What’s On

The business of social media: From blogs to DSS

The data reference that I have borrowed from DomoSphere in the first part of this series has shown that our audience is conveying what they are expecting from the brand/businesses. Before we discuss how marketers can maximise their digital ROI through social media, let us understand social media with the right definition.

Whether it is personal or professional communication and functioning – ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) that includes Internet and mobile based communications are increasingly becoming pervasive and integral to day-to-day functioning of our lives. It offers an unprecedented opportunity of connecting to each and every individual and design the communication structure accordingly to each person’s need. Such kind of structure can be defined and refined by both sender and receiver of communication. And this medium of communication is termed as social media as it is transforming the way in which people connect with each other and the manner in which information is disseminated and distributed.

The advent of social media is transforming the way in which people connect with each other and the manner in which information is shared and distributed. It is different from traditional media such as print, radio and television in two significant ways, first the amount of content that can be generated by the users themselves far exceeds the content generated by news/opinion makers and secondly, its ‘viral’ ability for potential exponential spread of information by word-of-mouth and interlinking of the various social media platforms; thereby considerably reducing the control over spread of any such information.

These characteristics denote the paradigm shift from Web 1.0 technologies that enabled simple information sharing the basic two-way transactions to Web 2.0, where everyone literally can consume as well as generate the content. Social media is redefining the way people communicate with one another with its critical characteristics. Let’s discuss these characteristics.

The 3 C’s of social media
Connectedness: This attribute showcases the medium’s ability to connect and re-connect like-minded people or people interested in same topics and domains. Through this media, 24×7 connectedness is possible through a variety of media and access devices including PCs, Laptops, mobile phones etc. Individuals re-tweeting and following peer groups/people’s comment and status and updating their own account in real-time are examples of this attribute.

Collaboration: The connections achieved on this medium enable people to collaborate and create knowledge. Such kind of collaborations can be either open or closed. Wikipedia is an example of open collaboration, which enables creation of an open web based encyclopedia through contribution from hundreds of thousands of people.

Community: Connectedness and collaboration helps create and sustain communities. These communities can create awareness about various issues and topics and can be used for seeking inputs for product preferences, service deliverables, likes, making policies, building goodwill or even seeking feedback into delivery of various services.

Types of social media
After the characteristics, let us understand the types of social media; in 2010 Andreas Kaplan and Haenlein classified social media into six different types – collaborative projects, blogs and microblogs, content communities, social networking sites, virtual game worlds and virtual social worlds.

Social Networking: Networking emphasises relationship initiation, often between strangers. In a network participants are not necessarily networking or looking to meet new people, instead they are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network. A social network is a social structure made up of individuals/organisations called ‘nodes’, which are connected (tied) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships or relationships of belief, knowledge or prestige.

As per the new age marketers, social networking is an online service that enables its users to create virtual networks with likeminded people akin to social networks in real-life. It offers the facilities such as chat, instant messaging, photo sharing, updates, DSS, video sharing, etc. Currently social networking sites are the most prominent version of social media; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. are the most well known social networking sites. What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks.

Blogs: Blogs are descriptive content pages created and maintained by individual users and contains text, photos and links to other websites. The major interactive feature of blogs is the ability of readers to leave comments and the comment trail can be followed.

Microblogs: Microblogs are similar to blogs with typical restrictions of 140 characters or less, which allow users to write and share content. Twitter is the most well-known micro blogging site and used by masses. Yammer is the micro blogging site for enterprises, which provides customisation for businesses as per their need, and Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012 paying US$1.2 Billion.

Vlogs and video sharing sites: Video blogs or Vlogs are blogging sites that mainly use video as the main form of content supported by text. YouTube is the largest video sharing site which is now owned by Google.

Wikis: Wiki is a collaborative website that allows multiple users to create and update pages on particular or interlinked subjects. While single page is referred to as wiki-page, the entire related content on that topic is called a ‘wiki’. Wikipedia is the pioneering site of this type of platform.

DSS: There are various types of document sharing sites (DSS) used for uploading content for enterprise information dissemination such as Slide share, Doc-Stoc, Scribd etc.

Social media has changed the relationship between companies and their customers, employees, investors, regulators and suppliers. This phenomenon has set the stage for a free flow of information and in some cases shortened processes that used to take days or weeks even months down to just minutes or hours. Many businesses and brands are using social media to:
– Strengthening their brand, customer loyalty and shaping public opinion
– Building new business models and new kinds of relationships with customers, employees, investors and other interested stake holders
– Boosting employee morale and improving internal communications
– Finding, attracting and retaining the best employees/talents
– Increasing efficiencies, communication and idea sharing between teams and departments on a glocal (global-local) scale

Social media has assumed a more powerful role in helping to shape buying behaviours, amplifying the volume, frequency and effect of word-of-mouth marketing and guerilla advertising. While social media users generally younger, the average age is increasing as more people with higher discretionary income and buying power go online. This trend is expected to continue as advances in technology amplify the impact of social media (various existing and emerging social media platforms and their network effects).

Consumers and internet users who have grown up in an environment saturated with social media, mobile computing and constant connectivity continue to gain financial influence and will increasingly leverage their new found power of control – pricing, product, selection, distribution and marketing efforts. For example – consumers today are instantly checking the cost of a desired item offered by competitor in different stores in different locations. By simply scanning a product barcode into their mobile device with various available apps, the consumer is shopping strictly by price. They are reading reviews, viewing product demonstrations and even discussing the product by accessing the appropriate community group.

In addition to the above opportunities that social media generates, there are also many challenges including data security, privacy concerns, regulatory and compliance requirements. Business/brand owners and marketers understand the importance of building and maintaining a brand, which can quickly become fragile and vulnerable to the millions of newly empowered consumers coming online everyday – all with a potential voice which is becoming stronger with every passing moment.

The social media elements that generate business opportunities for brands/businesses to extend their brands can also present risk. Reputational issues are at the top of the list of potential social media risks that can ultimately cause erosion of customer loyalty, market share and revenue (for example the current situation being faced by Nestle in India for Maggi noodles).

Consumers are able to create profiles and appear to communicate on behalf of a brand/business on popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram etc. This easy access is causing customer confusion and reputation at risk if policies and practices are not clearly defined and communicated. Brands/businesses wanting to avoid social media challenges by ignoring, limiting, restricting or prohibiting their use may slow down innovation and growth, allowing competitors to move ahead or have a stronger online presence.

Building relationships with customers that extend beyond their preference for products and services can offer the strategic social media advantage. In response to concerns, now-a-days many organisations are investing in holistic, enterprise-wide social media strategies that support efforts to protect and strengthen their brands and are flexible enough to accommodate constantly changing technologies.

Organisations can benefit greatly by having a well-established and devised strategy for using social media. An effective social media strategy should cross all organisational lines and embrace the concerns of all affected business functions including human resources (HR), information technology (IT), R&D, Customer Care, legal and above all – Marketing and sales departments, as well as customers, clients and suppliers.

It is also beneficial to have a decisive action plan to respond to any social media activities that can expose the organisation/brand to risk. Organisations caught ill prepared may risk the loss of customer confidence, share of voice/value and overall market reputation. Organisations with an integrated, holistic strategy and solid guidelines will be better equipped to survive rampant change and seize opportunities and brand/business owners need to understand where social media fits into their business objectives and how related risks are managed.

To understand the audience/user behavior, we need to analyse the social media data as we have discussed in the previous part that people are generating data every moment with their social conversations, social content consumption and so on. For marketers this represents a large stream of data, which can be analysed to deliver the brand/business’s demand for data-driven actionable insights and insights backed ideas. This validates the brand’s investment in social listening and monitoring, real time analysis, generation of actionable insights, crisis and reputation management etc.

Contextual analysis filters the data and the quality of insights generated from it needs to be actionable. The insights should shed lights on perception or behavior, which the brand has not addressed before and should fuel the creation of smart ideas.

While we are discussing the benefits, let us understand the technology that enables the social media platforms. On the client side are AJAX, Adobe Flash, Adobe Flesh work, Java Script/AJAX frameworks such as Dojo Toolkit Or JQuery. On the server side are PHP, RUBY, PERL, Python, JSP.

Facebook Technology
Let us understand the technology behind Facebook. It’s the largest user in the world of memcached, an open source caching system and has one of the largest MySQL database clusters anywhere. It is the most trafficked PHP site in the world. Lightweight but powerful multi language RPC framework that allows the platform to seamlessly and easily tie together subsystems written in any language, running on any platform. Facebook is built in PHP, C++, Perl, Python, Erlang and Java. It has created the custom-built search engine serving millions of queries an hour, completely distributed and entirely in-memory, with real time updates.

What is memcached?
Memcached is an in-memory key value store for small chunks of arbitrary data (strings & objects) from results of database calls, API calls or page rendering. It’s a free and open source, high performance, distributed memory object caching system, generic in nature but intended for use in speeding up dynamic web applications by alleviating database load. Memcached is simple yet powerful. Its simple design promotes quick deployment, ease of development, and solves many problems facing large data caches. Its API is available for most popular languages.

The new age marketers (social media marketers) need to play dual roles – one is people advocates and the other is Brand Advisors which means first understanding the consumers by listening to what they are consciously saying and pre-empting their needs in a respectful manner. People are telling the brands what they want. People are sharing their feedback, opinion and suggestions over many touch points (maximum are digital touch points) and they are expecting brands and businesses to listen and acknowledge it and change in response to their feedback, regardless of where it’s been shared. And they expect responses immediately and across multiple formats, for all screens where people can read it.

Consumers’ data footprint across social media platforms is pointing to their next steps. For brands and businesses the goal can be to lead engagement, increase loyalty, improve customer relations and to build a reputation. As the true advisors to the brand, the social media marketers need to find the matching points between consumers’ need and brand’s priorities by smartly analysing the data to get the actionable insights.

While designing the social media marketing strategies for brands from various industry verticals I have done extensive research to understand the consumers at different touch points and observed the following:
• Consumers expect their voice to be heard and acted upon. They want brands to add value to each of their exchanges and provide mobile and digital solutions that help make their lives simpler, easier and more enriched. It’s all about utility that matters to the consumers.
• Consumers appreciate when brands do that extra mile to offer personalised experiences and customised content on social media platforms to get that required network effects. Brands and businesses that can do this without appearing intruding are the ones that will win. It is resonance that matters.
• The millennials are getting used to receive things quickly and that’s how they like it. It is about real-time.
• With the social media platforms and their network effects, consumers are spoiled for choices today. They are willing to engage, but brands and businesses need to provide a win-win for the engagement for both the stakeholders. If there is no true motivation to be engaged, if the brand is not relevant to their needs and likes, consumers simply won’t get engaged. Hence it is relevance, that matters.

Technology changes rapidly buts humans don’t. Social media and social media networking science is an interdisciplinary field where the social part is intertwined with technological. Maslow’s hierarchy, RIBS and other similar models can help understand online user needs and be general guidelines for developing social media tools. Providing access and security should be the first and most important steps for building a community.

Extracting information from social networks requires planning head during the design stage. Relational data are required for social network analysis, which we will discuss in details in the next part of this series wherein we cover the social media listening and monitoring to collect data and the right analysis of the data to get the actionable insights.

Aroon Kumar

GM-Global Marketing, CRICHQ