The 2008 Case For Social Media: 1. Unfinished but Prescient?

Background

Oh the strange files found on ancient hard drives! This series of articles presents a document that I composed in 2008 but never finished due to reasons that escape me (workload, probably). Around that time, companies, particularly entrenched and laggardly companies, were struggling with the concepts and practices of Social Media. It was simply too new, and too noisy. Moreover, people knew it would be disruptive, so avoided the topic.

Public Relations and Technical Communications people knew about it and were even using it (particularly the latter, since they had been communicating with tech heads for years through discussion forums), but most managers were reticent and remote on the issue of this new communication trend. I knew that some of my colleagues regularly accessed public forums and Social Media platforms to discover how products were being received and learn what users were thinking regarding our communications (generally, the picture wasn't too bad, but it was still quite humbling - in many cases we had read our audience's requirements quite wrongly, but at least we knew and could thereafter raise our game). So, although we were dabbling in it, management needed a policy. With a policy, management could understand what Social Media to use, how to use it, and what there was to be reaped from it. For that, they needed a report explaining a thing or two. With such a report, there would or would not be a case for adoption. A piecemeal, ad hoc Social Media presence could only be poorly managed, inconsistent, and wide of the mark - much like poorly managed documentation but visible to much larger numbers of people. So while the medium was not understood, the fear around ineffective usage was pressing. Hence, I drafted the following.

While reading this, please bear in mind that it was written in 2008, long before Social Media ubiquity. In preparation for this report, I read every book and paper on Social Media that I could get my hands on. Back then, the literary resources on this topic were neither plentiful nor particularly high quality.


Social Media: The Case for Adoption

This company requires a structured Social Media policy and an enthusiastic Social Media practice.

Social Media has been embraced by numerous IT companies, such as DELL and IBM.

Since the advent of Web 2.0., the Internet has essentially become a platform for Social Media. In some countries, more than 50% of Internet usage is Social Media-related. Much of this activity involves customers reviewing and reporting on products. Companies that hope to stay abreast of their competitors have to understand and respect the power of Social Media, harness its strengths, recognize its dangers, and reap the benefits of adopting it as part of a dynamic and fluid communications practice. Failure to do any of these will result in lost revenue and decline in brand prestige.

From the perspective of the consumer electronics market – to which this company is gravitating through the success of its digital camera ranges – the key advantage of Social Media is its capacity to allow direct communication with consumers.

Social Media have already democratized industries such as publishing and retailing. Major online retailers such as Amazon have embraced Social Media as part of their business model. The websites of these companies host reviews, favorites lists, and message forums. Retailers such as Amazon now exert substantial influence over the industries whose products they retail. This is one example of the impact Social Media is having on business.

The results of recent research inform us that reviews are the consumer’s preferred reference at purchase decision point. Traditional methods of marketing and advertising are both rooted in one-way communication channels such as print and television. In the pre-Web 2.0 era, companies could acquire market presence through sheer advertising volume. This is no longer the case. Today’s consumer is accustomed to purchasing only after digesting the thoughts of knowledgeable but disinterested reviewers, then, having decided to make a purchase, scanning retailer websites for the lowest price.

The various forms of Social Media are constantly expanding. Rate of adoption of Social Media usage has never been rivaled by any technological innovation to date (including radio, television, and the Internet itself). Any company that does not exploit this phenomenon puts its survival at risk.

If they choose to, institutions can regard Social Media neutrally or even negatively. This might be an option for certain companies whose need for interaction with ordinary people is minimal or optional (NASA, for example). For most companies however, adoption of a Social Media strategy is absolutely necessary.

Companies are increasingly sensitive to how they are perceived. No other media makes a company more accessible than Social Media. Social Media alone can give a human face to an otherwise impersonal company. Social Media alone allows a company to respond directly with a customer or potential customer in a publicly viewable manner.

In section 3 I will discuss the various forms of Social Media that are currently available and popular.

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