Wait ... Isn't This the Same as Social Networks?

Your Questions Answered: Social Media

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Social networks are just one kind of social media. There are lots of others, such as blogs, wikis, video sharing and peer-to-peer networks, ratings systems, consumer reviews and micro-blogging tools. Some of this stuff is rather important, so we figured it needed its own entry.

BLOGS -- I'VE HEARD OF THEM. BUT THEY'RE PRETTY NICHE, RIGHT?

No such luck. Blogging is a phenomenon that's here to stay. There are more than 100 million blogs out there -- with an estimated 13 million actively updated. And while many are written by individuals, marketers are discovering that not only is blogging a valuable way to disseminate information, à la the Fastlane blog by General Motors' Bob Lutz, but also that ignoring them can be a big mistake, à la Jeff Jarvis and his Dell Hell tale or our own Bob Garfield's blasting of Comcast.

OK, SO I HAVE TO GET DOWN WITH BLOGS. BUT HOW THE HELL DO I DO THAT?

Blogs are cheap to start -- free, in fact, if you use a tool such as Blogger or WordPress. However, for marketers, it's a better idea to first do the back-end work of research to decide what they want to accomplish, what they want to say and how they'll say it. You'll also need to either appoint or hire someone to write and monitor the blog posts and responses. Nothing is worse than a half-assed blog with infrequent updates and little customer relevance or connecting.

DOES THAT ALWAYS WORK? WHAT ABOUT THE DISASTER STORIES?

Nothing always works, and blogs have seen their share of disasters. Fake blogs, also called flogs, set up by companies such as Wal-Mart, Coke, McDonald's and Sony have been some of the worst disasters, as many irate customers quickly took up brand bashing across the internet. Other blog nightmares, like the above-mentioned Jeff Jarvis' Dell Hell story at BuzzMachine.com, occur when companies ignore customer complaints.

WHAT IS SMO?

SMO stands for "social-media optimization" and, much like SEO (search-engine optimization), it's a way for brands to get a leg up in the online world -- in this case -- of social media.

WHAT IS THE GROUNDSWELL?

Groundswell is both a theory and an upcoming book by Forrester Research analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The idea is that consumers' growing web participation and interaction, aka social media, has created a groundswell of customers with the power to make, break, create and cripple brands via widespread social interactions. Ms. Li and Mr. Bernoff advise companies to embrace the opportunities in the groundswell and adopt customer-centric thinking.

AND JUST WHAT ARE THOSE OPPORTUNITIES FOR COMPANIES IN SOCIAL MEDIA?

The Forrester analysts summarized some of those as opportunities to "generate research insights, extend the reach of marketing, energize sales efforts, cut support costs and stoke the innovation process" in a recent MIT Sloan Management Review article. There is the oft-discussed value of using social media as an ad network to get messages in front of very targeted audiences; however, that promise has been largely unfulfilled and many believe it to be a nascent, and maybe never dominant, value.

AND MICRO-BLOGGING? IS THAT THE TWITTER HYPE?

Twitter is a social application that answers one question: "What are you doing?" Users sign up and regularly post their answers, called "tweets," with one line that can either be seen by friends or by the general web public. Users and followers can access the info at the site or by mobile device. Fans love the one-to-many efficient broadcast ability; detractors complain about one more "have-to-do" of social media and question the necessity of the mostly trivial one-way blasts.

LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING SOCIAL MEDIA ISN'T WORTH THE INVESTMENT FOR MARKETERS. WHY?

Social media is not, as yet, a great ad network, and it probably isn't a great long-term traffic generator or brand builder. One of the biggest problems of social media is there is a lot of it. For every well-visited Digg or YouTube , there are hundreds more barely seen sites by groups complaining about boring jobs or posting videos of their "funny" cats. The value of social media is company-specific. For some, it will be market research. For others, crisis intervention and communication or competitive intelligence. The trick is finding the best fit(s) for your brand.
Numbers rounded. Source: Forrester Research's 'U.S. Interactive Marketing Forecast, 2007 to 2012,' Oct. 2007
For U.S. home, work and university locations. 1. In January, 122 million U.S. internet users visited a social-media site. Source: comScore Media Metrix

CASE STUDY

Why would a TV station share ad revenue for commercials sold by its own staff and placed alongside its proprietary content? Normally, it wouldn't. When you're trying to spark a presence online, however, the old rules don't always apply. CBS is launching an ad initiative for its local stations with news operations that calls for them to share a portion of ad revenue with local bloggers and web operators who feature segments of their programming on their sites.
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The content will be featured via the online content-distribution tool known as a widget, which has been gaining popularity on the internet in recent months. The idea, said Jonathan Leess, president of the CBS Television Stations digital-media group, is to "create a local ad network in each of our markets and expand the audience and expand the advertiser's reach."

HERE'S HOW IT WORKS: CBS-owned stations will syndicate local-news widgets to a variety of blogs and web publishers who focus on very local topics and audiences relevant to each station's viewers. Each widget features a link to a top local-news video or story from the CBS station's website with a companion banner ad. The stations can provide a real-time feed to constantly change and update the featured stories in each widget 24 hours a day.

The gambit is one sign of the new fight local TV stations face. With more consumers moving online, and more broadcast networks finding ways to distribute popular scripted comedies and dramas in digital fashion, local TV stations face being left in the lurch.

"They are having a tougher time than usual. ... In the '70s and early '80s, the only place to advertise was on television if you wanted video advertising," said Mark Fratrik, vice president of BIA Financial Network, a broadcasting-industry consultant. Now, "consumers have access to an unlimited source of video entertainment and information, so broadcasters face more competition." The outlook for spot, or local-TV ad spending, is choppy, according to Zenith Optimedia Group: there was a 3% jump in spending in 2008, thanks to political elections, and declines of 1% each in 2009 and 2010.

The CBS effort might be a way to compete with Google, suggested Mark Henneges, media director at Studiocom, an Atlanta-based interactive agency owned by WPP Group that he said has had conversations with CBS about the widget project.

A national advertiser can place a banner ad on a portal or a major media site and be done with it. But gaining the attention of a local audience often means building reach by placing ads across many sites. The CBS widget could allow smaller advertisers "to have a bigger reach in the local areas," said Vivian Herron, a digital-media planner at Interpublic Group's Hill Holliday, who has helped partner her client Liberty Mutual with CBS's Boston station WBZ.
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