I remember when I activated my Facebook page and joined the online social media world. I was a senior in college and had just been accepted to the Elon University class of 2007. At the time, Facebook was only open to those with a “.edu” email address. While it would soon be opened to all, this was my first chance to see what all my older peers were talking about. My goal was to connect with other accepted students, and hopefully find someone who was not a psychopath to be my freshman roommate. I was mesmerized at the possibilities this new website opened up. I could communicate with anyone with an account, no matter where in the world they were. Their profile provided a snapshot into their life and was basically an online personality summary.
My first Facebook profile picture in 2006
It’s now less than 10 years later and it’s hard to believe how much I personally take this inter-connectivity for granted, and how I often don’t even think of my social media interactions as social. For instance, I don’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant or booked a hotel without making sure they were at least four star rated on Grubhub or TripAdvisor. I have grown to trust the ratings of faceless peers more than any Zagat ratings or travel guidebooks. Social media has been a tool to find a job, sell a table, find a roommate and raise money for charity. Without it, I would have a much harder time keeping up with my friends of family across the globe. While I wouldn’t classify myself as a social media fanatic, I definitely use it quite a lot and understand its importance.
From a business perspective, the pervasiveness of social media is disrupting business and creating new opportunities both from a consumer facing perspective and internally within organizations. From a consumer facing perspective, social media allows businesses to connect more personally with consumers in a much more organic way, get involved in conversations they would not normally be involved in and have content that goes viral and is shared organically (and for free!). At my organization, using social media helps us connect with a broad audience of consumers who already have an emotional connection with the brand in order to continue to maintain and strengthen that connection.
Internally, Social Media is a great collaborative tool for an organization. Clearly, email is the most widely used example (first insight from this class is that email is social media!). The reply all feature allows for information to reach large groups all at once regardless of where they are across the globe. In addition, a number of other tools can really help people in organizations collaborate. In my organization, I have found BOX, an online cloud storage provider to be extremely effective. Rather than just a place to dump files, people are able to make comments, share links directly to files that would be too large to send via email, and track changes and edits across versions of a document. The comment feature, as simple as it sounds, has been a major boost for my company. This has allowed us to track approvals and feedback on advertisements, giving us an archive that we can go back and refer to versus digging through thousands of email messages. I’ve also found instant messaging as a great tool to ask quick questions and stay in contact when in person or over the phone is not an option.
For all the positives of social media, there is definitely a darker side and a potential for individuals or businesses to get themselves into trouble quickly and on a wide scale. Comments meant for an individual or a personal group can easily get blown out of proportion and spark nationwide conversation and news cycles. Reputations can get ruined, people can get fired from their jobs and families can be broken because of one Tweet. Similarly, in inserting themselves into conversations as they happen and evolve, companies are forced to loosen their rigid structures and give more autonomy across the organization. This opens them up to the risk of messages going out that may not have been approved if they had gone through the historical, formal process. As such, individuals need to be highly educated on these risks and drilled on the importance of balancing being timely and relevant to taking into consideration all potential risks.
I’m looking forward to expanding my understanding of social media, digital business and implications for the future. In a single class I’ve already come to understand that my idea of the scope of “social media” was extremely limited and that means that social media is even more important than what I thought it was going in last Thursday. As a marketer, I think it is essential that I have a good understanding of social media and digital business regardless of my current role. As I look to progress in my career I will without a doubt be expected to understand social media’s role in the media mix and future applications.