerable but it’s really about understanding the pitfalls and capabilities of each social networking tool. Plurk and Gmail are popular with people who want to fly under the radar by using ‘live chat’ or private posts to a defined group. Posting something to your Facebook wall or Twitter feed is akin to climbing onto an orange crate in Times Square with a megaphone. People are just so excited about the technology that they’re slow to actually learn how and when to use it. Some will make mistakes and become examples for the rest of us to learn from, but in the end we’ll figure it out and be able to draw the proper boundaries.
You may not be ready to dive head first into experimenting with social networking as a business tool but it appears that at some point you will have no choice but to use it if you want to stay current. For this reason, it’s important that you stay informed regarding social networking’s progress as a communications venue. History abounds with examples of new inventions that people thought would be fads yet are part of our daily existence today. My great-grandmother refused to look up at a plane that flew over her native Ireland early in the 20th century, remarking “it’s the devil.” Sometimes, even the most innovative, receptive people completely misjudge a new tool’s potential. Consider this quote as an endorsement of some healthy open-mindedness: “Nobody will ever need more than 640K Ram” – Bill Gates, 1981.•
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.