Facebook. Online genius. The Social Network. Billionaire. Who doesn’t know the name Mark Zuckerberg?
One of the first social networking platforms I started using as a teen was Facebook. I like to think of Zuckerberg as some sort of founding father of what social media is to me. Back then (timeline tells me 2007), I was (and still am) fascinated by the liberating social possibilities that Facebook offered. Getting a notification from a friend commenting on something I had written or taken a picture of was almost as exciting as receiving a letter in the mail. Making friends with people across the world was easier than making friends with my neighbour, AND we shared interests.
These days, I can ‘Like’ the brands I like, make complaints about those I don’t and discuss products and services with people before I buy. Bottom line? Social media allows me to engage with brands and businesses in ways that were previously inconceivable.
Drawing on my experiences in both PR and as a student of communications, social media is helping businesses and organisations practice ‘excellent communication practices’. Pioneered by James Grunig, two-way symmetrical communication is the essence of social media. Not only does it facilitate consumers’ ability to talk directly to each other, there is an open channel for communication between consumer and organisation.
Social media is emerging as a primary communication channel. It is magnifying the impact of consumer-to-consumer conversations (only 14% of consumers trust brand ads compared to 78% of consumers who trust peer recommendations – SEO optimise). Robert Young speaks of social media as shifting the balance of control for production and distribution of content between corporations and consumers. If consumers are gaining a more powerful voice, businesses need to change their communication approach.
Ignoring the power of online word of mouse is no longer an option in the digitally interconnected world where consumers are liberated from centralised / monopolised sources of information. Using social media is equally about brand reputation and risk management. Our use of social media today begs the question: “Can brands afford to forgo social media?”