The third part of my article on social media deals directly with consumer-created content and the "empowerment" felt by users as they discover and read content created by other users just like them.
While social media was developing, mobile phone technology was also moving forward. The capabilities of these phones, as evidenced in the two most advanced models on the market (the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre), is on a par with the home computers we were using less than 10 years ago. Combined with fairly fast internet access, these devices offer access to information no matter where the user is.
Social media is a natural fit for these devices, allowing users to communicate their feelings and opinions at any moment, instead of forcing that person to wait until they are back in front of their computer. Consumers are also able to check reviews of stores or restaurants while they are actually at those locations. Moreover, they can actually write and post reviews of those places while they are there. A very good or very bad experience is much more likely to be recorded, given the intensity of feelings at that point - something these businesses need to consider.
Sites (and their associated phone applications) such as Yelp! facilitate this sharing of opinions. The business model does not provide any content directly, and is entirely dependent upon consumers providing reviews and opinions. The trust level is high - consumers assume that reviews are going to come from other genuine consumers, just like them.
Other phone applications are designed to allow consumers to find something interesting based upon their location. With built-in GPS receivers and map software, a consumer can type in almost any product or type of food and receive multiple potential locations to shop or eat in their immediate vacinity. Surprising results can be returned and even people familiar with their local area can discover new and interesting places to spend their money or time.
This aspect, discovery, is a very important aspect of social media and consumer-created content. Good experiences are rewarded with consumers and customers sharing that experience with others, either actively (by word of mouth) or simply by sharing the experience on a consumer review site. New technology makes it easier for other consumers to access that information, in real time, and react to it.
It does require consumers to know that they can use the internet and social media sites to find the information, though a great many successful iPhone applications have been developed to make it even easier to seek and discover. These applications also make it easy to create social content.
Of course, this is only one kind of discovery. Social media allows people to literally discover each other, through services like Facebook, MySpace and Friends Reunited. Once people have reconnected, they are part of social network that shares information, recommends services and hungrily seeks the kind of information described in the previous parts of this article.
The discovery process has always presented opportunities to marketers. The fact that it's such an online process now, facilitated by social media sites and networks, just means that marketers need to keep up with these developments and learn new ways of getting involved.