Time to get real about social media

SimonGeneral0 Comments

As a blogger, podcast listener and active participant in many social media conversations, it’s easy to forget that I don’t operate in the mainstream. While a trackback or mash-up makes sense to me, I’d venture that most marketers and public relations practictioners wouldn’t know their pings from their podcasts.

So this is my call to action for all marketers and public relations people. Wake up – social media is here, and now is the time to start experimenting and see how these rapidly evolving tools can be part of your communications mix.

Big businesses and leading marketing agencies are entering the space in the UK. Even the UK government is dipping its toe into the social media space. Check out the great Social Media Report for a good collection of useful information on social media developments.

The basics – what is social media?

Wikipedia provides a good background definition:

“Social media describes the online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives with each other. Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video. Popular social mediums include blogs, message boards, podcasts, wikis, and vlogs.”

I’d add that social media is characterised by conversations – dialogues between participants, both between originators and message recipients, and between message recipients. The medium is defined by these multi-way interactions, and for the communicators this is where the value is. Social media allows organisations to communicate their messages, receive feedback, and then respond directly to this feedback.

Networking is inherent in social media. The practice of linking from one piece of content to another is how social networks form, and how social media networks can drive a low profile piece of independent content to a heavily consumed piece of well-networked content.

The other key component in social media is user generated content. Social media tools give users a platform to create, share and develop their content, whether it’s the written word, audio or video.

Media consumption is changing

A recent report by Ofcom confirmed that a radical shift in UK media consumption is underway:

The Report reveals striking evidence that a new ‘networked generation’ is turning away from television, radio and newspapers in favour of online services , including downloadable content – used on multiple devices such as iPods and mobile phones – and participation in online communities.

Television is of declining interest to many 16-24 year olds; on average they watch television for one hour less per day than the average television viewer.. .instead, the internet plays a central role in daily life; more than 70% of 16-24 year old internet users use social networking websites (compared to 41% of all UK internet users) and 37% of 18-24 year olds have contributed to a blog or website message board (compared to 14% of all UK internet users)…

…Extensive use of the internet has also influenced 15-24 year olds’ consumption of other media. Their radio listening is lower, by an average of 15 minutes a day compared to the wider population; additionally, 27% of those surveyed said they read newspapers less as a consequence of their online usage.

So by not employing social media in a marketing and public relations mix you’re making it harder to reach the networked generation. Yes they can be reached by traditional channels, but their main communications channel is social media. They naturally gravitate to these channels, so if you want to reach them you must to.

And it’s not just the 16-24 networked generation who are on the move. Even among middle-aged audiences use of television is declining in favour of the internet.

This trend means audiences are fragmented in a big way. Audience share for the traditional big TV channels is in decline. Niche audiences are the way forward, served initially by the explosion of choice from digital television, radio and online.

New technology has made accessing niche audiences within the financial and technical reach of anyone with a computer. Witness the breadth of podcasts available on the internet – many serve really tight niche audiences that could never be viably reached through radio or other traditional media.

And availability of technology means most people with a mobile phone have a tool in their pocket that can produce basic video or pictures for online distribution. The barriers to entry in the new media landscape are virtually non-existent.

The proliferation of blogs, podcasts, vidcasts and other user generated media means the competition for audience is intense. To be effective as a communicator in this space you need to ensure you target your audience and remain relevant, interesting and interactive – nothing new there then.

Now is definitely the time to start experimenting with social media tools for mainstream marketing and public relations. It’s easy to try and those who learn and refine the tools for their campaign objectives will be those who ride the curve most effectively. Use of social media tools is exploding, and will soon be as everyday as email or instant messaging.

So have I convinced you? Why not test out one of these tools now? Just by trying one out yourself you will appreciate the power of networked social media content.

When I started to get into this space I made a conscious effort to explore these new channels. Mack Collier has a great list of top ranking social media sites that are worth a look.

I’ll get off my social media high horse now. I’ve had one of those days where I feel the need to encourage my fellow professionals to seize this opportunity and make the most of it. So as I have a blog, I could and I did. And I now feel much better about it too. Thanks for bearing with me.

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