I found this last weekend on the Basic Marketing Blog:
Social Media is the topic of the day, and it seems that organizations ranging from corporate titans to the local "mom and pop's" are pondering how they can join this “new” form of online exchange to increase sales or strengthen a brand. Although most people automatically think of Social Media through the prism of sites like Facebook and Twitter, the development of Social Media is much broader - and has a longer history. In fact, a form of social media was present at the beginning, when the public first accessed the Internet in the 1990’s.
In those early days of the Web, a rudimentary structuring of social interaction began through "forums", which allowed users to post messages and create a continuing dialogue linked by conversation “threads”. This new digital communication channel, although primitive by today's standards, gave millions of people an easy, affordable, and more importantly, popular way to "publish" their own ideas, thoughts, and beliefs, to a wider online audience.
In comparison, most Websites of that time were little more than electronic brochures, containing static, unchanging “pages”. Forums, however, with their lively user-contributions; were always interesting, and continually refreshed, providing new and sometimes controversial content. It made for great reading, but it was also social media in its mewing infancy.
Blogs - Social Media’s First Steps
By 2001, the broader possibilities of the Web were explored by a new concept, first called Weblogs, and then shortened to "blogs". Blogs replaced the cluttered forums, providing a way to create a single, more-focused communication channel. Blogs made it easy to post commentary on any subject and develop an audience of like-minded readers that replied to the blogger’s posts, adding to, and enlivening the content. Although most of these early blogs centered on family activities, others began to focus on topics such as politics and business, and some lucky bloggers found themselves with an online audience numbering in the thousands.
Corporations were leery of the new medium, but by January of 2005, Fortune magazine was forced to encourage business leaders to capitulate to the inevitable, in a cover story entitled, “Why You Can’t Ignore Bloggers”. Bloggers, and by extension, their readers, were American consumers, ignore them at your own peril. Perhaps a better corporate strategy would be to join, rather than avoid, online conversations with consumers, the article suggested.
In hindsight, perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the blog was its role in demonstrating the raw power of individuals, capable of creating a group of online "followers", without need for support, or the legitimacy provided by a political position or professional role as a news reporter. The Internet gave anyone and everyone a chance to build an audience, and depending on their singular abilities, exert influence in just about all areas of human endeavor.
Product Reviews – Courting the Social Searcher
Corporations began to slowly relinquish their need for complete command of the online forum, resulting in a new way to leverage the power of social media to influence behavior – product reviews. In 2004, Amazon became one of the first high-profile companies to accept user-generated reviews of books and other products. These ratings soon became a powerful tool in driving sales. Once again, the Web showed that average people can have a more influential voice on the Web than experts; in this case; book critics, from major media outlets.
Other companies followed quickly Amazon’s example. In some of these product review applications, visitors could “subscribe” to their favorite reviewer’s posts, allowing the reviewer to develop his own audience.
Why do people seem to prefer the opinions of anonymous reviewers than professionals found in major media? Perhaps it was similar to the distrust of major media outlets frequently heard in political discussions. There have been occasions when the impartial nature of media-sourced product reviews has been questioned. For example, in April of 2010, in an article entitled, “Apple IPad: The Reviews Are In,” Fortune magazine noted that all of the new Apple IPad reviewers were handpicked by Steve Jobs, all, it continued, were from publications developing an IPad app and stood to profit from the IPad.
In 2007, a research project commissioned by Power Reviews identified the influence of online product reviews. According to the study, people who utilized online reviews to make purchasing decisions were identified as “social researchers”. The study found that 65% of online shoppers said they “always” read online reviews before making a decision. An example from the study highlighted a company called Delightful Deliveries, which added customer reviews and found, within two months, a 20% increase in conversion rates among products receiving four and five star reviews.
Social Media Takes Center Stage
As technology and Web software continued to advance; the role of an online commentator was recognized, formalized, and became a standard Web design feature. Sites were more interesting, and gained more traffic, when they allowed visitors to post comments, raise questions, or rate the quality of products and services.
The power of followers, fans and product reviewers was obvious, the question became; how best to profitably harness that power?
My Space, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so many more
Perhaps it took the explosive development of countless Social Media applications to make us think that something new had arisen on the Internet. If so, only our awareness is new. Today, a “social” tool is now part of virtually every site or blog.
Ironically, as corporations debate on how to “get involved” with Social Media, it’s a good bet that, unknowingly, they already are involved. How could they not be? If a corporation doesn’t allow customer comments on its own Website, they will discover dozens of user-reviews on Yelp or City Search. If they search blogs and Twitter, they will find themselves there, too. LinkedIn? It probably features the resumes and activities of many of their employees.
At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, maybe we finally realize that we don’t have something called “social media” that is found at certain destinations on the Internet. It's much broader than that. We have a Social Web, with a growing list of new tools, and we all make it happen together. Sphere: Related Content