One of the big influences on the growth of many forms of social media has been mobile technology; the growth of the smart phones have created a totally new world where we are always connected to rich media content.
There are a number of categories of social media, for example collaborative projects such as Wikipedia, social content communities such as YouTube are prevalent, and blogs have become tools to serve so many purposes with somewhere in the region of half a billion separate blogs in existence. Then we’ve got Microblogging where Twitter is considered mature, and Instagram is growing at an incredible rate. Last year, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion. It was effectively a start-up with less than 30 employees.
Because some of the numbers quoted are so out of the ordinary and difficult to comprehend, it is easy for them to wash over us. But, let us not under estimate the impact social media is having on our lives, the environment and commerce. If we can understand this we can take advantage, or at least know when advantage is being taken of us!
He who answers the question controls the answer
It used to be that to get your company’s website appearing towards the top of the first page on a search engine you had to make sure you had the right keywords embedded, ensure the description was appropriate and, basically, follow a set of simple tips and tricks. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has evolved, becoming more sophisticated, so now you may employ an expert in this field to do the work for you. Alternatively, you could just take the crude approach and pay the search engine to get some prime advertising space in the top right of page.
Google, Bing and Yahoo do not run their search engines for free, they are huge business concerns with large overheads making almost all their revenue from one thing, advertisements. As businesses of all sizes have moved much of their traditional advertising budget to online advertising, this has become a competitive environment.
Google, of course, have been the dominant player for quite some time with their clean interface, but it is becoming more cluttered as investors seek more return on their money. Bing has been quite a big mover, and in July this year had almost 18% of the search market. And what is behind the increasing success of Bing? Well, they are winning market share not off Google but off Yahoo by offering a different look and feel on the home page with ever changing photographs.
But the most important success factor for search engines is the results – if you find what you want from a search you will use that search engine again, and probably make it your default search engine in your browser set-up. If search engine owners are to increase profits they need more advertising revenue, which comes from having more users. Therefore, probably the key influences on their commercial success is providing the most relevant answers to our questions.
In improving the complex algorithms behind search technology, these sites are using new ranking techniques based on social proof. Social proof, in simple terms, is the review on Trip Advisor, a good (or bad) tweet, or the ‘Like’ on Facebook. As humans we are wired to be influenced by such references. Using social proof in search engine ranking, Bing are more likely to provide a positive set of results to users, and continue to grow market share from those engines relying on keywords. Bringing this to my key point, if you want to have a top half, first page presence for your company’s website it will be increasingly important to have a good, positive social proof profile and that requires a social networking plan. If you don’t, then you may become the best kept secret out there, but that won’t pay the salary bill.
So, where can we impact our social proof, and how else do we use social media influence to grow our business?
A good place to start is within. We all employ people with knowledge, expertise, opinions and bright ideas. Sharing this in a global community influences the perception customers, potential customers and competitors have of our organisations. Encouraging people in your business to regularly blog on their subject area will promote your business and the individuals within them. Using Microblogging e.g. Twitter, Yammer etc., has a similar effect, creating influence in the market.
You do have to work hard to build at community of followers, so what you say has to be fresh and of value. This takes time, but commitment should pay off.
On the subject of twitter, it’s one thing writing tweets, but what are others saying about you? Constant monitoring of tweets should allow you to understand who is saying what. If a customer is dissatisfied with your service, they may share that with the world in a tweet. Often, you find influencers (people who regularly tweet about you), and by following them you can start to understand how to ensure their influence is positive – sometimes through direct contact or by tweeting a reply.
Using this kind of sentiment analysis to understand your profile and influencers can be easy when the tweets are few and far between, but if you are tweeted about regularly then software tools can be a great aid. You can compare yourself with your competitors. Recently, a waste management company in the UK was planning to build a new energy from waste plant, which was getting some local resistance from residents. When this happens, people no longer write to The Times, they use social networks to build support and share opinions.
Again, monitoring this activity allows you to understand the influencers and manage that to your advantage – this is a critical tool in your PR armoury. Equally, using social media to share good news e.g. the donation to the local football club or the new contract win, will have more impact than an advertorial in the local newspaper (if they still exist?).
If you want to attract the brightest and the best, it is very important to consider the perception potential recruits have of your organisation, and this initially will be done via your social media presence – they will look at your Facebook/twitter/blogs etc. sometimes before they find your traditional web-site.
Five actions to take to make social work for you
1) Plan where you are going to create your Social Proof
2) Encourage blogging to share your knowledge and become thought leaders in your industry
3) Monitor your own social sentiment scores and that of your competitors and act on it
4) Use your social presence to recruit the best
5) Change your plan, it will be out of date as soon as it’s written
The internet changed the world and social media is one of the biggest, if not the biggest impact it has had. As the pace of change continues to rise it is crucial that we keep up. If we don’t then we will suffer the same demise of the local newspapers. Download our social engagement whitepaper for more information.