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Social Media

Social media are a means for consumers to share text, images, audio, and video information with each other and with companies, and vice versa. Social media allow marketers to establish a public voice and presence online. They can cost-effectively reinforce other communication activities. Because of their day-to-day immediacy, they can also encourage companies to stay innovative and relevant. Marketers can build or tap into online communities, inviting participation from consumers and creating a long-term marketing asset in the process.

Social Media Platforms

There are three main platforms for social media: (1) online communities and forums, (2) blogs (individual blogs and blog networks such as Sugar and Gawker), and (3) social networks (like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).

Online Communities and Forums Many online communities and forums are created by consumers or groups of consumers with no commercial interests or company affiliations. Others are sponsored by companies whose members communicate with the company and with each other through postings, text messaging, and chat discussions about special interests related to the company’s products and brands. Information flow in online communities and forums is two-way and can provide companies with useful, hard-to-get customer information and insights.

Blogs Blogs, regularly updated online journals or diaries, have become an important outlet for word of mouth. One obvious appeal of blogs is that they bring together people with common interests. Blog networks such as Gawker Media offer marketers a portfolio of choices. Corporations are creating their own blogs and carefully monitoring those of others.15 Popular blogs are creating influential opinion leaders. Because many consumers examine product information and reviews contained in blogs, the Federal Trade Commission has also taken steps to require bloggers to disclose their relationship with marketers whose products they endorse. At the other extreme, some consumers use blogs and videos as a means of getting retribution for a company’s bad service or faulty products.

Social Networks Social networks have become an important force in both business-to- consumer and business-to-business marketing. Major ones include Facebook, one of the world’s biggest; LinkedIn, which focuses on career-minded professionals; and Twitter, with its 140-character “tweets." Marketers are still learning how to best tap into social networks and their huge, well-defined audiences.16 Given networks’ noncommercial nature—users are generally there looking to connect with others—attracting attention and persuading are more challenging. Also, given that users generate their own content, ads may find themselves appearing beside inappropriate or even offensive material.17 Advertising is only one avenue, however. Like any individual, companies can also join social groups and actively participate. Having a Facebook page has become a virtual prerequisite for many companies.18

Using Social Media

Social media are rarely the sole source of marketing communications for a brand.19 First, social media may not be as effective in attracting new users and driving brand penetration. Also, research by DDB suggests that brands and products vary widely in how social they are online. Consumers are most likely to engage with media, charities, and fashion and least likely to engage with consumer goods.20 Finally, although consumers may use social media to get useful information or deals or to enjoy brand-created content, a much smaller percentage want to engage in two-way “conversations” with brands. In short, marketers must recognize that when it comes to social media, only some consumers want to engage with some brands and, even then, only some of the time.

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