Page 1 of 2
By Lauren Bielski
No longer the touch-of-renegade darling of the underground, social media is maturing to be many different things to different users.
If anything has proven this mainstreaming of social media, then Oprah Winfrey's dabbling with Twitter on her show in mid April did. A further indication? On May 14, ComScore released a ranking of top 50 U.S. web properties, as indicated by site traffic, and showed that the social media category grew by 12% to nearly 140 million visitors in April.
But not all social media actively these days is purely personal-or merely fluff. In the world of social media much of the chatter is by business users, for purposes of sharing insight, asking for help, networking, or offering an opinion about an industry development.
Perhaps you knew that many firms are putting their logo and a write-up on FaceBook. Or, they use bookmarking sites like digg to alert the community about a great article written about them. Makes sense, right? Marketing and branding activities that seem like a natural fit for the channel. But did you know that some companies are beginning to recruit with Twitter? That fact alone, means that CIOs need to look again at, perhaps rethink, social media.
Often opinionated, spontaneous, even raw-messages online are the electronic remnants of sheer engagement, even if companies dislike the broader implications of what's got a user so stirred up that he or she is willing to post a comment. It can look very text messaging messy-at times it can seem a little cryptic. But it's proving to be an important way to spout off and take in.
It's a dialogue, not a broadcast
"To me, social media, in one sense, is a vital conversation. It's moving and changing all the time," explains Carter Lusher, a former Gartner analyst and current master strategist and chief research officer, with SageCircle, the go-to source on technology analysts based in the Silicon Valley.
"Despite the clutter and cross-talk, conversations often net out to be: "An indicator of consumer sentiment on a particular company or topic of the moment," Lusher says. "It can also show what the business community is most concerned about."
The SageCircle analyst has plenty of opinions regarding the space as a whole, which he admitted was freewheeling, though settling down into the first phases of serious business use.
Others who spoke with CIOZone about social media see it as largely an authentic channel. Hard to influence, it does, nonetheless at times allow "tastemakers" and thought leaders to be made. Still, says Lusher, there are no guarantees that the buzz you start will be the buzz that makes the final record.
Todd Malicoat, a social media consultant based in San Francisco, agrees. "[People] have a constant need for information, and social media is often the best ways to answer our queries through trusted sources (our friends or family). Businesses have the opportunity to be a part of that sphere of influence, but are not given many chances to screw up." Right now, Malicoat says, for companies, figuring out how to monetize social media, or otherwise value it, is still the tricky part, with companies strewn at several different places along the learning curve. "The most difficult aspect is finding the appropriate distribution channel to participate in the conversation that is relevant to your brand, and then understanding how it can be used to accomplish your ultimate mission through an understanding of the respective community or site," says Malicoat.