The Effect of Social Media Upon Organizations

I was at a small business conference last week, and it was pretty exciting stuff.  One seminar dealt with social media and how you can incorporate this into your business.  Of course, your “business” might be a non-profit organization, and I think most of the same principles would apply.  So, if you don’t work, don’t belong to any clubs, don’t go to church, don’t donate to any charities and don’t hang out with any friends or family, then maybe this article won’t interest you.

First off, I’m not knocking traditional media.  People still listen to radio.  People still read magazines.  People still watch broadcast TV.  While the number of people who get their information primarily from these sources is dwindling, it should not be forgotten that some people still do use them as their primary means of gathering information.

There are different types of social media.  Different personality types and different audiences gravitate to different types of media.  I am hoping to post a couple of generic articles on these this week but tailor at least one specific article to tie it up in a neater bow at the end.  I hope to look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

What is social media?  You may not realize it, but you are engaging in it right now.  It is a medium that allows a two or more way conversation.

Traditional media is the “one-way” approach.  A company “broadcasts”, and you listen.  Sure, you can talk back to the TV set, but you might get strange looks from the kids.  You can yell at the radio (and considering some of the tripe on it, you probably aren’t alone), but the talking head on the other end cannot hear you.  A magazine ad might entice you to buy something, but the product advertisers won’t know that from direct feedback.

To circumvent this, you can use alternate means of communication.  A radio show might allow phone requests for songs, for example.  Advertisers spend a lot on market research.  TV has the Nielson ratings.  However, the point is none of this feedback is direct and using the media that presented the idea in the first place.

Social media changes all of that.  It allows direct feedback.  More importantly, it allows an entire group of people to join the conversation using that technology.  So, instead of setting up a telephone conference call for a radio panel (using two different technologies to offset the limitations of each alone), you can set up a chat room on the Internet where everybody can not only view the discussion but also type in questions and join in.

I’ve already mentioned chat rooms as a type of social media.  I’ve seen it in action at a large department in a corporation, and it allowed direct access to the C-level leader of that department.  You could get the scoop “straight from the horse’s mouth”.

When most think of social media, though, they think of Facebook.  Facebook receives a lot of attention not only because it is the new kid on the block, but Facebook also has grown beyond many people’s expectations.  MySpace and Facebook really started putting the “social” into social networking.  Facebook even emphasizes the relational aspect by using the term “friend” to establish a link with someone.

LinkedIn, however, emphasizes “connections”.  Since LinkedIn is more of a professional network, “friend” really isn’t the concept they would like to emphasize.

That doesn’t mean businesses aren’t using Facebook.  In fact, Facebook is quickly becoming the place to setup a page for your business, school, church or other organization.  It is probably the fastest growing advertising space currently, and it has the potential to reach millions of people (perhaps more when you consider the networking aspect of social media).

Blogs, like the one you are reading, are also social media.  A blog article allows those with similar interests to make comments.  Comments can be made to comments, etc.

Forums (aka discussion boards) are very similar.  Anyone can start a topic (if they are a member at least), and others will respond to the topic.  These are good for asking for expert advice and soliciting answers from others.  Some support organizations use forums so that purchasers can ask questions about the product.

If you will notice, the main difference between a blog and a forum is who can start a topic.  A blogger is usually someone versed in the topic of discussion and takes on the role of an “expert” in a given topic.  This role may be established by credentials, leadership role or by reputation (which may the type of content they publish on a subject).  The expert publishes articles of interest for others to comment on (some of which may be “you are no expert”).  However, an “original poster” (OP) on a forum is usually seeking advice from others.  Of course, anyone, expert or not, can answer.  In either case, poster beware, at least until someone establishes what their level of expertise is.

Search engines can vary between blogs and forums depending upon how the search is phrased.  For example, “what is alureon?” brings back Google listings starting with wikis and then blog-style entries.  Finally, it lists forums.  However, if you type in “alureon virus”, the list becomes a lot more top-heavy with forums.  That little tid-bit might help you out if you aren’t getting the results you’d like to see.

All of these media can be used effectively by organizations to promote products and services.  That includes non-profits, of course, as they have a service to “sell” to people.  However, the way you sell might be quite different in the social media context because it is a “social” network, emphasis upon the “social”.

Now, if I see an ad on TV that I like, I might tell a friend about it.  The ad itself might not have that large of an impact unless/until my friend sees it, though.  A magazine ad might have more individual impact because I can give the physical magazine to my friend and show them the ad.  But, the impact then is limited to the one physical object being passed around.

Social media does not suffer from these physical boundaries.  I can post a link to the original ad.  I can email the link to the original ad.  I might even be able to email, PM, post the ad itself – unaltered – to someone or on somewhere else.  I can make as many copies of the ad and/or link as I desire.  I don’t have to describe the ad to you; you can see it yourself!  I’m not limited to the physical media because there isn’t any!

Have you heard of something “going viral”?  That’s exactly what I’m talking about!  What if you owned a seed business?  What if you posted a short documentary on how you grow and package your seeds on YouTube (another type of social media, BTW)?  What if everyone who watched it sent the link to 5 people and 3 of them watched it?  How long would it take to cover the globe?

Whether you are trying to spread the Gospel, sell a product or even just promote your organization, social media can and does have a powerful impact.  Does your organization use it and use it effectively?  Does your organization even understand how to use it and why?

Hopefully, you have a better idea now of why.  Next time, we will look more closely at how it is different.

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