Business and Social Media – Part 1

This is the first article in a series of articles describing how social media can be used by businesses. The aim is to publish one article per week on this topic, the first being today, August 7. Each article will address a single topic, and build on material provided in the earlier articles. Through feedback provided on the articles, this may lead into another series after the conclusion of this series.

Note that any clients referred to in these articles are fictitious, unless I specifically indicate otherwise.

The Client

Harvey’s Hardware is a small store located on the corner of a busy intersection in a residential neighborhood. The original owner, Harvey, has retired, and the store has been sold to Jane. Jane has an MBA from a prestigious school, and is interested in running her own business after spending over 20 years working for a large multi-national corporation. She bought the hardware store using funds she has saved, and spent the first year after the sale becoming familiar with the store and its clients.

Jane is not technically illiterate, but her use of technology is limited to word processing and checking her e-mail. She is comfortable with her inventory management software.

Recently, a few of her customers asked if she had a website for her store, to which she had to answer no. However, she is interested in creating an online presence, and has heard about social media and would like to become involved.

The Problem:

The real problem, in this case, is that Jane does not understand what social media is, nor how it can be used to help her store grow its customer base. Her first step, therefore, is to learn about social media, and how it compares to the more traditional forms of media with which she is already familiar.

The Background:

Social media, as defined by Wikipedia, is “…online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies… transforming people from content consumers into content producers”. In other words, social media makes use of the internet as a dstribution medium and is based on interactions between people, rather than simply delivering information.

Traditional media including newspapers, radio, and television, are based on information delivery. Information is collected and converted into a message, which is then broadcast to the audience. The audience may be able to provide responses to that information, but those responses are delayed, such as the letters section of a newspaper. Additionally, distributors of traditional media are faced with large expenses in creating and delivering the content.

Social media, on the other hand, relies on the audience itself to both create and distribute information. This has the benefit of incorporating feedback from the audience in the message itself, and in reducing the cost of distribution to a negligible amount.

The downside, however, is directly tied into the benefits. Traditional media, such as newspapers, go to great expense to distinguish fact from opinion, and to verify any facts to the best of their ability. This results in a quality of information that is difficult to find in social media. Since the control over information in social media is distributed among the audience, it is nearly impossible to ensure that all the facts will be accurate.

Another key difference between social media and traditional media is as follows. In traditional media, the creation and delivery of content is where the majority of the effort is. Social media, however, requires more work in following up on content than in the creation or delivery. This form of media bases its distribution on interactions – the more interactions there are, the more successful the distribution will be.

What’s Next:

In the next article, to be published on August 14, I will be giving an overview of some of the tools of social media, and how to use them successfully.