Social media enables users to communicate, make professional and personal contacts, join and participate in online communities, comment, vote and express themselves through various online platforms.
With a growing number of people using social media, many businesses have taken advantage of the opportunities provided by these web-based social channels. The majority of social media platforms are investing significant resources in personnel and funding to develop the services they can provide to business.
This guide describes how the most popular types of social media are being used for business. It explains how these platforms function and how they are most used in a business context.
Types of social media platform:
Social and professional networking
Many social media platforms focus on the 'personal profile' - a public page that users customise with information about themselves. Facebook (www.facebook.com), Twitter (https://twitter.com) and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) are the major examples.
These platforms are used to connect people, companies and brands online. From a business perspective, they provide a forum for passing on information and news about a business, brand or product to customers (and potential customers), enabling them to shape a direct dialogue with their target audience, sharing text, images and video.
Social media platforms of this type have millions of users around the world - ranging across almost all ages - and their value continues to grow. From market research to brand awareness, lead generation, customer service, relationship building and even sales, social networks can be crucial to the growth of many businesses across industries and sectors. Today, especially considering the rise of mobile internet, these networks have become hubs not only for online socialising but for media consumption as well - making them an invaluable tool for modern businesses.
Media-sharing tools are increasingly available on all major social media platforms. For example, Facebook and Twitter offer image and video sharing, as well as live video streaming. However, some platforms specialise in the sharing of media. These types of platforms are used by a wide range of businesses to share images, video, live streaming and other types of primarily visual media online.
Media-sharing platforms are invaluable for audience engagement, brand awareness and lead generation, among other social marketing objectives. They are particularly useful for product-centred businesses.
Reviewing platforms allow users to find, review, discuss and share information about brands, products and services, as well as businesses in the service industry (eg restaurants and hotels). Positive reviews act as proof of a business's claims. In addition, these networks can be used for managing customer service as well as research into how to improve a service or product.
While there are many industry-specific customer review platforms, the largest include Yelp (www.yelp.com), TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.co.uk), Trustpilot (https://uk.business.trustpilot.com) and Zomato (www.zomato.com).
As review networks increasingly adopt geo-location technology and cross-platform connections, more people are using them for recommendations on almost any product, service or business. Positive user reviews add significant value to many types of business, websites and online services.
Blogging platforms are used to publish content online and enable readers to share and comment on it. They are very effective for engaging with a business audience, building a brand and generating leads and sales. With so much content available online, blogging - when done well - is one of the most useful ways for potential customers to learn about a brand, product or business.
Businesses can gain valuable visibility by maintaining a blog. Additionally, blogging platforms can provide opportunities for business owners and organisations to become thought leaders on specific topics or particular industries, supporting the relevance of their product or service.
Platforms like WordPress (https://wordpress.com/create-blog/), Tumblr (www.tumblr.com) and TypePad (www.typepad.com) provide a place for niche communities to connect and share content on specific topics and sectors. Many businesses can benefit from some good review opportunities and increase the number of visitors to their site by getting involved in the right communities. However, it should be noted that it is important to do some research and make sure to pick the right blogging platform for the type of business.
Bookmarking and content curation
Bookmarking and content curation platforms encourage users to share, save and discuss anything of interest that they have discovered online, such as images, articles, recipes, reviews and products.
As with most social media, these platforms are especially useful for driving customer engagement, website traffic and brand awareness. They provide alternative channels for a business to connect with its audience and customers. At the very least, these networks are invaluable forums to showcase content and products.
One of the largest bookmarking and content curation platforms is Pinterest (www.pinterest.co.uk). Around two thirds of Pinterest users are under 50 years old, and 70% are women. Other popular platforms include Mix (https://mix.com), Pocket (https://getpocket.com) and Flipboard (https://.flipboard.com).
Particularly useful for gathering insight on a product or service, discussion forums are among the earliest forms of social media. They are used to find, discuss and share news, information and opinions on trending topics. In a professional context, these forums can be indispensable sources of market research.
Due to the rise of other forms of social media, discussion forums have become less popular. Nevertheless, such networks are designed to shape discussions on specific topics. Unlike other social networks, discussion forums such as reddit (www.reddit.com), Quora (www.quora.com) and Mumsnet (www.mumsnet.com) generally still allow for user anonymity. As a result, they can be invaluable for deep customer research and honest customer opinions.
Developments in social media
To make effective use of social media, it is important to keep up to date with ever-changing trends and developments such as:
- The key marketing tools and resources for business that each platform provides.
- The best way to measure the effectiveness of social media presence (for example likes, comments, mentions or conversion rates).
- The changing ways people consume content and media online, for example increased video sharing.
- The extent to which paid-for social media adverts make it possible to reach more people and target specific audiences.
Social Media for Business: A Marketer's Guide
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