Social Media: How to Embrace the Worldwide Phenomena & Harness Its Power (Part 2)

Part 2: What is Social Media, Exactly, and How Do I Use It?

“Social media” is a broad term for numerous technologies and tools. Here is a brief list of what falls under the social media umbrella.

Social Networking – Websites that help people build a community of friends and share information like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace.

Blogs – Personal web logs written by someone passionate and knowledgable about a subject with the goal of sharing their views, interests, expertise with the world and connecting with a community of readers who take part in the conversation by commenting on the author’s posts.

Video and photo sharing – Websites like YouTube, Flickr and PhotoBucket that simplify the process of sharing and commenting on videos and photos.

Chat rooms, forums and message boards – Online meeting places where people can discuss topics of interest that anyone can put forward.

Listservs – Similar to a forum, but messages are sent out by mass email to registered subscribers.

Wikis – Websites that anyone can edit and update such as Wikipedia, Scholarpedia, Wikibooks and ZineWiki.

Social bookmarking – Sites that allow users to organise, store, manage and search online references. They also allow users to suggest content to others and “vote” on what is interesting like Digg, Newsvine, Reddit and Yahoo! Buzz.

The best way to think about social media is not to focus on the tools themselves, but how to use them to communicate directly with your consumers in places they are congregating right now.

The Internet has become another facet of everyday life where people constantly interact. Rather than just the traditional sense of community, there is now an online community as well. Think of Facebook as the communal pub or company water cooler, of CraigsList as the bulletin board at your corner store and of your website as your shopfront.

The best way to approach any one of these situations is to compare it to its traditional equivalent and then apply the same social norms, techniques and rules of engagement.

For instance, do you walk into an unfamiliar networking event and immediately start shouting “BUY MY PRODUCT!” while grabbing every business card you can get your hands on without having a conversation with anyone? No. You may be able to stay afloat with such aggressive advertising techniques, but it won’t make you popular. And, like it or not, it all boils down to a popularity contest.

The popular people on the networking circuit build a loyal community around them which expands organically as people who like you introduce you to their friends, and those friends introduce you to their friends, and so on. Not every single relationship will directly translate into a sale or business deal, but more valuable interactions lead to more business opportunities. Social media offers you another set of platforms through which to build a loyal community around your brand.

As with other advertising efforts, social media strategies are largely trial and error. But, savvy business leaders can glean information from both the successes and failures.

Click here for Part 3: 7 General Guidelines to Keep in Mind When Adopting a Social Media Strategy.

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Allison Baker is the Co-Founder of HireMeUp.com.au and has extensive experience as a social media strategist and marketing consultant.

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