The power of social media

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SummaryThe virtual medium can be an effective resource for developing online brand awareness, customer engagement and audience growth.

Varghese M Thomas

Social media’s usefulness as a marketing tool is widely known and exploited by businesses keen to demonstrate how ‘on trend’ and approachable they are. Used appropriately and with the right safeguards in place, social media can be an effective resource for enterprises in today’s interconnected world. The new medium is also providing cutting edge tools to professionals engaged in disseminating information about their company’s business activities.

Fact is, the process of creating and distributing information and knowledge has changed. Take an example of a press release of the new millennium: it is not plain text on paper; it can be a webpage or an email with links to videos, it can direct the reader to a Facebook page where interested communities are already interacting, it can ensure that the company information can go viral with embedded links to Twitter and provide access to additional information through links to slide decks on SlideShare. Amazing, isn’t it?

With the democratisation of media, it is possible to reach decision-makers and customers directly. It is easy to assume that social media is forcing communicators to reinvent themselves. In reality, social media is playing a far larger role: it is forcing communicators to go back to their roots.

A quick recap. Documents were the norm in the 80s which used to be sent out in a physical form. To hasten the process, fax machines were used. Towards the late 90s, e-mail became an alternative delivery method. Documents pertaining to company announcements, investor information, etc went as an attachment. But today’s professionals wake up to an entirely different scenario. There’s social media to contend with. It’s no more broadcast. It’s multimedia, images, tags, keywords, links, listening to your target audience and engaging them in conversations. A whole load of new tools have been added.

According to a study released by comScore, a global leader in measuring the digital world, called The State of Social Media, social networking is the norm for digital natives. The study, released in February 2012, said that more than half the online population across the world is engaged in social networking.

India, for example, showed that 95% of the online population is engaged in social networking; the figures for the US were 98%, Canada 94%, Brazil 97%, Spain 98%, UK 98%, Philippines 96%.

It isn’t surprising then that social media has had an impact on geopolitics in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. It has had a deep influence on the recently concluded US Presidential elections as well.

Experts believe that 75% of all online ads will become socially enabled by 2015 (today, 1 out of 12 display ads are socially enabled).

What most communication professionals do to remain socially active, to understand trends and leverage them along with traditional media such as print and television to multiply the impact of their message? There are three areas that are being transformed from a communications perspective. The first, and the most obvious, is the fact that professionals are writing fewer speeches for leaders, government officials, statesmen, business heads etc.

The second is an incredible improvement in the ability to gather information from social networks to craft effective communication strategies. It has become easier for professionals to listen to their audience and understand what the networks are discussing. The intelligence gathered in this manner helps transform the third area of communication that is personalisation. Mass, templated communication must be accompanied by personalised information and messages for different audiences and individuals, speaking to them round-the-clock in a language they understand and at networking locations they prefer.

It is clear that the opportunities being created by social media, leveraging new-age tools such as mobiles, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and so on, are rich, varied and effective. The art and practice of effective communication has become dynamic, more responsive and the results are more measurable.

The writer is a director at RIM (India)

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