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Social Media in Business – Issues and Challenges

Social media have developed so fast that many businesses have been left behind and are scrambling to develop clear strategies across their organisations.

One very important concept around the use of social media in business is social capital and trust. Trust is generally based on a relationship, for example buyer and seller (Kennedy & Sakaguchi, 2009), but in the world of social media this trust is generalised trust of other members of society.

social-capital
Source: socialauditnetwork

The origin of this generalised trust is social capital, described as shared values and understandings that enable individuals and groups to trust each other work together (OECD Insights).

Another important aspect to look at  when introducing social media into an organisation is the business culture.

It is vitally important that cultural considerations are taken into account when a business introduces social media (Podcast featuring Christine Eberle). Organisations are generally composed of multiple generations who need to work together.

businessculture
Source: LinkedIn

While the millennial generation tend to be more collaborative in their outlook, it is the older generations who have the content expertise, so social media needs to be used by everyone for it to be successful in a business environment.

There can also be executive resistance to introducing social media into the business environment. There maybe fears of reduced productivity if social media are freely available in the workplace, and also that employees writing on message boards could present a legal challenge.

Research has found that these fears are largely unfounded (Christine Eberle) and productivity actually increases with the use of social media. People can be connected more easily if they are geographically separated and it allows more connection  between the generations.

If everyone in an organisation makes use of social media, growth and creativity can be encouraged, as well as communication throughout the organisation.

On the flip side, the power of social media can cause major public relations issues for organisations or even cause their shares prices to fall. For example, the recent public condemnation of  United Airlines caused by a passenger filming an incident on a smart phone and posting it to social media (full story here). As a flow on effect from this many other people shared their stories of similar situations on other airlines.

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Another example is hotel and restaurant ratings by customers on websites such as TripAdvisor. Anyone can post a review on these sites so the business owners need to be aware of this. For big organisations it is advisable to have a team that monitors social media and uses data mining techniques to find and deal with any issues before they become major problems.

Research has shown that the use of social media is still experimental and ad hoc  across a number of countries rather than being strategic (Macnamara & Zerfass, 2012). Social media communication has no clear objectives and is not integrated with other types of communication in many instances.

While organisations cannot engage in social media in an unmanaged way that would be contrary to regulations and stakeholder interests, there has to be a balance between participation and effectiveness.

Social media is a vital means of marketing, promotion, and conducting business in the 21st century (Mello, 2012) so they need to be embraced by all businesses in the current competitive world market.

References
Kennedy, M. & Sakaguchi, T.  (2009).  Chapter XII Trust in social networking: Definitions from a global, culture viewpoint.  In C. Romm-Livermore & K. Setzekorn.  Social networking communities and e-dating services:  Concepts and implications (pp. 225-238).  Hershey, NY: Information Science Reference.

Macnamara, J. & Zerfass, A. (2012). Social media communication in organizations: The challenges of balancing openness, strategy, and managementInternational Journal of Strategic Communication, 6(4), 287-308.

Mello, J. A. (2012). Social media, employee privacy and concerted activity: Brave new world or big brother? Labor Law Journal, 63 (3), 165-173, Retrieved from Business Source Complete Database

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Government and Social Media

In general, governments around the world tend to lag behind the private sector in adopting new technologies. This includes the use of Social Media.

Some of the reasons why this happens are:

  • Security and privacy issues around access to personal information  – the private sector also needs to take this into account but governments are more likely to have sensitive information that requires very robust security systems.
  • The many regulations and ‘red tape’ required for government departments to make changes.

    social-media-block
    Source: Techweez.com
  • Some countries have a culture of corruption in government and don’t want information to be released or citizens to be able to freely make comments.

However this lagging behind has allowed governments to use the private sector as a model for implementation of social media strategies (Bretschneider & Parker, 2016). In other words, let the private sector make the mistakes first!

Research by Bretschneider & Parker (2016) also shows that once adopted, there is no difference between government departments and the private sector in the way Social Media is used for internal operations. However; as would be expected,  the private sector primarily uses Social Media for marketing and image development and not for education that has no economic benefits.

Even given this difference in use, the structures of Social Media are similar and so best practices and methods of usage can be shared between the sectors.

Many governments around the world have started working towards increased openness and transparency and this is regarded as essential for the prevention of corruption and informed decision making (Bertot, Jaeger, & Grimes, 2010).

Social Media can be used as a tool to help implement these changes and are useful as anti-corruption measures. They can be used as a platform to speak and broadcast information. There are however some barriers that can make this difficult to implement, such as acceptance by citizens and easy access to technology.

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Source: Salesforce.com

Traditionally, communication to the public was government controlled with television and radio stations being owned by the state. This led to bias in news broadcasts as well as misrepresentation of other political parties.

The advent of Social Media, as well as demands from the public for transparency, has allowed other political parties to get their messages out to the public.

A New Zealand Parliamentary Library Research Paper published in 2011 (full paper here), found that the majority of MP’s has at least one Social Media account that they used regularly.

twitter-vote-button
Source: Adweek.com

The paper also concluded that the 2008 New Zealand Parliamentary elections were affected by Social Media but opinion is divided about it’s effectiveness. The Labour party created a campaign website with a daily blog by Helen Clark and the National Party’s Asian candidates used Social Media to reach out to their constituents.

There is a growing use of Social Media in the public sector as a channel for disseminating information in emergency situations and for disaster management. It’s also a very useful tool for police departments who can broadcast photos of wanted criminals or missing persons and reach a wide audience almost immediately.

In New Zealand, the police and other services such as Civil Defence have a presence om most Social Media platforms and use them for giving and receiving information. Waikato District Police and Waikato Civil Defence, for example, often post messages on Facebook and Twitter with humorous but serious messages and engage in conversations with the public.

The downside of Social Media in the form of negative and abusive comments is something that both the public and private sectors have to contend with. There need to be guidelines set up to deal with these, both for employees and visitors to the websites.

References:
Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., & Grimes, J. M. (2010). Using ICTs to create a culture of transparency: E-government and social media as openness and anti-corruption tools for societies. Government Information Quarterly, 27(3), 264-271. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2010.03.001

Bretschneider, S., & Parker, M. (2016). Organization formalization, sector and social media: Does increased standardization of policy broaden and deepen social media use in organizations? Government Information Quarterly, 33(4), 614-628. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2016.09.005

How Do Businesses Use Social Media?

In this post I’m going to look at the various ways social media are used by businesses, both large and small.

There has been lots of research done about the importance of social media in business and there are a myriad of statistics available but I’m not going to bore you with those! If you’re really interested have a look here.

forget-social-media-think-social-business
Source: Digital Review

The main conclusion to come out of all the research is that businesses, especially small businesses, need to have a presence on social media platforms if they are going to be able to compete in the world market, or even local markets.

Before social media and the internet came along, if you wanted some building work done, you would look at the yellow pages in a telephone directory, or maybe adverts in a local newspaper. Now it is increasingly common for people to search for businesses on the Web, and especially on Facebook and other social media platforms.

The advantages of social media use by businesses include an increase in customer enquiries leading to an increase in revenue. However, research suggests that just having a presence on social media does not make a difference on its own (Casserly, 2013). Time must be spent on searching for information about other service providers. This includes looking at complaints by customers about your competitors and possibly offering those customers your products or services instead. 

Conversely, if customers are complaining about your business, you need to deal with this as quickly as possible before the complaints spread and possibly do irreparable damage to the reputation of your business.

social-media-business-plan
Source: business2community

While large businesses may have the staff and budget to have a team dedicated to monitoring and posting on social media sites, it is more difficult for small businesses to do so in terms and time and cost.

The costs involved are not only employees’ time, but also the need for reliable internet connections and security against increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

The increasing use of social media on mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, has led to much more targeted advertising. These devices incorporate location and time-sensitive apps that allow the user to quickly locate, for example, restaurants or hotels close to their location. They can also tell the user whether a business is currently open and what time it will close based on the time-sensitivity of the app.

Most of the above points apply to both B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business) marketing. There is however, some difference in the ways these types of organisations use social media. B2C marketers tend to use more casual content with heavy reliance on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They use a lot of visual marketing material, including videos to reach their target market.

b2b
Source:business.com

B2B marketers, on the other hand, are more formal in their approach to lead generation, that is, gaining interest in their product. White papers are often used to give an in depth explanation of a product or service. The most common social media platform for B2B marketers is LinkedIn.

More information about the differences between these two types of marketing can be found here.


Reference
Casserly, M. (2013). Why Small Businesses Are Losing On Social Media. Forbes.com, 31-31.
Continue reading “How Do Businesses Use Social Media?”

The Technologies Behind Social Media

So while everyone is posting comments and photos, or advertising goods and services on Social Media, what is actually going on behind the scenes and how did we get here?

world-wide-web
Source: Blogspot.com

While many people use the words ‘Internet and ‘World Wide Web’ (or just the Web) interchangeably, they are actually two different things.

The internet is a huge collection of networks that carry information.

The Web is the means of accessing that information from web sites, which are collections of pages. The internet also carries emails and instant messages outside of the Web ( Webopedia).

Another way of looking at it is to think of the Internet as a huge road network and the Web as all the vehicles using the roads to transport information.

Since Tim Berners-Lee developed the first website in 1990, the Web has been continually developing and changing. This continuous evolution has, what I would call bookmarks, that divide it into versions. There is however no actual point where it can be said ‘we’re now changing to the next version’, as with, for example, an operating system.

Web 1.0

This was the first version and was a collection of websites with static content for delivering information to end users.

It was really only useful for searching and reading, with minimal interactivity. Companies could provide information about themselves and there were basic shopping carts available for online shopping.

web1
Source: Techlife2016

Web 2.0

By 2004 the Web had evolved to allow much more collaboration and interactive content and became known as Web 2.0. 

Technologies were developed that allowed much more interaction between websites and end users. This in turn allowed the burgeoning of social media sites, as well as other types of online collaboration.

web2
Source: Appappeal.com

The introduction of AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) into web pages allowed a much richer user experience, including faster loading of web pages. At the same time web browsers were modernised to allow for easier use as well.

Websites like Wikipedia, that allows anyone to make contributions, and travel review sites like Trip Advisor have become huge world wide websites accessible to millions of people.

Web 3.0

The next iteration takes us further into the realm of science fiction and things that would have seemed impossible in the not-so-distant past! Web 3.0 is also known as the semantic web and is all about a greater interaction between people and machines.

In Web 2.0, searches on the Web were not intuitive and simply compared key words. Web 3.0 is smarter and can give results based on context. This can already be seen in Google searches that make suggestions based on your previous search history. This goes further and connects your searches and website visits to social media. For example, go onto a shopping website and then go onto Facebook and you are very likely to see an advert for the shopping website.

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Source: Fotolia.com

So Web 3.0 is intuitive and has elements of Artificial Intelligence, meaning it understands context. Tied into this are mobile technologies, the connection between TV and internet as well as voice and gesture interfaces.

A lot of these features are all around us now – Smart phones use location-based technologies to make suggestions about hotels, restaurants and local attractions, based on GPS co-ordinates. There are also voice-activated technologies, for example, you can have a system in your house that allows you to turn lights or heating on and off by speaking instructions.

The Internet of Things

All these technologies can be joined together in a network to form the Internet of Things (IoT). This allows control across networks and so the functions of Web 3.0 are tied into the IoT. More information can be found on Wikipedia

Information Architecture

Also important to any of these technologies working together is the Information Architecture behind them. There needs to be consistent design across shared information environments so that search and navigation is easy. Morville and Rosenfeld use the analogy of a building to describe Information Architecture – if a building doesn’t follow standards it will fall down or the roof will leak. Read their article here.

The Future

So where to from here? What will further iterations look like? Web 4.0 is the symbiotic web where man and machine interact closely and lines become blurred. There are already features of Web 4.0 available, such as remote security systems which can be controlled with smart phones and facial recognition software that unlocks your front door as you get close to it.

There are endless possibilities and the only limit is imagination.

About Blogging

Let’s start with some definitions and background – blog is a shortened form of weblog. The word weblog was introduced by Jorn Barger, one of the first American bloggers, in 1997 as a description of logging the web when he was surfing. It was shortened to ‘blog’ by Peter Merholz, who  broke the word into the phrase ‘we blog’ in 1999.

Following on from there, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used the word blog as both a noun and verb  and created the term blogger in connection with Pyra Labs’ Blogger website. These terms have been in popular use ever since. For a more detailed history have a look at Wikipedia.

The original blogs were online diaries and journals, and  from 1999 their use grew rapidly as technology developed and became more readily available to the general public. Specialised blogging tools were also created making it even easier for anyone to write a blog.

blog
Source: performancecomms.com

A blog can be written about anything and is generally a series of posts about a particular subject. For example, there are many travel blogs where individuals post their experiences and give advice to prospective travellers. There are blogs about beauty, book reviews, politics, recipes and practically any subject you can think of!

A section is normally available on each post where people can make comments or ask questions. Posts are added at regular intervals depending on the subject of the blog. Blogs can attract many followers if the subject is interesting and the blog is well written.

There are several well-known platforms used for blogging including WordPressBlogger and Tumblr. These are open source, free to use websites, although you can also choose to pay for various extra functions. WordPress, for example, has lots of free themes but if you choose to pay a fee to upgrade, many more themes are available or you can create your own.

Blogging for business can be thought of in two different ways:

  • Businesses using blogs as part of their advertising strategy by linking to their websites.
  • Individuals making money out of blogging by using an advertising network through a third party, for example Google Adsense,  or getting companies to advertise directly on the blog once it is well established and gets plenty of traffic.

Instead of continually updating their websites, many organisations now embed blogs within the company website. The blogs are used for many purposes, including keeping clients up-to-date with products and services. Settings in the blog enable the blog posts to be visible in search engines and bring visitors to the website.

The blog should be set up so that each post can be shared on other social media and there are buttons for this purpose. This means that the company’s goods or services can be brought to the attention of many people. There is also an opportunity to like the posts and make comments.

Comments can provide very useful feedback and need to be monitored. Many organisations now have dedicated social media teams that monitor all the sites.