“Social Media” are “online sites that allow and encourage interaction.” These interfaces are vastly different from traditional marketing messages that consist entirely of one-way communication used by businesses to advertise or promote their products to consumers. Social media involves open conversations in which consumers are also communicating with businesses and other consumers.
Social networking services provide a way for people to build and maintain online social relationships by sharing opinions, events, and various interests with each other. When a business becomes part of someone’s social network, its online communications can be viewed by other people in that person’s network, which can start a chain of conversations that can positively affect the business.
There are many social networking sites devoted to online communication, and they fall into the following categories:
* Blogs: the word “blog” is a shortened version of the term “web log.” These are websites that are usually created and maintained by an individual and can take various forms ranging from commentaries and descriptions of events to personal diaries. The sites are designed for readers to post their own comments or questions, which are viewable by both the author and other readers. The term “blog” can also be used in verb form, referring to writing or updating material. WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal, and TypePad are some of the most popular blogging sites.
* Microblogs are similar to blogs but have smaller, briefer messages. A microblog may be limited to less than 300 characters and can link to other websites. Twitter is currently the most popular microblogging site, but Tumbler, Posterous, Jaiku, and Plurk are alternative options.
* Social networking sites incorporate various types of communication. While Facebook is currently the most famous and most popular social networking site, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Flirtomatic have also gained large followings.
* Multimedia sites allow users to share photographs and videos. This data can be tagged and arranged so that others can easily search through the media. YouTube, Viddler, and Vimeo are popular video-sharing websites. Flicker, deviantArt, and Picasa are popular photograph- and art-sharing sites.
* Geosocial networks take advantage of GPS technology to get people to submit their location data so their friends can see which establishments they are visiting. Businesses can reward customers who frequently “check-in” at their location. Gowalla, foursquare, and BrightKite are some of the geosocial networks available.
For businesses, social networks can greatly assist in goal attainment. For example, social media can make consumers more aware of the existence of a business, which can lead to more sales. Service goals can be met using social media as well, since customers can ask questions and receive responses almost immediately. Although harder to measure, social media can be used to meet engagement goals as well. Customer loyalty and trust are crucial to sustaining profits, and the ability to create dialogue with consumers allows businesses to develop and increase trust.
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