2010: The Year Social Media Comes of Age

New technologies changed the way businesses communicate with customers, friends and families throughout the last decade. For public relations and marketing professionals, the emergence of social media created new opportunities to build relationships never dreamed possible.

Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, LinkedIn…Where are these social media platforms taking us? Will there come a day when information is somehow beamed directly into the cortex of our desired audience? While that seems unlikely, so did the concept of a social networking site like Facebook ten years ago.

Today, one can update customers through a company’s social media account through a cell phone or notebook. Restaurants and businesses have free wireless Internet services to plug into. The news doesn’t wait for the evening broadcast or morning newspaper; rather, news reaches us instantaneously on our mobile devices through the latest post or tweet. Even traditional news sources allow for public comments after each story on their Web sites.

Remember the days of dial-up Internet service or sending faxes to communicate 10 years ago? The times are certainly changing.

Less Talking, More Doing
Many executives in a variety of industries took notice of social media in 2009. Some wrote off social media as a quickly passing trend. Others experimented with it either personally or professionally. Several learned about the various platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and undertook campaigns with varying success.

2010 is shaping up to be a year that more organizations will pass the “thinking about” stage and start using social media to build awareness, relationships and sales. The campaigns implemented last year will provide a solid foundation for many to learn from and build upon in the coming years.

A survey conducted by KRC Research proves this point. The study found that 88 percent of its 200 surveyed nonprofit executives experimented with social media in 2009, and 85 percent plan to use it actively in the new year for their organizations. MarketingSherpa, a research firm specializing in tracking marketing efforts, recently reported that most industries would increase their budgets for social media marketing in 2010.

The reason behind this increase in social media use is a booming population of new users. Statistics suggest that 66 percent of global Internet users have visited social networks and that more have used these sites than traditional e-mail platforms. Facebook grew to more than 300 million users in 2009. Twitter grew at 1,382 percent in February of last year. These sites are where people are gathering and there’s little indication that they’re leaving for greener pastures in 2010.

Less Waste, More Targets
Existing social network pastures should prove to be very green through geotagging. This new technology will enable users to add location data to photographs, videos and Web sites, which could be very valuable to marketers.

Restaurants could make a person’s phone buzz as they walk by, informing them of the daily specials. Businesses advertising can reach people by their exact GPS coordinate, not just their ZIP code.

These are just some ways that social media will target customers with greater efficiency. Platforms like Facebook already let communications professionals send messages through advertisements that can reach users with selected interests.

Less Conventional, More Maverick
Because of its potential, more social media advertising campaigns will be executed in 2010. PepsiCo recently took the plunge, deciding not to run any television ads for its beverage brands during the upcoming Super Bowl and shifted their resources to online advertising.

The company did this because research demonstrated their customers are more responsive to online sponsorships with a professional football focus.

More than 100 million viewers see Super Bowl spots, but Pepsi’s move is one that many marketers are making to reach a public with ever-changing behaviors.

Less Speculation, More Precision
The consumers’ actions and behaviors can be analyzed in ways never thought possible through traditional methods. In the past, we could merely see how many readers a story had or how far the reach of a publication was. Now, even small-town newspapers can reach millions, and inexpensive software can show where readers live and work, how long they stayed on the Web site and how many times they interacted with the content. This also means the social media user can have a similar impact, as analytic software is becoming more accessible and easier to use.

So how are marketers measuring social media investments? Third-party Twitter applications, such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, are free and can show you how many people clicked on the content in your tweets. Facebook has a free program on its business pages called Insight that can determine similar values. Other sources are available too.

2010 will prove to be an exciting year for social media and the professionals who strategically use these sites to build brand awareness and relationships. The new developments in the medium are sure to come. Adapting to the times and looking forward is virtually certain to be the most effective trend for any perceptive professional.

Sam Brace is a board member of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and public relations and social media manager for The Caliber Group, a Tucson-based brand marketing and public relations firm. For more information, e-mail socialmedia@calibergroup.com or visit www.twitter.com/CaliberGroup.

(This article was featured in the Jan. 11, 2010 issue of Inside Tucson Business.)


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