It is a truism to say that the internet has sped things up. One two-word phrase, coined just three years ago, has now pervaded popular culture to the extent that your gran’s probably heard of it.
No, not Britney Spears. The two words are ‘Social’ and ‘Media’. In the UK, traffic to social networking sites surpassed that of search engines for the first time last May, and in the US this happened long before. Comment on the internet, once the preserve of hardcore forum users with their cliques and in-jokes, is now open to all: in 2010 pretty much everyone, from Barack Obama to us (and yes, Britney Spears) can, and does, have their say.
The benefits of the new connectivity seem huge: the popularity of social media around the world demonstrates the huge capabilities the web has to enable communication between completely disparate populations. Social media is providing freedom of expression to countries like China, as well as allowing the sharing of contacts, information and a considerable amount of entertainment.
And it hasn’t taken big business long to appreciate the potential of social networks. Some firms have started moving their main online presence onto existing networks. Given the everyday use of sites like Facebook, it can really come as no surprise - brands want to operate in the same space as their customers. The networks are hardly going to stop them. “What’s the issue?” you might ask. We’re constantly bombarded with adverts on all media platforms, all trying to convince us to do this, drink that, and definitely BUY MORE. This is a part of life, and when social media marketing is done effectively it can be fantastic – encouraging interaction from consumers and providing organizations with an opportunity a chance to engage with their audience in ways hitherto unheard of.
The problem is when it is done lazily, without thought for the individuality of the end user. Social networks provide advertisers in particular with the opportunity to interact with consumers on an individual basis. It is important that they take this opportunity – rather than using the networks as another tool to broadcast a single, bland message to an outdated conception of the uniform audience member.
For all companies in the current climate, existing social networks may seem the cheap and easy route to consumers, but they can only be part of their answer. Consumers want something interesting, interactive and secure when they use the web, and clicking a ‘like’ button shouldn’t be the end of the communication. In the interests of the sellers and the buyers, the experience has to be more fulfilling.