When people say social media, most people today think “Facebook” and “Twitter.” But social media was in development long before Facebook. Anyone remember Myspace and Classmates? In fact, social media encompasses much more than the social networks that most people today associate with the term.
My first exposure to social media was in elementary school, circa 1989. My local library had a couple of Apple IIGS computers, and my older sister’s friend showed me how to connect and chat with other people around the country using GEnie. The platform was simple, with black screens and green letters much like a DOS window, and functions were typed rather than clicked. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but I distinctly remember that the connections made across keyboard were social and entertaining. They were also informative, as users across the country posted questions to discussion boards and received answers from others who happened to see their query.
We got our first real home computer in 1991 (I’m not counting the eight-track-like device that plugged in to our TV to play cartridges like Math Baseball) – a Macintosh LC. We also got a subscription to the revolutionary dial-up Internet service America Online. Despite the mind-numbingly slow connection speed, AOL provided a pretty user interface and clickable interaction that was incomparably sophisticated to preceding tools. With AOL, I got my first email address, although it was a number of years before I knew anyone else with email. I also got access to AOL’s range of chat rooms that allowed people to connect with each other in real-time.
Blogs are another social media and predecessor to today’s social networks. They provided a format for people to share their expertise on a topic and a platform for readers with a shared interest to learn more about that topic. Dedicated blog readers still prove to be an engaged group. Just as today’s social networks offer forums for discussion on a particular topic or business, blogs continue to attract a targeted audience of people grouped together by their interests, which fosters conversations, .
Blogs offer the same benefits to a business as they do to an individual. Blogging can establish you or your company as an expert by sharing relevant information and creating conversations under a branded umbrella. While companies should take care not to overwhelm their blog feed with content about their own products and services, it is absolutely appropriate to incorporate your own messages periodically when it makes sense. Plus, if you’re a valuable resource for existing and potential customers, they’ll most likely start talking about your brand’s benefits for you.
Back to email, which my friends finally started using regularly my freshman year of college. My college professors took advantage of my generation’s new affinity for digital communication and started emailing syllabi and other course information to students. This blending of personal and enterprise information hinted at major shift that paved the way for email marketing.
Capitalizing on our desire to communicate quickly with our friends and family, marketers began compiling our email addresses and sending information about their business directly to our inboxes. Companies were getting messages directly in front of customers, and these messages were being sandwiched in between personal messages.
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ etc. have combined the most effective and engaging characteristics of their primary predecessors: forums, chat rooms, blogs, and emails, in a platform that allows people to share information that interests them both instantaneously and publicly. These modern versions of social media also compile both personal and business information in the same place. These features make social media ideal tools for marketers to reach customers.
Similarly to email, people login to social networks on a daily basis, and most of them don’t use separate profiles for their friends and the businesses they like. (In fact, Facebook terms of service don’t allow a person to have multiple personal profiles.) That means that your posts deliver alongside their friends’ posts, similarly to email. Furthermore, we can all appreciate the benefit of sharing information instantly – patience may be a virtue but it’s in limited supply nowadays – yet social media also allows users to interact or respond when it’s convenient for them. Marketers benefit from people sharing publicly: a click, comment or recommendation is the modern equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing.
So, as you can see, while we’ve only been talking about social media marketing for the past seven years or so, it’s been a long time coming, and we have no doubt that it’s going to continue to evolve. In today’s marketing environment, social media is an essential component of your overall marketing strategy.