It’s no secret that social networking as a medium has rapidly expanded over the past couple of years, if not months. As a whole, the proliferation of this new form of communication has fundamentally taken advantage of what seems to be one of the greater intrinsic uses of the internet: an effective networking tool that acts as a basic social structure. It is a practice by which individuals around the world interact with others who share the same common interests, beliefs, or even relationships.
A recent study states that approximately 47 per cent of Canadians have used social media - be that Facebook or LinkedIn - at least once a month in 2011, and globally, social network users represented about 17 per cent of the world’s population. By such statistics, it would not be impractical to suggest that social media has largely taken over as the primary venue to communicate messages on a global-virtue scale - but that’s for each individual to decide. Subsequently, much of what can be defined as part of the social networking spectrum is not so black and white; the online world has become an increasingly creative playground for hyper-connectivity.
However, social media’s late public presence can not always be thought of had having a smooth rise in fame. In several ways, social networking has arguably become underestimated, and even misunderstood, by many who are either unfamiliar with social applications or perhaps just chose to ignore such practices.
Much perception of what social networking has become is a medium that caters to the half-witted minds of young folk who may be looking for a simple way to speak out about everyday fluff from menial teen angst to what they may have had for dinner.
Realistically, this content does exist considerably with social networking, however social media can be - and is - much more than that.
One’s understanding can be relative to personal experience. Digging back into what every college freshmen has come to hate, Marshal McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”notion would surely support that social networking is not so much about what is written (the content); rather what is important here is how that medium is being used. Arguably, not until quite recently have corporations and business alike fully realized the true potential and advantages of what seems to have become more than just a basic trend. Every day major corporations are joining in on the fun and are looking to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook in getting their brand out to the public.
This development can be understood as “social media marketing”, which purpose primarily revolves around a corporation or company using the internet as a tool to achieve branding by communicating a particular message that is intended to be shared through the participation in various social media networks.
Essentially, corporate marketing by way of social networking can be reasonably compared and related to word-of-mouth conversations that are shared among a group of friends. Everyone in a given group (or community) has something to say, so messages are discussed and shared with one another. With social media marketing, this notion is taken to a more intensified and perpetual level. Much of the effectiveness of social media marketing stems from the internet’s inherent ability to not only allow any individual to speak their mind, but promotes them to do so as well.
Corporations both effectively and efficiently profit from this outlook. The key motive in marketing a brand through social media practices centres around efforts that encourage people to share their message - whatever that may be - with others within these social networks. This corporate message is intended to spread like a contagious virus that infects others with awareness of their brand. If done so creatively, the message or brand will be shared and reproduced with users around the world because the source appears to come from the trusted words of countless individuals instead of the company promoting their brand as a whole. It is as if one person in that group of friends saw a billboard advertisement he/she liked for a new product, then brought it up to them, and from there it continued to be passed along - with the true genesis becoming more lost every time that idea is shared.
As this form of marketing is driven by word-of-mouth, corporations have become progressively warmed to social media practices as a promoting tool mainly because it is relatively inexpensive. As opposed to most television advertisements where compensated spokesmen are marketing a company’s product or service, conversely, social media transforms the customer and user into the advertiser with or even without that individual knowing. When a person ‘shares’ or ‘likes’ corporate content on social networking websites, it is no different than wearing their logo on your shirt, but is instead merely hidden under a sophisticated social platform.
Starbucks, for example, has launched “MyStarbucksIdea” (http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/) where customers can submit ideas for the company which are then voted on by other users, the best of which will be implemented by the company. Additionally, this program is available on several social networking sites to be shared and linked with friends and family.
However, these social media practices have become much more complicated than simply shared content. Several corporations are also taking advantage of new technological practices with social networking websites that allows for obtaining information from users based on what they are posting online. Companies can gather information from sites like Facebook and applications such as Foursquare where people are willingly posting what they like and where they go. This process is called “data-mining”, and corporations can use this data for future marketing planning, such as which locations to have certain promotions.
As it stands today, corporations are always looking for new ways to promote their brand, product, or service, and with other mediums of advertising underperforming, social media marketing seems to be the best possible venue for establishing and promoting brand awareness. Yet, the percentage of social media users is speculated to drop from about 95 per cent this year, to 93 per cent in 2013, and 9 per cent in 2014, according to eMarketer
Is social media marketing here for the long haul? Or are websites like Twitter and Facebook soon going to be outmatched by even more superior marketing mediums?
Nonetheless, until that next best thing, social networking will continue be integral for contemporary corporate marketing practices which would likely send Don Draper crying himself to sleep for some time.
Don’t forget to follow me on twitter, @Sean Catania.
 A scholarly journal, Vol. 1, Marshall McLuhan’s “Medium is the Message”: Information Literacy in a Multimedia Age