Shut Up & Listen! Or…Can Social Media Be Risky Business?

Web 2.0 has been the foundation for the rapid expansion of social media and its global adoption. Businesses have seen new technology through the internet, along with mobile, reshape and even create whole new markets. There is no denying Pandora’s box is open but as platforms for social collaborating, communication and sharing expand worldwide should every business be using them? There are huge positives for business large and small and their brands being present in social media. However like anything there are also negatives attached to placing yourself or your business into the public arena in this manner. In fact there are real dangers that a business must consider before and when they get ‘social.’

Understanding Your Brand
Most business have spent a great deal of thought and time in developing their brand, in the case of a large multinational companies perhaps several brands. The intellectual capital invested in these brands can be worth a huge amount and connecting them to any and all social networks could have disastrous results. It’s key for businesses to understand that every social network has its own distinct mix of users, technology, and style which can appeal to certain demographics more than others. Is a microblogging site such as Twitter the right place for a funeral home to interact with its customers? Does it enhance its brand and create trust with potential clients? For example, according to a recent Business Insider report Twitter is beginning to skew towards male users. The same reports states the Facebook has remained predominantly female. If you were a cosmetic brand such as Revlon, understanding the dynamics of each social media network is paramount to having the right conversation with the right tone. This is not to say that organisations you would not normally expect to have a strong social media presence are not seeing and taking advantage of the potential reach that these platforms have. The NZ Police have 11 Twitter accounts currently and have a targeted social media approach that has given a new spin on the traditional country cop.

Ello Ello Ello! The Many NZ Police Twitter Accounts

Ello Ello Ello! The Many NZ Police Twitter Accounts.

There is no doubt that most businesses see the instant allure of jumping in to the social network pool. But they need to be wary of the type of splash they are going to make. Businesses need to be aware of the trust they place on the line when they enter the social network arena, along with the brand reputation that goes with this. Researching and understanding the demographic and style of each network will allow your business to have the appropriate conversations with your customers, delivering the right message at the right time. Which leads us nicely into the next point.

Controlling The Conversation
Probably the biggest risk that most companies overlook  is that social media creates an ongoing conversation with the public, sometimes in real-time. This is not a call a response medium such as radio TV advertisement. To often businesses fail to recognize the two-way nature of these networks and the ability for the public flip an idea on its head. A great example of this, which shows the exact opposite of the experience for the NZ Police, was 2014 campaign across Twitter create by the New York Police dept.  The NYPD called for its followers to upload photographs of themselves and NYPD officers and attach the hashtag #myNYPD. The idea was to show New Yorker’s that the NYPD was a positive and community focused police force. What happened is completely the opposite. Due to bubbling tension between members of the public and some high-profile events involving alleged police brutally. The campaign was transformed into a deluge of poster uploading images of the NYPD using what they considered excessive force.

Not the sort of #myNYPD image they had hoped for.

Not the sort of #myNYPD image they had hoped for.

This is a real lesson for any business that it must carefully consider how or whether it can control the conversation. Not to mention what they will do if they cannot. Simply blocking users or removing post may not be the best policy as the US chain Applebees found out. But sometimes a negative can be turned into a positive. Many companies have used the social media disaster of one company to promote themselves. Recently rapper Iggy Azalea started a Twitter feud with Papa John’s pizza due to a driver giving out here phone number. Rival brand DiGiorno managed to use this PR storm to their advantaged and quickly swooped on the attention. As with all social media, business must remind themselves that these platforms are communities full of collaboration through content and context. Your business must understand this and prepare accordingly.

Governance (security, IP, Employees, legal, automation, hacks)
The last component of risk to cover is Governance, perhaps seen as the easiest. But again looks can be deceiving and many a business has fallen into the trap on not addressing these issues. For a large or even small business their social media presence is in the hands of individuals, sometimes a group or perhaps just one. Whatever the case, the complex areas of IT security, intellectual property protection, automation, free speech and company policies all need to be addressed to ensure that you handle your social media effectively. It is key that a business establishes what its social media policy is up front. This will mean a robust set of internal rules and guidance of who your social media presence is to be implemented. What can and cannot be posted and what the procedure is to deal with specific situations, from angry customers all the way to natural disasters and crisis situations. Along with this business need to understand that employees may well have their own social media presence and that this can place the business in the public eye by associating so policies need to address this too. This may seem like over kill but to often recently businesses have been pulled into social network meltdowns due to employees.

L'Oreal thought it was onto a social media winner.

L’Oreal thought it was onto a social media winner.

During the World Cup held in Brazil in 2014 Cosmetics company L’Oreal jumped aboard a viral piece of social media, as the image of an attractive Belgium fan went worldwide. A modelling contract was swiftly offered and social networks excitedly shared the good luck story. However things turned sore when the young woman posted pictures of herself on an African big game safari, to which the public turned on her for hunting endangered animals. L’Oreal had to move quickly to distance itself from the furore and ending up cancelling her contract and making donations to animal welfare organisations.

However one posted picture can change everything

However one posted picture can change everything

As well as these perhaps ‘unfortunate’ incidents. Businesses must be wary of risk of more premeditated problems. With both employee action and outside hacks being very real dangers that need to be covered of with IT security and internal practices.

In summary social networks offer both large and small business a real opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with their customers and the general public. But in doing so they do open themselves up to the two-way nature of the platform, along with the exchange of control as people respond, share, collaborate and comment through social networks. Balancing the aspects of this and maintaining trust is crucial to an effective and successful social network strategy.

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What is Blogging? Or…I Blog Therefore I Am?

Some people would say it’s a fairly simple question to answer. What is a Blog? Is it a Bulgarian log? Perhaps it’s the next letter along from ‘A’log? What ever you thought it was at the start of reading this, hopefully by then you will know a bit more about what blogs and blogging is.

If we want to go right back to the very beginning of it all we have to head back to 1994 when it is widely accepted that the first bog was created by Swarthmore student Justin Hall, Links.net. It was a basic site where the author could post his thoughts to the world. In fact it has not changed much in the years since its inception and you can still visit Justin’s writings in its form today. Making Links.net the oldest blog in history to date. It wasn’t until 1997 that the term “Weblog” for “logging the Web,” was uttered by another online writer Jorn Barger. finally this was shortened to the term we all know today “blog” by the programmer Peter Merholz.

Justin Hall creator of the first blog in 1994. Image: Joi Ito (flickr)

Justin Hall creator of the first blog in 1994. Image: Joi Ito (flickr)

Blogging has become one of the most widely accepted and used internet presences of our time, with current estimates of up to  200 million blogs currently. One popular blogging platform WordPress, which is a service that allows people to create and host there now blogs (in fact just like this one!) states it has, “409 million people viewing more than 15.5 billion pages each month.” Just on those figures alone you can get an understanding of just how powerful a medium blogging has become in the fabric of social media networks.

Adwords

Adwords – Created a flood of new bloggers.

But where does this all fit in the world of business? Can a blog be a business and can blogs or blogging help businesses? To answer the first question first. Undoubtably a blog can be a business. From the inception of the internet and the rise of the ability to post ones thoughts on a blog. There has been people who have gained huge audiences for their writings, some have already been business people in the example of Seth Godin. While others have turned their blogs into their business and reinvented their lives completely, such as Leo Babauta. A massive step forward for all of this to be possible was Google’s creation of AdWords in 2003. This allowed anyone to place advertising on their site through Google’s platform and potentially monetize their writing and audience.

It was obvious by now that blogs could be a business and with this several new companies were formed. In 2002 Gizmodo is launched and later that year Gwaker becomes the internet blog of choice for gossip. And in 2005 we see the birth of the online news blog Huffington Post. All of these business have gone on to become more than just simple blogs and now spread themselves across technology, news and human interest. But what hasn’t changed is the post and comment style of blogging itself. It is this ability to connect to so many people in an intimate one to one nature that makes blogs an appealing outlet for businesses to give their voice into the world-wide web.

This leads us to the next question, should your business blog? Like all things in the world of social media networks and the internet, just because it is there does not necessarily mean that you should use it. As with all other businesses decisions there needs to be a strategy and a plan as to who to use a blog to help your business. A blog is really another part of your marketing mix. It may be functional and information. It might be personal and candid. It may even be offbeat and irreverent. But it should always reflect the values of your brand. Blogs like other forms of social media networks create a unique opportunity to connect with your customers, add to your profile to attract new business and influence others. The company Priceonomics consistently creates a stir with its blogs to its customers, with titles like “Are one star reviews for assholes.” Equally however a company can do itself real damage if it fails to understand the power of a business blog. Just posting press releases no longer cuts it in todays rampant social media world.

Maybe interesting to some?

Maybe interesting to some?

Hopefully now you know a little more about where blogs came from, what business can do with them and maybe even something you want to blog about yourself. So don’t just sit there…Blog!

Social Media Vs. Social Networks. Or…Everything is Social, Right?

Human beings are social animals, so it is probably no surprise that at the moment wherever you turn there seems to be social ‘this’ and social ‘that’ but what does it all really mean? The terms you probably hear the most are Social Media and Social Networks. Although they sound very similar it is important to know that the two terms are not interchangeable. They do have some shared characteristics but they are not the same thing.

Social Media is the content that we choose to share to those around us. In the times before the internet this may have been sharing a Polaroid of a holiday beach snap with your coworker. Now with the power of the internet and personal computing, coupled with devices such as laptops, mobile phones and digital camera’s. A person can post a pic, upload a song, change a status and write a blog. All of which is part of the concept of social media and the share of it with our friends and family and perhaps even strangers. Put simply social media  is communication + publishing. The internet has combined all of these aspects with networking platforms to give us a new way of engaging, with what we now referred to as ‘Social Media Networks.’

How Social Media Has Bridged The Gap Between P2P and Mass Communication

How Social Media Has Bridged The Gap Between P2P and Mass Communication

Social networks have been around for a long time in fact perhaps as far back as humanity itself. The internet did not invent the concept of social networks. Once humans began to group and those groups began to hold certain characteristics, hierarchies and exclusivity the idea of networking between or inside them came to the fore. Churches, sporting teams, business seminars can all be seen as an example of social networks well before the first PC ever rolled out. It is however the explosion of the internet that created the idea of an online social network and networking. But as people’s ability to move beyond just communicating with one another accelerated, pushing into publishing and media. These new networks have become the platforms for which social media has found its widest audience. So much so that we rarely now refer to them as such, generally we view everything user-generated online as social media regardless of where it came from.

Our Use of Each Term Has Changed Over Time (courtesy of Google Trends)

Our Use of Each Term Has Changed Over Time (courtesy of Google Trends)

Looking at the proliferation of social media it’s easy to see that our abilities to interact are changing rapidly as technologies improve. However even at this stage there are a certain type of social media and the social networks that it is shared though that can be sorted into categories. For social media probably the most common are:

  1. Blogging – Just like this site you are reading, where a user can post information, thoughts or opinions and others can read or comment e.g WordPress, Blogger
  2. Microblogging – Much like the above but the information is restricted as in 140 characters for twitter. e.g Twitter, Path
  3. Social bookmarking – This is where users can bookmark tag information on the web and share rank and collabroate.e.g. Digg, Reddit
  4. Media Sharing – Users can upload video for others to view and share e.g. Youtube, Hulu, Vimeo
  5. Broad Content Sharing – Used for the posting of a more wide source of content like presentation decks, graphics and journals e.g. Scribd, Slideshare
  6. Forums – Allow for groups to use a hive mind concept to offer solutions and advice e.g. Yahoo Answers, metafilter
  7. Social News – Services that allow people to post news items or links and then allows them to be ranked and voted on. e.g. Digg, Reddit.

As you can see already each of these types of social media already have several social networks to provide a platform for this interaction. They generally can be classified as Personal networks, which predominately lean towards interaction with friends and family. Content sharing networks which tend to move fluidly between the spaces of private and public, personal and professional. And finally shared interest communities, again both personal and professional but they tend to be tightly focussed on a particular niche interest that all participants will share. Just looking at the types of social media available and then the networks that it can be linked up with shows how vast this area has already become. Looking at the diagram below gives a snapshot of the every changing universe of social media networks.

The Multitude of Social Media and Their Networks.

The Multitude of Social Media and Their Networks.

All of these services, apps and sites hold varying amounts of people with very diverse characteristics. All of which will hold some value to a business or businesses somewhere. This is the appeal to companies not only launching and controlling these social media networks but also to those just wanting to benefit from the social media interactions that these groups of individuals and networks provide. The key for any user of business to understand is the distinction between the two. Social networks have and will also exist so long as people gravitate towards each other and the relationships this brings. The content we create as part of these links has found a new avenue to be shares not only with friends and family but with people all over the world, powered through the internet and Social Media Networks that continue to evolve, rise and fall. Just like the Radio, moved us forward, from print and Tv forward from radio. Social media networks and the internet will bring new opportunities for people to collaborate, businesses to reach customers and boundaries to be expanded. Understanding each’s subtle differences opens up each platforms unique audience.