Updated article: 11/2021 (Original publication June 2009)
“Social computing is not a fad. Nor is it something that will pass you or your company by. Gradually, social computing will impact almost every role, at every kind of company, in all parts of the world.” – Forrester Research
This is quote is from 2009 – or maybe even earlier – and it’s referring to an idea that’s larger and more complex than what most people consider “social media” today.
I’d like to focus at the top level today and focus on actionable things that you should be doing with your own social media now. But it’s worth a short detour to know that there are nine principles of social computing. 4 of the principles are technology oriented and 5 are socially oriented.
A good definition of social computing follows…
Social computing is interactive and collaborative behavior between computer users. Personal computing is an individual user activity in that one user generally commands computing. In social computing, the Internet allows users to interact through many mediums, including:
- Social media sites
- Multiplayer games
- Instant messaging
- Open-source development
When I original wrote this article in 2009 I said that there are 5 pillars of social media. Community, Conversation, Participation, Openness and Connection.
This still seems relevant today when we’re talking about using social media for business.
In the search for the perfect definition for social media, I must refer to Wikipedia:
When I originally wrote this article in 2009 it stated the following:
“Social media is a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers.”
This definition is kinda basic and a little debatable, so let’s take a look at what Wikipedia says as of January 2022.
Social media are interactive technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression through virtual communities and networks. While challenges to the definition of social media arise due to the variety of stand-alone and built-in social media services currently available, there are some common features:
- Social media are interactive Web 2.0 Internet-based applications.
- User-generated content—such as text posts or comments, digital photos or videos, and data generated through all online interactions — is the lifeblood of social media.
- Users create service-specific profiles for the website or app that are designed and maintained by the social media organization.
- Social media helps the development of online social networks by connecting a user’s profile with those of other individuals or groups.
Clear as mud, right?
Well, I encourage you to explore the theory and science of social media on your own because it can be complex and a world of it’s own. It’s an understatement to say that it’s always going to be changing.
But to get started today, let’s simplify our focus on what you could be doing as a business owner and marketer. If you need some values to strive for, you can’t go wrong with the original 5 pillars of Community, Conversation, Participation, Openness and Connection as a foundation. All can be applied to the following tactics.
1) Get a blog
A blog is a large part of the puzzle. It provides you with a casual platform to publish educational information and interact with the public on your website. It fulfills all of the 5 pilars of social media mentioned above by allowing you to be open and share information directly on your website. It allows you to have a direct conversation with your customers as well as create community, provide support and put a face to your business.
A blog allows you and your customers to connect immediately and it allows them to participate and contribute to the conversation. Most of all, a blog allows you to be open about your thoughts, policies, plans and potentially the inner workings of your company – therefore breaking down the barriers normally created between a company and the public.
In addition, a blog is a great place to combine many aspects of digital marketing and inbound marketing into one place. (search engine rankings, email marketing, customer and client education, trust building, the building of your brand and reputation as a leader in your niche, as well as a place to offer other ways to connect through other social media, video, photos, content, etc.
Here’s a tip and a note of advice on blogging – Don’t use one of the free blogging services. The content is not on your site, the look of the blog is not completely customizable, and it disconnects users from your main website. We use WordPress and it’s free software that allows us to setup completely custom blogs for our clients that reside on the same server as their website. This is the only way to do a blog in my opinion because you control and own the content.
Microblogging is the practice of providing useful information to the public in a sentence or two – either through short posts or messaging. The leader in this field is still Twitter but Facebook and Instagram are top contenders.
Social media is a powerful tool for microblogging because it allows you to build a list of followers – people who are interested in what you do – that receive short bits of information from you at the moment you publish.
As you can probably imagine, Twitter can be highly effective if you use it correctly. Imagine having several thousand people following you that are really interested in what you do or say. At any moment you can decide to give them advice, throw out a special promotion, remind them about a special event or simply pass on a recommendation from a fellow follower.
participation/conversation (tweeting back and forth with your followers), Openness (offering advice and information), Community/Connectedness (Only your followers see your tweets and your followers decide if they want to stay connected to you).
3) Social Networks
When I wrote this article in 2009, this is what I said, which I think is an interesting way to demonstrate how social media is, and always will be, changing…
“The concept of social networks is continually evolving. In the near future I believe the landscape will be completely different than it is today. But for now, to illustrate this concept I’d like to explain Facebook. There are other services out there like MySpace and Bebo but Facebook is the clear leader at the moment.”
My takeaway here is: MySpace and Bebo are now irrelevant and Facebook rules the world. The landscape IS completely different and evolving. Facebook is a clear leader, but it still changes and evolves every week. The best example is how they rebranded as Meta in 2021 to conquer their long term ambitions of owning the metaverse.
What do I think about Facebook today? It’s an amazing tool for Community, Conversation, Participation, Openness and Connection. Every business needs to be engaging on Facebook and whatever it becomes in the future. The same holds true for many other social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many others.
Connection and community are critical elements and all it takes is setting up an account, posting, sharing, engaging and ultimately helping your followers.
To demonstrate how far social media has come and to document this content for prosperity, here is are my early, somewhat funny and naive original thoughts about Facebook.
“Facebook today essentially allows you to build a network of followers who are essentially accepted into your inner circle. The concept is similar to Twitter except that it’s broader. Facebook allows you to microblog so your “friends” can see what you’re doing and saying, but it also allows you to do many more things that help others to understand what you like and what you’re all about.”
“How to use Facebook to promote your business is up to the individual but there is no doubt that there is a lot of opportunity to connect through this popular network if you handle it properly. Currently I don’t use Facebook for business purposes as I choose to keep it for social connectivity with old friends, current friends and family. It’s going to be an experiment of mine to roll out a Facebook page for my business to explore the opportunities. Facebook definitely fulfills all 5 of the social media pillars. Even if you don’t use it for promoting your business, it’s an extremely fun way to stay connected.”
Even though my thoughts are a little outdated, the takeaway is still that all major social media networks are an excellent way to connect, and that still holds true today. I don’t see this changing anytime in the future – even when Facebook fully transforms into The Metaverse and everything that entails.
4) Content Communities
In addition to written advice and microblogging, there are other opportunities available to connect online these days. Depending on your business, people can find you in ways that you’d have never dreamed of a few years ago.
There is no way that I can properly cover all the options available for you in this category. So I’m just going to focus on one… YouTube.
After the main Google site, YouTube.com is the most popular website in the world. People love video and starting a YouTube channel is an amazing way to embrace the 5 pillars of social media.
To pick just three quick examples…
- Community – You can build a niche community around what you do, and directly educate customers who find your videos. All of your content can also be linked back to your site or even embedded on your blog, in newsletters and posted out on other social media channels.
- Conversation – Reading comments and engaging with others creates conversation and strengthens community. This is amazing user generated content and it allows you to also have a direct connection with people that are intimately interested in what you do.
- Openness – Sharing free content is a great way to be found online and connect with your target audience. Do I need to say more?
Here’s a tip: Video content doesn’t need to be a high production affair. With today’s iphones and $100 in lighting, you can make great videos with little or no skill. People generally just want the information and they want to be educated. The production is secondary just as long as the video and audio are relatively clear. Just get started and improve over time.
Really, the effective use of social media in business is constantly evolving. But the concepts are simple.
- Connect to people.
- Help people.
- Form relationships.
- Create trust.
- Make it personal.
All of this effort will ultimately grow your business over time. This is what social media for business is all about.
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