The purpose of the media, simply put, is to disseminate information and in the process entertain, communicate, and—most importantly—form opinions and change society’s attitude. Information can be conveyed in any form (e.g., voice, document, picture, video).
Today’s generation can look back and definitely realize the path that media has travelled and the transformations it has passed through. Even before human beings could invent the basic post or telegraph services, information was disseminated and received with the help of animals (e.g., carrier pigeons) and fellow human beings who carried information and conveyed it to the receiver. Technological innovations have gradually given rise to a flood of innovations like post, print, telegraph, radio, television, mobile phones, and the Internet.
Some wonder what the next big media innovation will be to transform the way in which humans converse with each other. Even before you try to come up with an answer, you should contemplate that most of the media technologies were invented with a social purpose. Business entities always found a way to utilize a medium to reach customers and spread their message. Now, did human beings object to such intrusion? Yes, no, maybe—the answer would vary from person to person based on their experiences. A person who has often been harassed by unwanted phone calls from insurance and credit card companies would definitely support the thought of minimizing—and even eliminating—these intrusions. Someone who has benefitted by receiving the relevant information which may have helped him or her in a personal was may highly endorse this dissemination of knowledge.
Social media is influencing almost all aspects of life, moving beyond networking. The way people work in different areas has undergone a significant change due to the advent of the new media. In many ways the “ways of working” across fields have been influenced. The following examples should help put things into perspective.
Almost all the news channels, print media, etc., are present on social media channels. Social networks have already become a vital source of information that cannot be neglected. Journalists need to filter out the noise to find stories to pursue. This monitoring has to be done in real time as sometimes it can give the vital edge and the channel/newspaper may be the first one to cover the story. Even for a community (religions, cities, etc.), there are websites, Facebook pages, etc. A journalist can log on to these and search if there is an issue/concern facing a particular community that is being raised by someone on the forum (Facebook page/Twitter handle, etc.). If this is validated and pursued, it can surely enhance the brand image of the journalist along with newspaper/channel in that particular community and also amongst others. The whole world of journalism has to keep a close watch on the “News Feed” in Facebook or “timeline” in Twitter as they can hold important cues for “hot” stories! As it is not possible for journalists to be active and all ears for such important information 24/7, online community managers play a vital role in relaying relevant information to each journalist for follow-up.
It’s always a cumbersome task for an employer to cross-check the information about the prospective employee. Employers risk trusting the incorrect information presented by prospects. It’s also difficult to judge one’s character during brief interviews. Today, social media can facilitate removing “information asymmetry” amongst the recruiters and prospects to a large extent. Recruiters these days are increasingly using social media to gather more information about the prospective employees. It’s difficult for anyone to cheat your accomplices consistently as the “social image” can be very well reflected by the individual’s participation in social media. Recruiters can easily understand and know more about a person by scanning social media channels and his/her behavior on them. The kinds of posts you make, comments you post, photographs you share, and content you like across online media exhibit your social graph and convey a lot more beyond the two- or three-page CV. For example, if you have applied for some position which demands creativity and you have a related blog/Flickr channel/YouTube channel where you have relevantly expressed yourself, you would be perceived as a genuinely creative person, rather than just having stated it on the CV. This enhances the credibility of the candidate and increases the probability of being recruited.
The marketing function engages in activity that’s critical to a brand’s success. Today, such a function can “listen” in a much more effective manner, which helps identify needs and eventually some wonderful products. Nowadays, people blog about both good and bad experiences, some of which are related to products and services. People also leave comments and feedback on a company’s blog and interact with the company on Twitter, Facebook, etc. The feedback is real time and offers an immediate needs assessment. Although marketers still rely to a large extent on surveys, social media analytics have becoming increasingly important in decision making, whether about a product conceptualization or campaign. In addition, an increasing amount of budgets is now allocated to online advertising, especially in developed countries. In India as well, the social media presence is becoming more of a norm than a differentiator.
Door-to-door campaigns may have been the norm for political campaigns for older generations, but Gen Y is engaged through social media. In some developed countries, the time spent on Facebook is now comparable to the time spent watching TV. The elections in some developed countries have already noticed the influence of social media. In developing countries where the internet penetration is much less, the impact is still going to be big as the educated people tend to be the opinion leaders in any society.
The social media revolution has opened up a lot of opportunities for both professionals as well as entrepreneurs, as the following examples indicate.
Apart from the technical (web development/enhancement) side of social media sites, applications (app) development has also created a sizeable industry where specific (web) applications are developed either to enhance a corporate brand image or just for fun/attract users’ attention to some other site. In some cases, it is used to monetize advertising revenue. The conceptualization of the app involves a lot of creativity in order to attract the audience’s attention. The competition is tough, with numerous apps available on Facebook and other social networking websites. Apps, much like any other social media interface/channel, need to continue re-inventing themselves in order to sustain audience attention. Due to an increasing number of people not only in developed, but also in developing countries, who are beginning to access social media on their mobile phones, a whole new industry is being spawned for mobile compatibility of these apps as well as exclusively mobile apps.
In quite a few examples in India as well as the global context, what started as a blog developed into full-fledged websites that get numerous hits per day. Quite a few niche audiences exist for different kinds of contents; for example, some may like technology content in general, some technology content related to cloud computing only, or some technology content related to new media. Blog with broad-based themes have also become popular (e.g., movies, humor). The monetization can be achieved by means of Google Adsense and other similar programs. Once you apply for the Adsense program and are approved by Google, ads on your blog start being placed by Google. You get paid when someone clicks on the ads or views them, ranging from a cent to dollars per click depending on what kind of ‘targeted’ advertisement is being displayed on your blog. More models include offering readers basic content for free and charging a fee for the premium content on your blog. In addition, quite a few people use blogging for popularizing their views and/or products/services, which eventually leads to monetary gains through sales.
Social gaming refers to games played on a browser with a social network integration element; it is usually multiplayer. Social gaming—despite being hugely popular—still remains largely untapped monetarily. Social network game developer companies range from well-established companies (like Zynga) to startups. The mobile compatibility of these games will be a future focus area and the biggest challenge that remains is monetization.
Apart from the technical development aspects discussed, the following broad-based key profiles have emerged as a result of social media. The roles and responsibilities of these profiles vary significantly according to each company/industry.
This person manages the virtual face of the brand across multiple social media sites (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). The job entails moderating the community, monitoring discussions, checking spam, and actively engaging the audience through interactions. The CM is also expected to pass on the relevant information (e.g., a customer grievance tweet, post about a good idea on the Facebook wall) to the respective departments and monitor the closure for the same. The CM is a customer advocate and should check that the customer’s best interests are not compromised. At the same time, the CM has to play the role of a brand evangelist by influencing rather than persuading community members. He/she should be passionate about the brand and the community around it. Ideally, the person needs to be connected with the brand’s community round the clock; however, he/she could make use of some social media dashboard tools to simplify tasks.
This person is involved in studying competitors’ strategy and analyzing data to understand trends and issues, such as which channels (sites/channels) are the most effective and customer satisfaction pertaining to query resolution, interaction, and ROI. This individual should be well-versed with the various analytic tools available in the market and should have both analytical and behavioral capacities. Insights need to be generated not just on analytics, but also on behavioral aspects to understand why community members behave in a particular manner.
This person is expected to take the analysis as input and determine the future roadmap and strategy for the brand(s). Any individual who has had sufficient experience in digital media marketing, with adequate knowledge of social media, would fit into this position. The person would be responsible for every aspect of the social media strategy, from setting objectives to selecting the right people and social media channels, communicating the strategy to internal members (and agencies, if the activity is outsourced), and measuring ROI. An ideal person would be one who has the ability to keep him-/herself updated on new technological developments in the field and assess their effectiveness for the given social media objective of the brand. Basically, he/she needs to be both tech savvy and customer-centric.
A social media policymaker should be knowledgeable of cyber laws in general and have in-depth knowledge of the uses/misuses of social media. His/her responsibilities would include framing social media policy for the organization, communicating the same to the concerned employees, and arranging social media training sessions for employees who are not well versed with it. The social media policymaker is responsible for ensuring that social media activities are conducted in an ethical manner and that no harm is caused to either the brand or organization by the employees involved in the activity.
User interface plays a key role in social media. “The first impression is the last impression” is most evident on the Internet and social media websites. If the design is not keeping pace with the times, it may spell doom for the portal/channel no matter how superior its features are compared to its peers. Another interesting thing is that the current generation gets bored quickly and is constantly seeking change. The user interface (UI) or design is no different. The designer needs to first understand the voice of the customer and then create a design around it. This design constantly needs to keep evolving to maintain its novelty while matching the ever-changing preferences of the target audience. As the design is the “door” to the social media experience, designers developing this user interface play a key role and need to be ably supported by an analytics team that give inputs about the users’ psychology, needs, and preferences.
No matter how relevant or informative the content is, presentation (format, structure) holds the key for grabbing the audience’s attention. Content developers/editors are expected to edit the language and readability of the content to make sure it conveys the message and is not only “liked” (both in the usual sense and also in the Facebook like), but also shared by readers via their social networks. In general, these content developers should understand the industry in which the brand is positioned, the usual consumers’ expectations about the product category, what the brand stands for, etc. These individuals must be good at language and be able to express the message in an innovative manner while also having an understanding of the basic product and brand. Firms can provide training on certain aspects, but a fundamental knowledge about the domain is a prerequisite for gaining an edge over other candidates.
These can either be full time or hired on a part-time basis pending on the need. They promote any event, conference, industry meetings, etc., for the company by making use of various social media channels/portals like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. They even work with these websites to come up with new ways of using the channels/portals to suit the need of the audiences. They make sure that the content (text, photos, videos) generated for the event are viral in nature, keeping in mind the ethics/values/preferences of the audience.
On the whole the impact of social media is being felt across almost all walks of life and in all fields in developed countries. This will take shape of a global phenomenon once internet penetration increases in developing countries like India. When that happens, those who take the time to understand and social media and maximize its use will emerge as winners.