The 2008 Case For Social Media: 3. Did I Predict Instagram?

Available and Popular Social Media Platforms

Currently, Social Media platforms take many forms. Defining categories for Social Media platforms is not simple, as they share many common functions and features. Following is a list of the main forms of Social Media platform currently available and popular. 

Blogs

A blog is an online journal consisting of text entries that often include pictures and movies. The word count of the typical blog entry is around 500. Blogs can be accessed through Google and other search engines, so can be easily found. A blog is distinguishable from an ordinary HTML-based homepage in a number of critical ways: entries can be added and amended easily and without the author requiring technical knowledge of HTML, FTP, or similar; because blog applications offer comment facilities, blog readers can post responses. This means that uptake is strong. Services offering blog hosting are often free. Paid services are reasonably priced. Increasingly, blogs are used to host video and audio content, in addition to the standard text and images. Most blog applications support embedding, which allows the user to post video or other bandwidth-heavy content that is hosted on other platforms, such as YouTube. In the last few years there has been a rapid proliferation of increasingly usable blog creation applications. Currently, most popular blog applications are free and advertisement-supported.

For the corporation, the primary advantages of blogs and blogging are efficiency of transmission and audience receptiveness: messages can be communicated quickly and simply and in an understated manner to a waiting audience whose presence already indicates openness to current and future updates, and whose comments will allow quality responses and opportunities to demonstrate the corporation’s interest in reaching its target publics. Blogs by enthusiasts of our products or those of our competitors constitute a rich source of unmediated but informed opinion, especially blogs that are heavily followed – their followers represent a key demographic. Such blogs are easily discovered and their content easily analysed.

Social [Media] Networks

At the time of this writing, Facebook and Twitter are the dominant social networking media platforms. Facebook is essentially online wall space with searchable connectivity, similar to a feed-capable scrapbook in which people can be invited to engage. Its primary material is text, but images – and text within images – are growing in popularity as image creation applications multiply and simplify. Video is also possible, but its usage is constrained by users’ bandwidth. Non-personal interest groups (which are essentially membership pages, access to which is controlled by a moderator) can be created on Facebook; brands and celebrities can post text, images, and video on their pages, and the public can post comments and follow links to external websites. Businesses too can have a Facebook presence.

All categories of user – interest group member/owner, business operator, personal, celebrity, brand – can have and control a Facebook identity. All Facebook usage is constrained by a common protocol. The format is largely fixed. Facebook allows very little adaptation by users. Whatever the nature of the Facebook user, be they personal or brand, their appearance on Facebook is standardized. All Facebook content creation conforms to the downward scrolling text and picture post linearity of the platform. Changes to fonts and image size are not possible. The platform does not allow independent manipulation through coding. Only its settings can be used to manage posts and their appearance. All users can post links to sites outside Facebook. All can post text, images, and video. All can invite, block, mute, and reply to users. All can follow or “friend” other Facebook users. All can accept or deny “Friend requests” (when a fuser accepts a Friend request, the accepted person becomes part of the user’s network, i.e. a “Friend”; and, depending on the privacy settings, friends can access their Friends’ Friends, so can expand their own network by finding and friending people discovered in the Friends lists of others). All users can communicate with each other directly and privately through instant messaging.

Very importantly for brands seeking online presence and endeavouring to cultivate relevance to Social Media users, all Facebook content can be made interactive. That is, whatever is posted can be used to invite dialogue – between the brand and users, and between users and users. Important information concerning the brand, its products, its Social Media activities, and in fact its entire public persona, can be obtained actively, through discussion elicitation and subsequent message exchange, and passively, through the monitoring of discussions started elsewhere but accessible to the public. The search functions offered by both Facebook and Twitter allow users to identify the appearance of keywords in any publicly visible post, so locating public discussions of interest to the brand is instantaneous and simple.

Twitter offers almost the same functionality as Facebook, but differs in the quantity of textual content that it permits. Twitter posts are limited to around 150 characters, so are much tighter and lighter than typical Facebook posts. However, the brevity of Twitter posts (they are known as “tweets”) means that discussions are easily accessed and easily engaged with – the requirement to write more than two sentences is absent, and the possibility exists that the limitation forces the distillation of messages, encouraging users to focus on and therefore express only what is most important to them. The Twitter format does not facilitate lengthy individual posts, but instead prompts easy engagement so generates long, diverse discussion trails comprising contributions from tens of thousands of users or more. Such economy in text and volume in participation has enormous implications for meaning detection and observation of trends and patterns. Twitter also has a “Retweet” function that provides at-a-glance indications of any tweet’s popularity (or at least the degree of its diffusion). Such simple counts could be considered a basic metric for gauging the efficacy of published communications in terms of distribution and redistribution.

As mentioned, both platforms offer users the means to post links and image/video content. For publicity and other commercial purposes, this showroom-like facility has obvious advantages. Moreover, the usage costs of Social Media are – compared to other forms of advertising and campaign visibility activity – trivial. Paid services for business usage exist, but these too are extremely inexpensive compared to linear broadcast methods. Undoubtedly, given the enormous global uptake of both services, other social networking platforms are bound to appear. Already there are regional variants, but in functionality terms, they are very similar.    

For the corporation, the primary advantages of Social Media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are the achievement – at very low cost – of publicity-through-presence and relevance to audience. Very soon, Social Media networks will possess no novelty, hence every company will require presence and savvy. There already exists a generation for whom networking through Social Media platforms is more common and intuitive than consumption of traditional media. Technology companies must exploit the technologies utilized by their customers. Social Media networking offers unprecedented opportunities for advertising and acquiring vital feedback and feedforward on consumer opinion. Moreover, the potential for positioning is vast.  

Communities/Forums

These are also known as “discussion forums”. In essence, these are no more than websites that host discussions under headlines. Such headlined discussions are known as “threads”. Admission to these can be open, i.e. some are accessible to anyone who can register an account; some forums are private, i.e. submission is conditional on acceptance by a moderator, who is typically the owner of the website. The creation of community websites/discussion forums requires very limited technical ability. Once the hosting is paid for, the forum creation application is installed into it. Posting is no more difficult than posting on Facebook. Users can reply with a click that opens a text box. Images and sometimes video can be pasted into any post, giving the discussion multimedia richness. Any user familiar with posting on any platform finds discussion forum participation straightforward. Discussion forums tend to arise out of shared enthusiasm for particular topics, hence “community”. Although the majority of the threads will be devoted to aspects of the main topic, it is common for less specialist discussions to occur alongside the main discussions. This possibly testifies to a communality that extends beyond interest in the main topic. Communities based on interest represent a key resource. Participants are self-selected. Every participant is an enthusiast, sufficiently interested in a topic to register an account and at least read, if not directly contribute to (“lurking” is the term for this) the discussions. Discussion forums draw people whose interest exceeds that of the casual consumer. People seeking to show or obtain specialist knowledge interact through forums.

For the corporation, the primary advantages of online communities are acquisition of detailed, high quality information concerning product and brand, and the possibility of cultivating positive regard through intelligent discussion with invested user-experts. To an extent, all Web 2.0 applications offer comparable functionality, but only in discussion forums will the corporation encounter a concentration of dedicated users, whose exchanges represent a source of advanced knowledge. Discussion forums present an audience that is self-primed for receptivity to messages from companies that manufacture the products that are the raison d'être of the community. Also, there is the possibility that if the corporation communicates effectively in these exacting environments, its perception will be elevated and brand engagement thereby enhanced.

Photo Sharing Services

At the time of this writing, several paid and unpaid image sharing platforms exist. This author believes that these offer few benefits for the corporation. This author believes that such specialist services may retain value for professionals or high-level amateurs in need of very secure, very high capacity, very private archiving or backup services that also feature a very secure sharing function. However, this author predicts that for non-specialist users, photo sharing services will be displaced by generalist-oriented Social Media platforms such as Facebook, whose popularity is expanding possibly as a result of the expanding nature of its functionality: through Facebook, users can share images with everyone they know, selected users only, users they don’t know, or send images through Instant Messaging to specific individuals or groups – at no cost. Facebook can also act as a repository, since images that are not posted can still be stored. The one-stop nature of function-rich Social Media platforms must be assumed to be critical to their enduring and growing value.  

For the corporation, the advantages of media sharing services are few. If the routine internal sharing of media cannot be enabled by internal http applications (i.e. intranet features) then there is a case for adoption of a paid-for suitable external service (i.e. a third-party Internet service). For public engagement purposes however, the need to share images or any other media content through an online service is not apparent. This author predicts that the text-biased Social Media platform will soon be challenged by platforms that are image or video oriented. To offer such functionality, these services will provide high capacity storage to users and commercialization functions allowing users to sell what they show. Such platforms will also allow users to follow each other and discover other users’ online presence beyond the platform, where more intensive interaction (commercial and informational) can occur. It is this author’s opinion that the corporation should await the entrance of such services, since their operation will be low cost, the media sharing functionality will be adequate, and – perhaps most importantly – these platforms will appeal to the young, for whom platforms such as Twitter and Facebook will be retrograde.  

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