“Social media” is an umbrella term that includes web-based software and services that bring users together online and allow them to exchange ideas, discuss issues, communicate with one another, and participate in many other forms of social interaction. With the proliferation of different forms of social media, such as blogs, forums, audio-visual sharing sites, personal networking sites, and professional networking sites, consumers are constantly bombarded with many marketing messages
Social media is important to every business that has a web presence as it can help drive traffic to the company’s website and ultimately increase sales leads and conversions. As well, different social media platforms are more likely to reach certain target audience segments, and messaging can be customized for each platform.
The various models of social media-enabled sharing are of the following content types:
- Blogs—Blogs are content created by individuals, groups, or companies to express their opinions, or provide information or insights on specific topics of their choice. The most popular blogs choose topics that are of interest to a large community. However, niche blogs catering to a certain targeted audience can be successful if they dominate the share of voice in that particular subject area. Successful blogs have something interesting, useful, or creative to share, and do that sharing with an engaging style. Blogs may contain images, infographics, or videos in addition to text. In most cases, they are also open to comments from readers. From a company’s perspective, a blog or Rich Site Summary (RSS) feed is an effective means for updating actual or prospective customers of happenings related to the company or the company’s products. RSS feeds use standard web feed formats to publish blog posts and syndicate data automatically. RSS feeds benefit users who want to receive timely updates from favorite websites or to aggregate data from many sites.
- Discussion Forums—These are websites used for discussing issues related to a specific topic. Participants in such forums may be asked to register. They are encouraged to ask each other questions, answer questions, and share information. Many forums allow participants to rate each other’s contributions, enabling contributors to build their reputations over time. Some discussion forums may be hosted and moderated by the company, in which case, the company would have some influence on the content of the discussion. In other cases, discussion forums are independent of a company; however, companies should be aware of popular discussion forums in which their products may be discussed and make an effort to respond to customers within those forums.
- Professional Networking Sites—These sites relate to people, groups, or companies sharing professional updates, content, and discussions generally related to an organization, a company, a product, or a profession. These sites are used to build an individual’s personal brand as well as to raise awareness of businesses’ brands and their products or services within the online community. Companies share such professional updates for various purposes, such as sharing product launch information, communicating offers and discounts, announcing changes in policies, and sharing media coverage. Relevant and engaging updates can help companies build and retain a loyal base of customers.
- Social Networking Sites—These are posts that pertain to people or groups sharing personal updates about themselves or about a topic. These updates are generally shared with friends, relatives, or acquaintances, but they may also be shared with the general public. A company needs to create content or share updates that are relevant, interesting, or entertaining enough for people to share with their personal network, and the content shared should also align with the marketing objectives for a product or brand. Therefore, businesses should focus their social networking site updates on useful and interesting information on subjects related to the company’s product or brand. This channel provides the opportunity for companies to share their brand personality and advertise company events, sales, and discount coupons. The focus of these updates should be on fun and engaging shareable content. Also, companies that have a high level of brand loyalty and where customers relate to the brand strongly may find customers voluntarily creating content or experiences related to the brand, or sharing the brand’s updates.
- Video Sharing Sites—This activity relates to sharing videos, audio, infographics, or images with other people. Such content can be shared with any person or group. In most social media channels that are focused on sharing such content, people can vote on or rank audio-visual content or add their comments. Thus, these channels integrate the discussion forum element into audio-visual sharing. For example, on YouTube—a social media channel for sharing videos—users can “like” or “dislike” a video, comment on the video, and reply to each other’s comments. Companies can use such channels very effectively as videos, images, and audio can have a much larger impact on the target market than text updates. Many companies invest in creating engaging and interesting videos about their products, which sometimes become extremely popular and drastically increase brand visibility. Some also create melodies around their product, which can become as popular as songs in their own right or as ringtones for mobile phones.
The features and functionality of social media platforms are constantly evolving as lesser-used functionality is removed and replaced by new functionality. It is critical for the digital marketing team to be up-to-date on the latest trends in social media and to understand how other organizations use social media to their advantage. Marketers also need to be aware of paid opportunities within social media marketing such as sponsored updates and ads, as well as earned opportunities to disseminate marketing messages by organically building followers. Often, a combination of paid and earned campaigns yields the best results.
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