Someone recently asked me to try and summarize up my knowledge and experience with social media. It got me thinking about my history with the field and what I've actually learned about it.
For a start, I've been blogging since 2001, when I started my LiveJournal. Today, I run a website (www.stephenherron.com) and two blogs (this one and Cleveland Eats, a restaurant review blog). I'm discovering first hand how to optimize content for search engines and trying to drive traffic to my sites. What I'm currently battling with is how to get people commenting more, because that's the true heart of social media in 2009.
This is because it's only social media when consumers and readers get a chance to respond and interact.
Back in 2001, when I started sharing my thoughts online, blogging was in a kind of infancy. It's arguably remained childish until quite recently, when marketing gurus discovered it and started tapping the undeniable potential therein. Now we demand insight into the the minds and thought processes of those around us, especially corporations and companies who are expecting us to spend money on their goods or services. It's about more than holding those businesses accountable - we're interested in every aspect of the inside line. Reading technical blogs (and responding to them) is something I particularly enjoy doing, while other people take more interest in other aspects of a company's existence.
That's where blogging has really changed in the last few years. The status of "blogger" is now almost second to "commenter" and that's a good thing. We fully expect and demand that businesses are open and capable of dealing with comments from customers, regardless if it's about product or corporate practices. This "consumer created content" is a kind of gold for businesses, though some prospecting and refining needs to be done to pull truly insightful information from the mass of comments. But even just the appearance of openness, of being confident enough to talk openly about your product or position, is a victory.
Meeting this kind of demand can be difficult for many companies. While more are becoming comfortable with social media as a marketing tool, it can be a challenge to persuade executives that openness and transparency are positive assets. Throwing the virtual doors wide open to the internet public makes many nervous - quite rightly so. Too much truth is a bad thing, but confidence and the ability to take one's licks in a public setting are critical requirements to make it work.
Even Facebook and MySpace are being treated differently by consumers. They come to expect that the products they want will be represented on Facebook or MySpace - because that's where they are spending their time. It's important for businesses to market in these channels, because their absence looks and feels like reluctance - something that consumers don't like to see.
Part two of my short series on social media will examine how marketers are using blogs and services like Twitter as distribution channels for news and information.